South Africa native Larry Kreiner was walking through a Washington, D.C., hotel in 2000 when George W. Bush pulled him aside. “You talk funny,” the then-president said. “You’re not from around here.” Kreiner had just been hired as a party planner for the second Bush administration, a job he’d gotten because of his past work for actors, celebrities and other A-list clients.
“Where I’m from, they would ask you the same thing,” he fired back, unintimidated by the leader of the free world, and Bush chuckled. The shattering sound was the ice breaking.
Kreiner’s swagger wasn’t without justification. The rising maestro of soirees emigrated from South Africa in 1986 with just $1,500 in his pocket to help open The Peabody Orlando hotel in Orlando, Fla., and went on to dizzying heights. For starters, he helped to marshal the simultaneous parties of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher. The couple, once married but then separated, threw parties at the hotel on the same night, with Kreiner and other staff scrambling (on instructions) to prevent the two from crossing paths.
Now a wedding planner at the River Club of Mequon, Kreiner only improved his resume after the Peabody Orlando. He threw soirees for such clients as chef Tyler Florence, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former President Bill Clinton. For everyone, professionalism required that he never question dietary quirks, however remarkable. Huckabee refused to eat food that was orange in color. Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, insisted on having his eggs poached. And Clinton had his own peculiarities. “On Air Force One, he always wanted potato chips, apple pie and a turkey sandwich,” says Kreiner, who got to know Clinton while working for the Peabody hotel in Little Rock, Ark., where he oversaw a number of the president’s early fundraisers.
Kreiner kept other secrets: Aretha Franklin demanded that restaurants lower their thermostats to preserve her voice, and an actress he declines to name would often request a box of tissues for each corner of her hotel room.
It was Kreiner’s best friend, a real estate agent in Glendale, who finally lured him to Milwaukee in 2009.
“I’m telling you,” she said. “It’s a gem.”