As we adapt to a time of social distancing, instead of painting the town red, we’re taking the opportunity to slow down and reflect on our storied past. Here, we look back on the exciting life and times of TW’s original society columnist, Bill Hersey.
In 1962, Bill Hersey bought a one-way ticket on a freighter that was making the two-week journey from Long Beach, California, to Yokohama. Little did he know Japan would become his home right up until he passed away, at the age of 87, in 2018.
After various odd jobs, he got involved in the world of fashion, helping the company Van Jacket set up a boutique on Aoyama-dori. This work in the fashion industry led to work as a fashion editor for two different magazines – Heibon Punch and Shukan Playboy – for several years. As a fashion editor, he traveled to Europe, where he arranged photo shoots, and he produced Japanese fashion shows in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand and Guam.
In 1970, when Tokyo Weekender was founded by Corky Alexander, Bill began writing a fashion column for the newspaper. During his time as TW contributor, which lasted right up until he passed away, he moved from fashion to travel and, finally, to the society column for which he became famous.
“The wanderlust that brought him to Japan in the first place never left him”
An inveterate traveler – the wanderlust that brought him to Japan in the first place never left him – Bill’s journeys took him all around the world, including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, New Guinea, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, many countries in Europe and throughout the US.
In 1978, he started doing public relations for A-Project, a large company that owned a wide variety of discos, clubs and restaurants. One of the company’s clubs was the Lexington Queen, which Bill helped turn into a must-visit destination for foreign celebrities, rock stars and Japanese “tarento.” In addition to his work with the Lexington Queen, Bill planned parties for people and organizations including Liza Minnelli, Thierry Mugler, Prince, Fendi, The Dance Theater of Harlem, Bon Jovi, Princess Michaela von Habsburg and Mick Jagger.
And the circle of Tokyo’s ambassadors and their spouses was one more that Bill made his own. As William Ireton, an entertainment executive and the former president at Warner Brothers Japan, who worked with Bill in bringing Japanese tarento to the premieres of big Hollywood movie openings, explained, “He was ubiquitous. You’d see him everywhere, whether it was at the Romanian National Day or the US Fourth of July, or the Bulgarian National Day or the Turkish National Day. He was an institution on the diplomatic cocktail circuit.”
At the height of his influence, Bill’s connections could make the seemingly impossible happen, as Ceremony president Tsukasa Shiga, a former business partner, and longtime friend remembers: “Prince was coming into Japan to do two shows – one in Osaka and one in Tokyo. He had a really elaborate stage setup that was flying in from Germany. For some reason, the stage sets got stopped at customs, and without the stage, there was going to be no Prince show! The organizers of the concert called Bill, and he got in touch with the Cultural Affairs Department at the US Embassy, and within a few hours, the stages were rushed through customs and the show went on. It was amazing what Bill could get done with just a few phone calls.”
Towards the end of his life, Bill’s steps slowed, but his fascination with people and what they were up to never abated. He continued his work with Tokyo Weekender right to the end, and his spirit, energy and legacy remain imprinted on the pages of TW as well as on the hearts of all who worked with him.
This article is an excerpt of a previous feature published in 2018.