American Cinema Awards Dinner to Honor Big Names

Times Staff Writer

Six years ago, former music manager David Gest couldn’t give away tickets to his American Cinema Awards dinner. Even at a cost of $7.50 a ticket, Gest and his fellow organizers had to arm-twist their friends to contribute to the new charitable foundation.

“It had not caught on,” Gest said. “I don’t think that at the time we knew the full direction we would take.”

But since its inception in 1983, the annual American Cinema Awards dinner has become more expensive, more star-studded and more elaborate--even while its charitable ambitions have become more modest. More than 40% of the money raised at tonight’s affair will be used to cover the cost of the event itself.

Tonight at the Beverly Hilton, about 100 companies and individuals will pay up to $25,000 a table--and get a chance to eat chateaubriand and sip Dom Perignon with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Robert Wagner, Shirley MacLaine, Anthony Quinn, Lucille Ball, Gregory Peck, Leslie Caron, Anthony Perkins, Lloyd Bridges, and on and on and on.


Most of the stars expected to attend are of Old Hollywood fame--but there are also contemporary faces, including Michelle Pfeiffer, Melanie Griffith, Donna Mills and Whoopi Goldberg.

Among those to be honored at the awards dinner are Bette Davis, Clint Eastwood and Julio Iglesias. Davis will listen to Kim Carnes sing “Bette Davis Eyes” for the first time. Robert Goulet will sing “Paint Your Wagon” to Eastwood. And Donna Summer and Michael McDonald will sing a medley of Iglesias tunes.

Tonight’s event will be paparazzi heaven--a publicist’s single-spaced list of the recognizable stars attending fills up an entire page. Many of the stars are comp’d for the affair, and receive free air travel to Los Angeles from American Airlines.

Formerly career manager for singer Al Green, as well as a publicist for such groups as the Doobie Brothers, Gest originally conceived of the American Cinema Awards Foundation as a way to celebrate the Golden Age of Hollywood by establishing a memorabilia museum. But the costs of building a museum were prohibitive, he said.

Instead, the foundation gives money to charitable Hollywood causes, primarily to the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, which so far has received $175,000 from Gest’s foundation. The foundation also will award more than $50,000 in scholarships at tonight’s event.

But of the $400,000 expected to be raised tonight, more than 40%--between $160,000 and $175,000--will cover the costs of what Gest calls “the best show in town.”

“If we come out with $200,000 (for charitable contributions) we’re doing incredible,” Gest said during a recent interview.

Generally missing from Gest’s impressive roster for the evening are prominent studio executives, agents and other key players in contemporary Hollywood. Gest acknowledges some frustration that established Hollywood has not lent much support to the event.

“The industry usually supports the people who are making films at the time, those who they feel are beneficial to them,” Gest said. “We’re honoring people who aren’t making films.”

But the studios do provide direct support to the Woodland Hills hospital, which provides care and housing for needy members of the entertainment industry. Each of the seven major studios has committed $1 million to the home over the next 10 years, as have the Jules Stein Foundation, Marvin Davis, Bob Hope and George Burns. MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman has contributed more than $5 million to the facility, according to Bob Oettinger, associate director of the hospital’s capital campaign drive.

Indeed, the $175,000 so far given by Gest’s organization represents a fraction of the $34 million the facility has raised since 1984 in an effort to double its capacity from 300 to 600 residents. Over the next 10 years, Gest said, his foundation will have contributed more than $1 million to the hospital.

Gest started the American Cinema Awards Foundation with two name entertainment families: Tito and Dee Dee Jackson (he once did public relations for the Jacksons), and Joel and Frances Dee McCrea. The addition of Joseph and Patricia Medina Cotten--who now serve as co-chairs--to the organization also increased its influence.

Gest serves as president of the foundation; the three vice presidents are actress Jane Greer, Ken Kercheval of “Dallas” fame and Tristan Rogers, star of “General Hospital.”