Cancer Center Warily Welcomes $250,000 Via Stars’ Chain Letter

From Associated Press

It went from Liz Taylor to photographer Firooz Zahedia, who sent it to Gregory Peck, who sent it to Lauren Bacall, who sent it to Mike Nichols, who sent it to Steve Martin, who . . .

By the time all the links in this chain letter were made, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center had about $250,000 for a home-care program for terminal patients.

Hospital officials took the money, but weren’t entirely pleased with the unauthorized effort by volunteer nurse and fund-raiser Carol Farkas. Her letter, requesting $10 from each recipient, wasn’t illegal since it was for fund-raising, not profit, but the hospital considers it inappropriate.

“This is not the way we raise money,” Sloan-Kettering spokeswoman Avice Meehan said. “This was started without the knowledge or approval of the institution.”


Farkas was gleeful at a news conference Thursday.

“This is great. The more publicity, the more people become aware of the program,” she said.

Last June, Farkas wrote to 20 Upper East Side friends, none of them famous. Her letter asked each for a $10 contribution to the hospital and requested they pass the letter along to 10 friends.

They did. And so did their friends, and their friends. Once unleashed, the chain letter somehow made it into celebrity mailboxes.

Consider these names from Bacall’s list: James Garner, Sidney Lumet, Peter Jennings, Mike Nichols. Nichols’ list included Elaine May, Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels and Carly Simon.

Her letter probably kept the home care program alive because it is almost entirely funded by donations, Meehan said, adding that Farkas will not be reprimanded.

Officials at other institutions want Farkas to work a little letter-writing magic on their behalf. She politely declined.