By Delivering Belly Laughs—and a Few Red Faces—the Novelty-Gram Biz Booms
09/24/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
Just another boring office birthday party on Wall Street—Brie and crackers and white wine. Suddenly the sounds of gongs, cymbals and tinkling bells interrupt the chatter. Framed in the doorway is a bald-headed, bare-bellied Buddha wrapped in gold lamé. He approaches the guest of honor and invites her to rub his belly for good luck while he reads a personalized poem for the occasion. As the victim continues to stare in disbelief, the 350-pound deity then begins his "Buddha Boogie" to the tune of Beat It and gets everyone to join in.
This is no laughing matter to Geoffrey Feldman, 35, whose Buddha-Grams have grossed well over $50,000 in the first year (the average charge for each is $100). Feldman arranges 20 or so such "grams" a week, and he has seven Buddhas on call, including David Holbrook, son of veteran actor Hal Holbrook.
David learned there are hazards to the job when he arrived at a Manhattan psychiatric hospital to deliver a message to one of the administrators. White-coated orderlies were summoned to spirit David away for observation—until he managed to explain the nature of his visit: The administrator's wife had sent her husband this particular Buddha-Gram to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Singing telegrams have been around for decades, but these days "creative" telegrams have become the gift for every occasion and pocket-book, with prices starting at $35 for a tap-dancing knish, a Zorro-Gram and a Sgt. Yukon-Gram (a Canadian Mountie "arrests" the recipient). A top-of-the-line "luxury" Buddha-Gram buys a night on the town with three Brobdingnagian baldies. Price: $3,000.
In between, the choices are almost endless. For the fitness-crazed, there are male and female Muscle-Grams, featuring G-strung bodybuilders who flex and pose while reciting a message. Eastern Onion, a nationwide chain, delivers Fairy Godmother-Grams, Macho Man-Grams, Bunny-Grams, Teddy Bear-Grams, Gorilla-Grams and French Maid-Grams. You can propose marriage (or whatever) with a Cupid-Gram or dump your lover with a Devil-Gram from Baloon-ee Tuens of Evanston, Ill.
Hey! Wires, a six-year-old company with offices in St. Louis and Roselle, Ill., offers a Sister Chastity-Gram delivered by a singing missionary in a long blue cape and bonnet who turns into a gyrating belly dancer. There is also the Total Woman-Gram (the messenger wears an inflatable chest in size 52 DD) and the Dr. Hey Wires-Gram, in which the messenger appears as Groucho Marx and strips down to bikini briefs.
In Los Angeles, Sonny Bono and Herb Alpert sent a girl draped in balloons to a birthday party for Michael Jackson choreographer Michael Peters. The guest of honor was then invited to bite or squeeze the balloons until they popped. Allan Titch, proprietor of L.A.'s Amazing Entertainment, sent an ersatz policewoman to arrest Beach Boy Brian Wilson at his 42nd birthday bash. She arrived saying the police had received a complaint that the revelers were making too much noise and ordered a strip search of Wilson and the guests. When they balked, she said, "Okay, I guess I'll have to show you how it's done," and began her striptease.
Adrienne Gusoff, 31, a Brooklyn-born former advertising copywriter, runs Bubby-Gram from her small apartment on New York's Upper East Side. To deliver her Bubby-Gram (Yiddish for grandmother), Gusoff arrives toting a shopping bag crammed with such things as bagels, chicken soup, a "stuffed cabbage kid" (her version of a you-know-what) and a Valentine's Day heart molded out of chopped liver. For the next 15 minutes she alternately smothers the recipient ("Eat! You're so thin!") or kvetches with lines like, "So, why haven't you called your mother?" Or at least sent her a Guilt-Gram.