Great Adventure

It's Saturday night at the Waldorf-Astoria, the guests have polished off their batter-fried tarantulas and cow-eyeball-garnished martinis, and a horse just pooped on the guest of honor's plate. Another run-of-the-mill dinner for the Explorers Club, except that tonight—March 20, 2004—is the club's centennial celebration. Oh, and there's a heckler storming the stage, screaming about men on the moon.

"So many planners are control freaks, but I actually want things to go wrong during events," declares Richard Wiese, club president and coordinator of the annual, 1,600-guest black-tie gala, where he rode in on horseback (hence the offending "entrée"). "The fact that the [heckler] pulled me offstage and bit my hand—people will talk about that for years." That's saying something when you consider that Wiese's attendees aren't easily impressed; after all, these are people who've climbed Mt. Everest and stood on the moon.

The Three E's

Still, Wiese and his team try—and succeed, with the help of exotic entertainment (lion cubs, pythons), extreme cuisine (roast beaver, scorpion canapés), and exciting speakers (Sir Edmund Hillary, Buzz Aldrin—the latter the heckler's target). Wiese also organizes a silent auction nonpareil, with prizes like lunch with the head of the Mars exploration team. All of this adds up to a highly successful, profitable event—without raising ticket prices, Wiese has more than doubled the dinner's revenue since first organizing it eight years ago, despite "major" costs for things like freight and $58-a-pound butterflied bear meat.

From Planner To Prez

What accounts for Wiese's rapid rise from volunteer exhibits coordinator to club president in little more than a decade? Creativity and moneymaking magic. "I have a theory about events—the layering theory," explains Wiese as he leans back in his office chair, a photo of himself mountain climbing with college chum JFK Jr. above his head. "Events have to include something for everyone: a lecture, interesting food, music. And for people who don't know one another, those elements can become focal points for starting conversations."

Which brings us back to the heckler. "He headed for Buzz Aldrin, screaming something like, 'Why send people to the moon when we have all these problems on earth?' " recalls Wiese. When his hand got bit trying to stop the madman, Wiese did what any well-bred, quick-thinking survivalist would do—he doused the wound with champagne. "I wouldn't want it to happen again," says Wiese with aplomb befitting an Emmy-winning ex-journalist, "but it made for interesting viewing."