Christmas in Hollywood’s golden age

Who knows when the practise of ‘regifting’ unwanted or unsuitable gifts onto another party – probably while we were still living in caves!

Certainly it was around in the golden age of Hollywood, as actor David Niven (now sadly deceased, alas) recounts in his memoir, Bring on the Empty Horses:

 

Everyone at the studio … expected presents, but the biggest outlay was in the realm of personal gifts to friends and business acquaintances.

One was constantly getting caught short.  I once gave [actress] Miriam Hopkins half a dozen handkerchiefs and she gave me a Studebaker.  All in all it was a difficult and expensive time.

Errol [Flynn] and I thought we had it licked when we decided that the whole Peace and Goodwill Department was getting completely out of hand, so we decided to buy no personal or business gifts at all: instead we invested in some fancy wrapping paper, yards of multi-coloured ribbons and several dozen greeting cards.  We then sat back at North Linden Drive and waited for the deluge.  As the presents poured in it was a simple matter to re-wrap them, add something personal on a card and despatch them elsewhere.

Trade was brisk for several days before Christmas and all went well till someone sent us a case of champagne, which we gratefully opened instead of sending on its way.  After that we became careless.  Our rhythm faltered and the operation lacked synchronisation with the embarrassing result that [producer] Walter Wanger received a beautiful black, silk evening wallet on which in gold lettering was inscribed, ‘To D.N. from W.W.’

David Niven, Bring on the Empty Horses, 1975, Hamish Hamilton

The ‘regifting production line’ that David Niven recounts sounds entirely credible, although I am doubtful about the handkerchief/Studebaker anecdote.  I’m told that Mr Niven was known to embroider his stories for better effect, and suspect that this might be one of them.  (Well told, though!)  And his experience illustrates a crucial regifting rule: always take the greatest care that anything you regift does not end up back with the giver!

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