The latest holiday cards -- A roundup of cards from celebrities like Ahmet Ertegun, Merv Griffin, and Peter Norton

In entertainment circles, ’tis the season for power Christmas cards. And while key players in Hollywood want their friends to know they care enough to send the very best, they won’t be picking out their cards from the rack down at the mall. No, the entertainment industry’s heavies express their seasonal wishes — and their personal clout — with custom-made cards. Major studios, talent agencies, and record labels issue corporate greetings to their A-list stars and directors. ”For the rest of the year, you are your car,” observes L.A. society writer Bill Higgins. ”But, at Christmastime, you are your card.”

For industry insiders, power Christmas cards hold much more than purely seasonal significance. The often elaborate card — Atlantic Records’ chairman Ahmet Ertegun once sent cards made of suede — is the golden handshake that solidifies the complex relationships woven throughout Hollywood. ”It’s the perfect way to acknowledge people you haven’t acknowledged throughout the year,” says Marc Friedland of L.A.’s Artafax studios, who designs many of the cards. ”What’s so interesting is that such a slick business is interested in these cards,” says graphic designer Claudia Laub. ”Some of them are really corny.”

Publisher Steve Forbes, the late Malcolm Forbes’ son, continues his father’s tradition of sending a family portrait, though this year’s snapshot was taken on the family yacht in Leningrad’s Neva River. Director Steven Spielberg sent out an ”old-fashioned scrapbook” with a family photo. Some superstars prefer family-themed cards with a less traditional bent. For example, Jane Fonda has sent cards of her family on a Malibu beach surrounded by surfboards. Corporate cards are more blatantly promotional. This year Santa Monica’s Rhino Records wedged their company mascot, Rocky Rhino, into a Santa suit to publicize their Christmas catalog. Not to be outdone, Merv Griffin mailed 5,000 cards of himself posed with Santa in front of his Beverly Hilton Hotel. ”It never snows on the Beverly Hilton except when we send our best holiday wishes to all our good friends,” read the card signed ”Merv.”

For perhaps 1990’s most lavish card, L.A. art patron and computer mogul Peter Norton commissioned a reading of the four Gospels of the New Testament from an NEA-sponsored record producer, a gesture of Norton’s support for the arts. The result was a gold-leaf-festooned compact disc that was mailed to 3,500. In fact, designers say that the tide may be turning toward enlightened social messages. Friedland says many of his customers have requested cards printed on recycled paper. And some bigwigs are slipping pledges to the recipient’s favorite charity into their season’s greetings. ”It’s a very socially conscious Christmas statement,” Friedland says.