Times Staff Writer

What may turn out to be the best awards show of the season took place Saturday night at the Wilshire-Ebell Theatre. It wasn't televised, broadcast on radio or taped for airing at a later date.

And that's too bad, because the Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Artists' sixth annual awards show would have given awards-watching audiences what the Academy Awards often do not--an evening of entertainment, emotion and enlightenment.

The awards honor the responsible portrayal of gay and lesbian characters on screen, television and the Los Angeles stage. The alliance gave 23 awards and 15 honorable mentions from among about 150 nominations, a significant increase from past years, when gay themes were seldom, if ever, prevalent in popular entertainment.

Producers Josh Schiowitz and David Westberg showed clips from some of the award-winning shows, including episodes from "L.A. Law," "Trapper John, M.D." and "Hotel." Unlike the film snippets shown during the Oscars, scenes were shown in their entirety, giving the audience an understanding of the show's award-winning qualities.

Despite the abundance of nominees, Executive Director Chris Uszler told the audience that there is more to gay life than AIDS, and he'd like to see other issues explored in the future. And with the knowledge that heterosexuals can also be afflicted by the AIDS virus, he said, "Writers need to write shows that depict sexually active people and AIDS, not just gay males."

There were poignant moments as the AIDS-themed honorees accepted their awards. Ron Cowen who, with Daniel Lipman wrote the teleplay for "An Early Frost," NBC's highly acclaimed story of an AIDS victim and his family, told the audience, "We're sorry we had to write this, we're sorry AIDS ever happened. Hopefully, the next time we're up here, we'll be accepting an award for the sequel, 'An Early Spring, the Cure.' "

Many honorees spoke of the endless re-writing involved in preparing such homosexual-themed scripts for network broadcast. But none brought down the house like Lee Richmond, who co-wrote "Agony," British broadcasting's twist on "Three's Company," featuring a woman living with two gay men. The show was aired here on PBS.

"Of course, here they turned it into the 'Lucie Arnaz Show'," Richmond said wryly. "They got rid of the black lesbian, the gay men and the transvestite--and it lasted six shows."

"Hotel" producer Don Brinkley recalled the show's "gay-bashing" episode and being "sure that ABC (executives) would support how street punks use an issue to justify violence in such an easy manner. But it wasn't so easy."

Phil Donahue, an honoree numerous times in the past, sent his acceptance via videotape and affirmed his intent to continue bringing gay issues to his audience so that they understand that "sexual preference or habits is nobody else's business."

Film and TV-producer Barry Krost ("American Dreamer," "When a Stranger Calls") was given a special honor for his time and dedication in raising $2 million for the Los Angeles AIDS project. Krost praised the commitment of actress Elizabeth Taylor and others, who "risked their reputations and careers" for the AIDS cause.

The evening's entertainment, rather than coming in isolated clumps, was successfully interspersed throughout the show.

Some highlights:

--In a spoof, "Golden Girls" Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty, actresses Adrienne Barbeau and Delta Burke ("Designing Women") portraying themselves as "best actress nominees," were aced by "Lainie Peru," female impersonator Scott Bernstein's boozy Norma Desmond-type who thanked the audience for, respectively an Oscar, an Emmy and a Grammy before learning the true nature of the AGLA award: "You mean I'm getting an award from the garment workers?"

--Charles Pierce's non-drag imitations of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Collins (as well as the sign-language translator's interpretation of same).

--A lively production number from the hit play "Pump Boys and Dinettes" with accompaniment from the Pereines, a hip four-piece combo.

--The many funny bits contributed by stage actresses Hillary Carlip and Lissa Negrin, who portrayed star-struck awards-crashers and also offered a hilarious takeoff on two catty female awards presenters.

The evening's overall theme--that people should be judged on who they are as human beings, rather than on sexual preference--seemed especially appropriate, given a group of megaphoned "Repent or Perish" sign-carrying protesters who harassed the crowd entering the theater earlier in the evening.

Following is a complete list of awards presented by the Alliance for Gay and Lesbian Artists:

Television: "The AIDS Show--Artists Involved With Death and Survival" (PBS); "Agony" (PBS); "As Is" (Showtime); "Brothers" (Showtime); Phil Donahue and Donahue (Multimedia); "An Early Frost" (NBC); "The Golden Girls," episode, "Isn't It Romantic" (NBC); "Hotel," episodes, "Scapegoats," "Rallying Cry," "Undercurrents" (ABC); "L.A. Law," episodes, "Venus Butterfly," "Fry Me to the Moon" (NBC); "Trapper John, M.D.," episode, "Friends and Lovers" (CBS); "20/20," segment, "Homophobia" (ABC); "When the Bough Breaks" (NBC).

Film: "Desert Hearts" (Samuel Goldwyn Co.); "Dona Herlinda and Her Son" (Cinevista); "My Beautiful Laundrette" (Orion Classics); "November Moon" (Ottokar Runze Film Produktion); "Parting Glances" (Cinecom International).

Stage: "AIDS/US" (Skylight Theatre); "8X10 Glossy" (Celebration Theatre); "The Normal Heart" (Las Palmas Theater); "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" (James A. Doolittle Theatre).

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