Xmas in H’w’d turns Tiffany to charity

Holiday parties are filling L.A. nightspots, and elaborate fruit baskets are arriving by messenger on executive desks and client doorsteps.

But the days when agency clients and producers would be showered with Tiffany knickknacks and TV sets are gradually giving way to a much more austere form of gift giving in Hollywood: donations to charity.

Instead of expensive gifts, what has taken hold are holiday gift cards, inscribed with “a donation has been made in your name.”

“This has been happening in the last few years,” said one public relations executive. “There’s just not the lavishness of the past. Most people in our industry, they have everything they want.”

Tchotchkes tapering

One producer recalls getting Gucci notecard holders and Tiffany keychains in the past. Now, he says, “it seems like I’m getting a lot of candles.” And he is flooded with the holiday cards. “It’s a very ’90s thing,” he says.

This new form of gift-giving may reflect not only the more sober ’90s, but the growing corporate culture of Hollywood, where past traditions have been replaced by a more formalized structure.

Veteran screenwriter and director Floyd Mutrux was a lavish gift-giver in the past. But he says his Santa days are over because the industry has changed.

“The business used be more personal,” says Mutrux, who used to hand out Mont Blanc fountain pens and custom-made bomber jackets from North Beach Leather to agents and studio execs. “Now there are so many people involved in projects, all these Gen X guys in their white shirts – I don’t know how to buy a white shirt.”

Holding the cards

It may be too early to gauge the impact on charities’ overall fundraising, but they do see an uptick in holiday card buying. Typically, customers buy a handful of cards – say, 50 for $500 – that mean individual donations of $10 each.

AIDS Project Los Angeles sees an uptick in the number of Christmas cards going out in its name. Among the new donors buying cards this year are the cast and crew of “Party of Five.” Longtime donors like Goldie Hawn and Penny Marshall continued to give. Marshall once bought $5,000 worth but asked for only five cards.

“We expect to reach about $50,000 plus,” says APLA spokesman Allen Carrier. “Each year it grows by about 10%. We will probably have a $10,000 bump (from last year).” While Carrier isn’t sure if more donors are giving the cards in lieu of fruit baskets, he says the trend is catching on.

“It is a major part of year-end fundraising,” Carrier says.

Holding the basket

Meanwhile, at Fanciful, one of L.A.’s largest makers of gift baskets, sales “don’t appear to be quite as hot as last year,” says Wally August, who runs the business with his wife, Terry. “We do have an increase over last year, but it is just not as hot as last year.”

The Motion Picture & Television Fund started giving out holiday cards last year. “We are certainly selling a lot more this year than last year,” reports an MPTF spokeswoman, saying there has been “a real surge” individual donations overall for the year.

SAG suggestions

The Screen Actors Guild started selling holiday cards this year, going for $10 for a box of 10, and featuring such performers as Danny Kaye and Lucy and Desi in vintage holiday scenes, a benefit to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation.

Jay Blotcher, a spokesman for AmFAR, says that it is too early to see if donations are exceeding last year. But they, too, are offering Christmas cards, with Rob Reiner among the regular purchasers.

Like most Hollywood companies, Mandalay Entertainment threw a lavish holiday bash for employees. Held at a private mansion in Westwood, the party featured a magician, caricaturist, fortune-teller and live music.

Feeling ‘connected’

But for the second year in a row, Mandalay also made donations to charitable organizations according to a list drawn up by employees. “People feel more connected this way,” says Shelley Rine, Mandalay’s senior VP of operations and administration.

Greeting cards sent out by the Sony-based company say that donations “in your name” have been made to AIDS Heartline, the Olive Crest service for abused children, the Babies & Children’s Hospital of New York and the Westside Food Bank.

Tanya Oubre of the Westside Food Bank confirms receiving $5,000 from Mandalay, calling the contribution “a good large sum.” Rhino Records is also a regular contributor.

Bigger is better

Of course, this being Hollywood, lavish corporate gift-giving hasn’t exactly been eliminated by the new trend toward charity. Fanciful will deliver 400 gift baskets on Dec. 16 alone. “I’m seeing a lot of bigger baskets this year, the $200, $300, $400 baskets,” owner August says. “I have many clients spending $10,000 apiece.”

The largest order this year: $15,000 for an entertainment company that ordered 60 baskets.

But the big orders are coming not so much from studios – although they have had many orders from Universal – as from producers and actors. “Oftentimes they are going to the studios,” says August. “Most of the time they are going to the buyers.”

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