HOLLYWOOD — In Hollywood, gift giving is a year round sport. People stockpile wrapped presents — but no earthquake kit — in the trunks of their cars. As one producer friend who never leaves home without a well-packaged scented candle told me, it is “instant forgiveness for screwing up.”

Come December, contrite or not, everyone must pony up. Tis the season for anxiety attacks at Barneys and tussles over anything cashmere at Fred Segal. It’s the one-month of the year that assistants get directives to trawl Saks.com for hours. Or field calls from other nervous assistants, asking “Is your boss still on the wagon or can we send Cristal?”

All of a sudden, everyone is a line producer, combing lists to see who merits a card (with or without personal inscription) or gift. Even the busiest of execs will study last March’s call sheets to see who “returned” and who didn’t. And in a town rampant with bi-polars, it’s tough to whittle down the holiday list when certain folks can be naughty, nice and downright nasty — all in the same breath.

How to decide whom to cut? I like to think of my family, friends and colleagues as felons: Three strikes and you’re out. The rule may be overly harsh as a penal code, but it actually works quite well as a social transgressions report card. No call back? No empathy for my bad haircut? No show at my cocktail party? I will still wish you a happy holiday, but you’d have to be psychic to know it.

With that, here are some of my basic rules for giving and receiving:

  • Never present a present with a feeble, “you can return it.” Rather, throw back your shoulders, smile wide and hand over that parcel like a doc delivering a newborn. Can you exchange an infant? I think not.

  • Don’t “gift up.” Simply put, your superiors live in bigger houses and eat juicier steaks. If you want to show appreciation, write a sincere and succinct “thank you” note for a great year.


  • Know that a gift certificate is, in essence, a check in a fancy box. Always present one with a thoughtful note that celebrates the recipient for his or her exquisite taste. FYI: Massages and facials get highest marks in the entertainment industry. 

  • Regift at your own risk. Certain misdeeds–like recycling a crystal votive inscribed with “Let’s Beat Breast Cancer in 2004!” –shrink this town to the size of a pre-school playground. People whisper; voices carry. 

  • Show prompt appreciation, no matter what. Stacey Snider is known for penning “thank you” notes within moments of unwrapping a gift. (She also decorates her office with the haystack of frames and vases she receives every year.) 

  • If you’re a honcho, don’t let that haul go to your head. Lore has it that dueling Hollywood power columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons each received lavish gifts — including a Rolls Royce — from studios. Parsons thought she was beloved; Hopper knew better and called it “loot through fear.”

    Monica Corcoran is Variety’s Style Editor and oversees The Stylephile.

    Read Monica Corcoran’s related article, Gifting on the decline