Tales from Tinseltown: Free watches for award voters put Stone, USA Films in hot water

One of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood is that it’s standard operating procedure for stars to accept glitzy gifts from anyone who offers them. But when Sharon Stone and USA Films attempted to generate some buzz about the actress’ performance in The Muse by sending Coach watches to members of The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (who vote on the Golden Globes), the gesture backfired badly, creating a PR nightmare for all involved.

One of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood is that it’s standard operating procedure for stars to accept glitzy gifts from anyone who offers them. But when Sharon Stone and USA Films attempted to generate some buzz about the actress’ performance in The Muse by sending Coach watches to members of The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (who vote on the Golden Globes), the gesture backfired badly, creating a PR nightmare for all involved.

One of the worst-kept secrets in Hollywood is that it’s standard

operating procedure for stars to accept glitzy gifts from anyone who

offers them. But when Sharon Stone and USA Films attempted to generate

some buzz about the actress’ performance in The Muse by sending Coach

watches to members of The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (who vote

on the Golden Globes), the gesture backfired badly, creating a PR

nightmare for all involved.



The box with the watches contained a letter on USA Films stationery

addressed to HFPA members and signed ’USA Films Publicity.’ It read,

’Sharon Stone dropped by yesterday with a small remembrance, said

time’s-a-wasting and asked that we wrap it up and get it to you before

the Holidays. She said it’s to count the hours and minutes until she

visits with you all again ... Call if you need THE MUSE.’



Sensing a threat to his organization’s credibility, HFPA president

Helmut Voss ordered the 82 watches - valued at dollars 400 each -

returned to Stone on the day he learned of their existence. But when

word of the graft leaked to the media, it set off a frenzy that forced

all parties to enter into damage-control mode.



’The phone was ringing off the hook and we worked aggressively to make

Helmut available to the media,’ said Michael Russell, president of The

Michael Russell Group and publicist for the HFPA. ’It would have been

terrible to have not reacted quickly.’



Russell added the HFPA was not looking to lay blame on USA Films or

Stone, painting their gesture as ’an honest mistake.’ Still, there’s no

question that the incident created a very difficult situation for the

fledgling USA Films, which immediately issued an apology to the

HFPA.



The question that remains, of course, is whether Stone or USA Films were

behind sending the watches in the first place. Stone’s publicist Cheryl

Maisel said USA Films sent the watches, while Variety quoted a USA

spokesperson as saying the watches were provided free to the studio to

be sent on Stone’s behalf.



For their part, Movado (Coach’s licensee) issued this statement: ’Coach

was pleased to honor USA Films’ request to obtain watches as a holiday

gift for The Hollywood Foreign Press Association.’ But another source

close to the company said the watches were sent at Stone’s request.



On a scale of 1 to 10, how would the HFPA rate the PR crisis? ’It was a

blip on the radar screen, but it was a big blip,’ Russell said. ’The

lesson here is that you do not send expensive gifts to people who vote

on awards. We would have all preferred that the watches had never been

sent.’



- Diane Clehane is a contributing editor for TV Guide



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