A friend in the hospital? Why settle for flowers? Why not send a belly dancer, a nude, a ventriloquist, a snake charmer? Dinner out? How about on a yacht, the beach, a chartered airplane or in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce? In Dallas one couple chose dinner, served by a butler, in a department store window. Price: $400.
All this and more can be had from Renta Yenta, the latest gimmick in the rent-all business, with headquarters in Encino, Calif. and branches in 20 cities. Yenta is Yiddish for busybody. The service, billed as “Anything you want, as long as it’s legal—and kind,” was started by two L.A. housewives, Lila Greene, 45, and Toby Brown, 40, who’d had enough already of staying home. “I didn’t want to be a housewife,” explains Lila. “But my husband thought maids were a perversion. He told me if I wanted a maid I had to pay for one. But there was nothing for a woman my age to do.” Adds Toby, a former schoolteacher: “Nobody was looking for a mother, and that is what we were good at.”
They tried selling plants, then goldfish (they all died). Next, for a small commission, they arranged for one friend to buy something like a table or bicycle from another. Business grew slowly, and in 1973 the two women decided to go big-time. They ran an ad in Daily Variety with a catchy slogan, “Anything you can’t do, we can.” The first client who called them was financier Bernie Cornfeld. He needed a secretary to fly with him to South America at 8 a.m. the next morning. The Yentas delivered.
Next came Sammy Davis Jr. He requested a Hebrew scholar to tutor him on the road. He needed to bone up on his prayers for his son’s bar mitzvah. “It worked out terrific,” reports the take-charge Lila. “Sammy did great on the Hebrew. He blew the English, however.”
These days the Yentas are so busy they require a full-time staff of 17. Besides orchestrating three surprise parties in one day for Dinah Shore’s last birthday, the Yentas recently planned Suzanne Somers’ wedding, assembled a zoo for the sixth birthday of Neil Diamond’s son, delivered 500 pounds of popcorn to Pat Boone and babysat for Sally Struthers’ cat.
They also tend to plainer folks. Take the case of the stockbroker depressed over the market. His wife called Renta Yenta for help in cheering him up. The Yentas hired a belly dancer and negotiated with a scaffolding company to hoist the woman 22 floors up the side of the broker’s office building. She knocked on his window, did seven minutes of gyrations, waved goodbye and was cranked back to earth. Cost of the whole operation: $2,500.
Lila and Toby launched their business with a $2,000 bank loan and spent weeks worrying over a name. Then one night Lila’s husband, Mel, came home, found his wife for once not on the phone to Toby and growled, “Thank God you two yentas finally shut up.” Eureka! Lila rushed to call Toby, who added the rhyme. To prevent rip-off imitators, Renta Yenta is registered internationally. After two years in the red, the company turned the corner in 1976 and last year grossed $1.5 million. Mel Greene, a onetime theatrical business manager, now works full-time for Renta Yenta. (Toby’s husband, Jed Allan, is one of the stars of the TV soap Days of Our Lives.)
The Yentas have adjusted nicely to success—a spacious home in Encino for the Greenes and their brood of five, aged 12 to 20, and a Tudor ranch with stained glass windows for Toby and Jed and their three children, 11 to 17. Best of all, Lila and Toby can now afford full-time maids. So what happens on maid’s night off? Lila orders in from McDonald’s. Toby is served by a butler—provided, of course, by Renta Yenta. Where else can she get such a discount?