Stanley Marcus, in town yesterday to peddle a new book about his store's outrageous holiday gifts, told of an inebriated Texan who attempted one evening to buy an entire window display for his wife's Christmas present.
Marcus said he made a call the morning after to see if the man remembered wanting to make the $27,000 purchase. Not only did he remember, the man was serious.
This is one of several incidents -- similar to the time when another Texan bought a mink coat for each of his five daughters, a sable for his wife and a lynx for his mistress -- that led to the creation of one of merchandising's most enduring gimmicks: the Neiman-Marcus his 'n' hers holiday gift.
Marcus said his store's annual mail-order monstrosities, which have included his 'n' hers blimps, submarines and camels, started as a Christmas publicity ploy aimed at CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and his assistant, Walter Cronkite.
After covering both the window display and fur coat stories, Murrow called Marcus the following Christmas to ask about the store's Texas-style gift of the year. Marcus told him the most popular item had been nylon stockings. When Murrow said, "That's nothing juicy," Marcus set about finding "something newsworthy" for a CBS story.
The result: his 'n' hers airplanes. "That was the turning point for the Neiman-Marcus catalogue," said Marcus, 77, now retired.
The prevailing reaction to the annual his 'n' hers gifts, Marcus said, is "you can sell anything to those crazy, rich Texans." But research conducted for his book, His & Hers, the Fantasy World of the Neiman-Marcus Catalogue, showed more gifts went to Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois and California than Texas.
Marcus yesterday revealed this year's his 'n' hers offering: a microcomputerized exercise bicycle-cum-video screen that plays scenes from southern California canyons and other landscapes as it counts calories burned. The price? $20,000, batteries included, of course.
The second-string gift is a $1.2 million condo in Hawaii, overlooking the mystical island "Bali Hai," from the movie South Pacific.
Another nonshowcase item in this year's hot-off-the-presses catalogue is a $32,000 isolation pod with radio, video, a "color organ" and running water. Or there's an $6,500 antique baby cradle. The $750 croquet set puts the price range on its downward slide, which ends somewhere around the $32.50 dog sunglasses.
But Neiman's catalogue devotees recall the days of plenty when the choice offering was a Noah's Ark complete with pairs of exotic mammals, a Park Avenue physician, an Italian hairdresser and a French courturier. All that for $543,782, f.o.b. Mount Ararat. CAPTION: Picture, Stanley Marcus shows off this year's Nieman-Marcus his n' her Christmas special, a $20,000 exercise bike. By Frank Johnston -- The Washington Post