When is a full dining room not a full dining room?
When it's "papered," of course.
Webster's defines "to paper" as slang for filling a theater by issuing free passes. In Los Angeles, the term is becoming better known, as papering moves out of the theater and into the ballroom.
Seating has always been a fine art of social life: at private parties, putting the right person next to the guest of honor, keeping the conversation flowing; at charity benefits, making sure that the big givers are in the spotlight.
Look of Success
Papering is not a fine art. It is instead trompe l'oeil --"trick of the eye," like pictures of doors that turn out to be pictures and not doors. If a giver has paid $500-for-two to attend a hotshot charity event, his ardor will certainly cool if he gets there and the ballroom is only half-full. And so, the benefit committee creates the look of success by filling up those tables with freebies.
Even when a committee has a successful event on its hands, and could sell out, some papering is necessary. One established charity hand estimated necessary freebies at 10%. That includes media, stars, the honorees and the entourages of stars and honorees.
Stars Don't Pay?
Wait--you mean stars don't pay to go to a benefit for their favorite charity or political cause? "Rarely do they pay," said one veteran charity organizer, "but don't quote me because I need them."
Media coverage of an event--especially TV attention--is in direct proportion to the number and importance of star attendees. No one much cares about captains of industry, who have probably paid for their tables. It's famous-faces time.
And it's not just stars who line up for the freebies. Take one successful couple in the entertainment field. Feel free. They take all the time. Their names make regular appearances, both on charitable and political invites. "But don't look for their names on a check because you'll never see one," an insider explained. The couple obviously believes the use of their name is their contribution. But, in return, they will expect good free seats at the event, thank you.
Free seats, however, are starting to be labeled in big, bright letters. In politics, federal reporting laws mean that at the end of the year, contributions and the people who gave them become part of the public record. One local fund-raiser said that he was "removing several names from my Rolodex" because those particular people showed up, pledged and didn't give.
With charity events, as dollars get tighter, the benefits will have to produce more profit. More money means less paper.
Except for stars, of course. There will always be stars.
CRUSH--The first week of December could be the most socially crowded in L.A. history. Well, maybe. The opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art takes up almost every night with party after party. Cedars-Sinai Women's Guild holds its benefit premiere of "Crimes of the Heart" Dec. 3. . . . And NOW holds its 20th anniversary party Dec. 1. There are more than 100 celebrities signed on for the Music Center gala show, everyone from Alan Alda to Buck Henry, to Elizabeth Montgomery to Lily Tomlin, to George Hamilton, to Marlo Thomas, to Jane Alexander.