Motown Records president Barry Gordy sifts through $3,000-lizard luggage looking for a Christmas gift for his biggest star, Diana Ross.
Natalie Wood fits an 18-carat gold belt around her trim waist, trying it for size.
James Caan rushes out of the store, Gucci gift clutched under his arm.
Maybe most Americans still like to imagine that Santa delivers his goodies from a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. But in Beverly Hills, reindeer are passe. Here, Saint Nick, loaded down with Puccis and Guccis galore, brings gifts to your door from the back seat of a cream and green Rolls Royce.
If Beverly Hills is where many of the starts and moguls of film, television and records live - and it is - then Rodeo Drive "Roeday-o" to the local) is where they shop. This Christmas, Greta Garbo, Marisa Berenson, Ali McGraw, John Wayne, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler all have browsed through this 2 1/2 block area where cruising Rolls and Ferraris are as commonplace as Fords on the freeway.
What brings them all to Rodeo is a staggering array of status shops of European extraction - Gucci, Pucci, Church's English Shoes Celine, Battaglian, Hermes, Fred Joaillier, Courreges - in the midst of California sunshine and success.
At Gucci, which pioneered the pricey gift scene here eight years ago when there was still a gas station on Rodeo, it isn't exactly like shopping at your local Sears store. There are such "economical" gifts as a black lizard Gucci bag with detachable 18 carat gold strap-chain, doubling as a necklace for $5,500. Economical because the other purse, with diamonds, retails for more than $11,000.
There are no lines on Rodeo Drive, either, or foot-tapping waits for sales persons to discover your presence. In stores like Giorgio's customers are treated to champagne, a friendly game of pool or just cushy chairs around a crackling fireplace on a sunny, blue-sky day.
Every year Fred Heyman, owner of Giorgio's and chairman of the Rodeo Drive Committee, a retailers' organization, readies his vintage '53 Rolls for delivering the stars' last-minute purchases. "It's all last minute around here," the dapper, gray-haired Heyman says. "All the Rolls pile up on the last day. It's very rush-rush at the end."
This year Heyman is featuring a burgundy Bill Blass ensemble with sable trim for $5,100. And not just for show. He sold five including one specially shipped to the plains of Kansas.
Heyman appears blase about his star customers like Charlton Heston, Phyllis George, Tony Bennett, Eva Gabor and O.J. Simpson. But sometimes his sales personnel can't help being impressed particularly when Paul Newman walks in to do some holiday shopping.
When he walked in, recalls sales clerk Rose Sugarman, a middle-aged woman of decorum, "I threw my pencil up in the air and said, "Hi, gorgeous.'" Such outbursts are rare but taken with a smile when unavoidable.
A sampler of the prices paid at Giorgio's for Christmas gifts includes $600 Biioni suits for television evangelist Garner Ted Armstrong, a small Cartier travel clock bought by Ali McGraw for $190, and singer Lani Kazan's purchase of La Vita's hand-embroidered chiffon gown for only $1,300.
But on Rodeo Drive even a four-figure gift can seem trifling. At David Orgell's, a much-viewed and drooled-over item is the gold and sterling silver chess set studded with semi-precious stones on a black and white marble board for $25,000. For more private perusal is Orgell's Faberge collection including a $100,000 exquisite four-inch porcelain egg, the perfect bauble for tucking into the toe of a stocking.
Capturing the whimsey of wealthy patrons in search of extravagant fashion is the key to success for such Rodeo Drive shops as The Right Bank, a boutique currently "in" with the rich. Among the hotter-selling items this holiday season are $335 thigh-high boots in satin or leather by Guido Pasquale, purchased for the legs of the likes of Britt Ekland, Cher and Tina Turner.
A sense of plain fun, Right Bank owner Donald Pliner believes, is what makes the Rodeo Drive strip so attractive to the shoppers of distinction. Where else could Elton John purchase plastic $12 venetian-blind sun glasses, which Pliner says will be "the rage on the Riviera this coming summer?" The glasses might make the wearer dizzy if worn conventionally, but Pliner explains, "They're to be worn on top of the head to keep the hair in place."
It all may sound absurd, or a little excessive, but Rodeo Drive doesn't seek to be in the mainstream. "It's not really business, it's all a show for the effect," Pliner says with a smile."It's just a little Fellini for the street."