Paid to Party

So you go to a Christmas party and the hosts are really trying to spice things up.

Maybe they hire midgets to dress up as elves or a saucy Santa.

But what if they hired an out-of-work D-list actor from a show that's not even in re-reruns anymore just to show up and hang out? Would you think it was odd or even creepy?

What if they hired Jessica Simpson to mingle with guests?

If your hosts can't afford the $1 million Simpson charges for personal appearances and they really want a recognizable celebrity to liven up a holiday shindig, there's always "Potsie" from "Happy Days."

Actor Anson Williams -- remember him? -- is available at the bargain price of $3,000 to $6,000, depending on the type of event and the amount of travel involved.

Or they can get semi-ubiquitous Kevin Federline for $12,000 to $20,000; Efren Ramirez, "Pedro" from "Napoleon Dynamite," for $5,000; and, infamous "American Idol" loser William Hung for $4,000 -- and he'll even sing two songs.

More party hosts are hiring celebrity guests to attend their holiday parties, both private and corporate. And the stars aren't getting paid to sing or tell jokes, they're getting paid just to show up, mingle, and banter with guests for a few hours.

It's not enough to get plenty of egg nog and mistletoe anymore. Wealthy Americans and all types of companies that want to impress their guests are turning to celebrities to make their fetes unforgettable.

"It's really bloomed in the last few years, especially the private parties," said Carol Grabow, whose family runs Grabow Entertainment, a talent booking agency.

"It used to be that wealthy people had their holiday parties at home with a few friends -- and that was enough. Now, they'll hire a celeb to mingle with guests or to entertain and to make that party extra memorable," Grabow said.

Next week, Grabow has arranged to get comic Dana Carvey to tell jokes at an energy company's holiday party in Houston. The cost: close to $100,000.

Other big favorites for Christmas and New Year's Eve: Patti LaBelle; Dave Navarro, for $20,000 to $30,000; porn star Tera Patrick, for $15,000 and up; and "Dancing With the Stars'" Mario Lopez, for $25,000 and up.

"Fees have skyrocketed," said Steven Gerard, who runs GS Celebrity Productions. "Fifteen years ago, the top stars maybe made $10,000 an appearance. Now, secondary, third-degree characters on TV shows are passing on that like it's lunch money."

And the party circuit is an easy -- albeit embarrassing -- way for stars to make plenty of money.

"Especially with some of the TV personalities, every fan wants them to say their signature lines or to perform in character," one booker said. "You just have to grin, bear it, and think about the bottom line."

Michael Jackson, who has endured his share of financial troubles since his acquittal on child-molestation charges in 2005, will make a personal appearance at a Christmas party in Tokyo, where fans will each pay $3,400 to "meet and greet" the singer.

Even long-faded stars are in demand.

Laurie Jacobson, who is married to John Provost ("Timmy" from the "Lassie" TV series), runs Living Legends, which primarily books actors from TV shows that have been off the air for decades.

"In the last five years, it's become a more popular thing to do," she said. "I really think it's because people find celebs more accessible now. They enjoy having a celebrity emcee their party or just be a guest."

Among Jacobson's stars: Anson Williams; Linda Blair from "The Exorcist, who "won't leave the house for less than $5,000 and that will go up anywhere near Halloween"; Jamie Farr, "Klinger" from "M.A.S.H.," starts at $5,000; and "Leave It to Beaver's" Eddie Haskell ($2,000 to $5,000) and Jerry Mathers ($4,000 to $6,000).

When corporations want to impress their employees, they sometimes pay more than six figures to get the right talent.

"When companies want somebody from a popular show like 'Desperate Housewives,' they'll be dropping like six figures to get talent to come to their party," Gerard said.

"They all want the biggest star to be there," said Mike Esterman, who runs Esterman Entertainment.

"We just had Jeremy Piven do a lady's birthday party at a home in San Francisco, where he brought out the dessert tray. They paid him $50,000 for one hour. I heard that Justin Timberlake did a girl's birthday party overseas for $1.5 million," Esterman said.

And as CEOs' wallets get fatter, their appetites get bigger.

In the late 1990s, a major Swiss-based financial group hired an Elton John impersonator to perform at its Christmas party.

When business improved a few years later, they upped the ante by hiring the real thing.