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Notebook : Movies Play 2nd Fiddle on Opening Night

Times Staff Writer

As a measure of its success, the opening night of the Orange County Performing Arts Center outdrew such nearby attractions as Monday Night Hamster Bowling and “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee,” a movie about the adventures of an unsophisticated Australian thrust into the civilized life of a big city.

At the Edwards Movie Theatre west of the Performing Arts Center, assistant manager Bill Smith said only 22 customers showed up to see “Aliens,” which, like the Los Angeles Philharmonic, had a 7 p.m. curtain time. “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee,” playing in the same theater complex, started 1 1/2 hours later.

Business was terrible, Smith said, but only because it was the Center’s opening night. He was confident that patronage would pick up; more people in the area can only mean more movie-goers, he said.

The Center has already brought prestige to the area, Smith said. For example, two weekends ago, Mel Brooks’ new movie, “Solar Babies,” premiered at his theater.

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“I can’t imagine why he would have shown it here except for the Performing Arts Center,” Smith said. “I mean, we have a nice theater, but he would have chosen some place in Westwood.”

For moviegoer Bill Capps, a Marine from the Tustin helicopter base, a $5.50 seat inside the theater showing “ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee” was a better buy than a ticket to the center premiere, which ranged in price from $250 to $2,000.

“It’s not going to be that expensive every night, is it?” he asked. “I ain’t that big a fan (of the performing arts). That’s more than I make in a paycheck.”

Kathy Cristino, manager of the Reuben’s restaurant in South Coast Plaza Village, said she didn’t expect the new theater to have any effect on Monday night’s business.

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“We have a regular Monday Night Football crowd and the Hamster Bowling afterwards is always a good draw,” she said. Hamster Bowling, for those unfamiliar with the sport, consists of five hamsters in clear balls who roll around in a ring edged by bowling pins. A player rents a hamster for $2, and the person whose rodent knocks down the most pins wins dinner for two.

For the governor, politics came before Beethoven.

George Deukmejian, facing a midnight Tuesday deadline with nearly 200 bills still awaiting his signature, declined an invitation to attend Monday’s gala opening.

But the state’s First Lady, Gloria Deukmejian, attended, along with Deukmejian’s chief of staff, Steve Merksamer, and his wife, Linda.

President Reagan apparently heard about the Center’s premiere through the grapevine.

Performing Arts Center President Timothy Strader, in his remarks to the opening-night crowd, first read a congratulatory message from Beverly Sills, general director of the New York City Opera, the first opera company that will perform at the Center.

Then Strader moved on to a missive from Washington. But he stumbled over the sender’s name. The message, he said, was “signed Ronald Raisin. Reagan.”

As the first cars--Mercedeses and Porsches and Rolls-Royces--arrived in front of the Center, a phalanx of valets stood like toy soldiers along the white and yellow stripes of Town Center Drive.

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Dan Angel, owner of the company providing valet service, had his own case of opening-night jitters.

“It’s a high-pressure situation,” he said. “We’re performing, too--no question about that.

“But it’s a performance with more risk. If someone (in the orchestra) breaks a string, it might sound bad, but no one gets hurt.”

A circling police chopper in the sky above the Center cut through the usual twilight calm in the California Scenario, Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture garden at the South Coast Metro Center.

The helicopter’s loud blades overwhelmed the tranquil waters of Noguchi’s fountains, but the stone courtyard was nearly deserted. The only person there, just 1 1/2 blocks from the hubbub of opening night, was Anzai, a photographer from Tokyo.

Anzai was setting up his view camera to take the cover photograph for Noguchi’s next book, he said. The helicopter, at least, wouldn’t interfere with that.

It was down to the wire for some of those involved in preparations for the Center’s opening.

Even as Zubin Mehta was leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic through a late afternoon rehearsal of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, workers from Design 2 Signmakers were putting the finishing touches on a smattering of brass-and-glass signs listing Center donors.

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Times staff writers Kenneth F. Bunting, Mark Landsbaum, Randy Lewis, Andy Rose and Barry S. Surman contributed to this report.


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