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Steven Spielberg Guest of Honor at the Moving Picture Ball

Times Staff Writer

One time-tested way to measure the worth of anyone in Hollywood is to honor that person at the annual Moving Picture Ball. The ball’s organizers pride themselves on tapping the hottest talent of the moment--Robin Williams last year; Bette Midler in 1987, and Eddie Murphy in 1986.

If Steven Spielberg’s ability to draw ticket buyers is any indication of his worth, he is hotter than Williams, Midler or Murphy. Some would argue that Spielberg peaked a few years back when he spent more time directing and less producing--topping the hits “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T.”

But on Saturday night at the Century Plaza Hotel, about 1,300 Hollywood movers and shakers paid from $250 to $700 a plate to honor Spielberg. The event cleared nearly $400,000 for its nonprofit cause, the American Cinematheque, doubling last year’s proceeds, said Cinematheque founder Gary Essert. High-end ticket prices were doubled from last year, but an additional 200 people came.

Ticket-holders included such stars as Spielberg’s wife, Amy Irving, Faye Dunaway, Kathleen Turner, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Teri Garr and Richard Dreyfuss; directors such as Sydney Pollack (Cinematheque chairman), Barry Levinson and Robert Zemeckis; and studio executives such as MCA/Universal’s Lew Wasserman and Sidney Sheinberg, Columbia’s Dawn Steel, Paramount’s Frank Mancuso and Sidney Ganis, Warner’s Terry Semel and Disney’s Jeffrey Katzenberg.

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An anonymous donor gave $750,000 to build the Steven Spielberg Theater at the Cinematheque, an arts complex now under construction in Hollywood, which will be dedicated to film and video. (Speculation about the identity of the donor immediately centered on MCA’s top brass.)

Spielberg was nearly upstaged by fierce studio takeover rumors. One day after the Australian group Qintex agreed to buy MGM/UA, attendees at the ball were swapping gossip about news rumors that Sony is about to buy MCA.

“People are saying MGM in one breath, and Sony-MCA in the next,” said Paramount’s Ganis.

Gallows humor about an impending takeover was rife. MCA’s music and entertainment chief, Irving Azoff, was spotted sporting a Sony button. On stage later, Cinematheque President Peter Dekom opened his remarks in Japanese.

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MCA President Sheinberg joked that if the next two “Back to the Future” sequels “aren’t megahits, next year at this time you’ll see me selling closeouts of Sony Walkmans on the street corner.” But earlier, when asked about the rumors, Sheinberg said he legally could not comment.

The evening’s retrospective of Spielberg’s work highlighted his genius for creating cliff-hanging adventures and other-worldly creatures. And Paramount executives said they have high hopes for this summer’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

But at age 41, Spielberg--who has directed and/or produced seven of the Top 20 grossing movies of all time--seems eager to move onto new ground. The only modest success of his two films that are devoid of aliens or snake pits--"Empire of the Sun” and “The Color Purple"--hasn’t discouraged him from continuing in that direction.

Spielberg told reporters that he’s eager to do love stories, biographies and a musical. Asked about his films’ “childlike wonder,” Spielberg replied: “As I get into my 40s, I feel like I should be talking about more adult things.”

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When Spielberg took the stage to accept the ball’s traditional crystal popcorn box, he said that as he watched the action-packed retrospective of his work, he wondered aloud about the absence of dialogue and long intimate scenes that would be a part of a Billy Wilder retrospective.

Then, simply and perhaps a little wistfully, Spielberg said of his own work: “I guess that’s what I do.”


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