In 1991, Variety International board member Marsha Rae Ratcliff had an idea for expanding the work Variety – the Children’s Charity had been doing since its founding in 1927. Simple and elegant, Ratcliff’s idea was to sell heart-shaped gold pins at movie theaters, with proceeds going to Variety’s mission of assisting children in need. In the 30 years since its inception, the Variety Gold Heart Pin Campaign has become one of the most enduring symbols of the film industry’s commitment to charitable giving.
The story of the iconic gold pin is one of the worldwide film community coming together for a good cause. The campaign, which started in Great Britain, made its way stateside when actress Maureen Arthur-Ruben—then-president of Variety of Southern California’s board of directors—attended a Variety conference. Her chapter adopted the program, and support from studio executives— Erica Lopez, executive director of Variety – the Children’s Charity of the United States, cites Clark Woods, Mike McCartney, and Jeff Goldstein—helped get the pin in theaters.
Woods, then in the thick of his decades-long tenure at Paramount, had the idea to “put a campaign behind [the pin] like they would put a campaign behind a film,” Lopez recalls, in part by giving the pin prime placement in-theater to boost sales. Handling of the campaign went from Paramount to Disney, whose V.P. of exhibitor relations Nancy Klueter helped get the pin campaign out to theaters nationwide. A rollout to Variety’s global chapters followed. “Over time, each studio helped open doors to new theater partners, and Variety executive directors at the individual chapters throughout the United States formed relationships with their local theaters to gain their support as well,” says Lopez.
Variety’s collaboration with Disney introduced a second key component to the Gold Heart Pin Campaign. In 2002, at the suggestion of Arthur-Ruben and the late Jody Reynolds, who passed away last year, Disney gave permission for the pin to depict an image of Mickey Mouse. The addition of I.P. proved a turning point for the campaign, as sales that year reached 700,000 pins. In the years since Mickey’s Variety’s debut, different characters have popped up on the pins, including Spider-Man (Sony; 2005); Yoda and Darth Vader (Disney; 2014); E.T. (Dreamworks; 2004), and—by far the most popular pin, to the tune of $3 million—Universal’s Minions, who were a hit in 2015.
Universal is represented yet again in this year’s Variety Gold Heart Pin campaign, featuring the characters of Ted (voiced by Alec Baldwin) and Tina (voiced by Amy Sedaris) from The Boss Baby: Family Business, out July 2. Pins are available for a minimum donation of $3 at movie theaters across the U.S. Says Lopez, “Each Gold Heart pin sold means that Variety can provide things like custom-fitted adaptive tricycles, communication devices, and activities such as camp for kids and teens with special needs.”
“The Boss Baby: Family Business celebrates the child inside each of us and the families who love and support us throughout our lives,” says Eric Carr, senior vice president of in-theater marketing for Universal Pictures. “Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation are proud to partner with Variety – the Children’s Charity in its vital, ongoing mission to make the lives of children with special needs, and their families, a little easier and a lot brighter.”