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A Big Bout Between the Big Ds : Books: Financier Donald Trump wins by default when the Dalai Lama fails to appear at the American Booksellers’ annual convention in Las Vegas.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It’s hard to believe, but bookmakers in this betting town missed making odds on one of the biggest bouts of the year: The Dalai vs. The Donald.

In the end, The Donald won--but only by default.

There’s only one place in America where these two men could compete--the American Booksellers Assn.'s annual convention where this year 20,000 trade people also saw Garrison Keillor rapping like Public Enemy, Jackie Collins paying homage to Elvis Presley and the publishing industry organizing to fight censorship.

The big news was that both Big Ds have written new books about themselves. But the ABA scheduled a personal appearance by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in honor of his autobiography, “Freedom in Exile,” at exactly the same time that Random House held its reception for Donald Trump’s “Surviving at the Top.”

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For some reason, most booksellers didn’t even know the Dalai Lama was coming to town. But the vast majority were ready to beg, borrow and steal for an invitation to The Trump Affair, even though most were kept well away from the New York developer by two beefy bodyguards.

But the booksellers were kept even farther from the Dalai Lama because he canceled at the last moment.

Trump appeared subdued--well, subdued for him--at Sunday’s party in his honor. The reason, informed sources said later, was that he knew the Wall Street Journal was reporting the following day that his creditors may force him to sell part of his vast empire and adopt a more conservative operating style to help cover roughly $2 billion in bank debts.

One banking source told the Journal that The Donald will have to get rid of the yacht, the mansions and even the helicopter in an effort to “trim the fat.” Judging from Sunday’s outing, that may be happening already: Trump looked leaner than he did when he was hawking his last book about himself, the 1987 bestseller “The Art of the Deal.”

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Joni Evans, the editor of Random House, promised that the public will see a more “vulnerable” and a more “honest” Trump in the new book. “Even if they dislike him--and actually, I don’t think they do--they will want to read about him in pain,” Evans predicted. “Because the real key is that Donald has become a whole other man.”

For his part, Trump emphasized that proceeds from the book will go to charity.

Amid fears of a future filled with book banning, and maybe even a little book burning, the American Booksellers Assn. announced Saturday it is forming the Foundation for Free Expression to act as a clearinghouse and listening post for people wanting to fight censorship.

Certainly, publishing efforts on behalf of free expression have not received as much publicity as the art world controversy over the late Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs. But Saturday’s move followed an April advertising blitz in 28 major newspapers urging the public to oppose attempts by special interest groups to censor certain books and magazines deemed inappropriate or obscene.

According to Oren Teicher, the trade group’s associate executive director and president of the new foundation, readers sent in 75,000 anti-censorship coupons included in the ads, and signed another 100,000 them at Waldenbooks nationwide.

“Censorship cannot eliminate evil. It can only kill freedom,” Teicher explained.

Booksellers at the convention noted that while many of the attacks on free expression are occurring in public libraries, some are also taking place in retail bookstores. Teicher, for instance, complained that certain ultraconservative groups such as Focus on the Family, a Pomona-based Christian broadcasting ministry, are trying to organize boycotts of certain booksellers. But attacks are coming from all sides. Village Books store in Bellingham, Wash., reported that two weeks ago a woman tore up copies of Esquire magazine to protest what she thought was its sexist material.

By all accounts, this year’s ABA convention was less lavish and celebrity-laden than in years past, in keeping with the industry’s premium these days on substance over style. Booksellers attributed the change to a softening in publishing industry profits after a boom period that saw sky-rocketing sales and sky-high author advances.

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For instance, Garrison Keillor didn’t bother to make an appearance this year. Claiming he was “stranded in New York City,” the popular “Prairie Home Companion” author sent a video of himself rapping to booksellers, including one attempt to rhyme the words “coffee” and “word processor.”

The general agreement was that Keillor is a better writer than rapper.

Meanwhile, Warner Books originally planned a full-frills fete for its much heralded “Gone With the Wind II.” But suddenly the book was back under wraps, sparking speculation that the writing by Alexandra Ripley, who received a staggering $4.9-million advance, was not yet up to snuff.

Warner’s admits that more research needs to be done. “It’s a big book, and it deserves to be completed in the proper fashion,” says publicist Ellen Herrick.

Those books that were included Jean Auel’s “The Plains of Passage,” which takes her clans across the Eurasian continent; John Updike’s “Rabbit at Rest,” which takes his protagonist into sixtysomething territory, and Barbara Raskin’s “Current Affairs,” which takes two sisters into middle age.

But leave it to Tinseltown to provide whatever glitz and glamour there was in the form of in-the-flesh musings from Kirk Douglas (“Dance With the Devil”), Steve Allen (“Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, and Morality”) and Angela Lansbury (“Angela Lansbury’s Postivie Moves”) among others. The public’s lust for celebrity autobiography seems to know no bounds; for instance, dancer Ann Miller described her New Age-ish “Tapping into the Force” as a book designed to “out-Shirley MacLaine Shirley MacLaine.”

And leave it to Beverly Hills novelist Jackie Collins to top everyone. Not wanting to fete her in just an ordinary hotel ballroom, Simon & Schuster rented the “Hart Mansion” which would have become Elvis Presley’s Las Vegas Graceland if he had lived. As she slinked through the crowd promoting her new Mafia-meets-Hollywood tale, “Lady Boss,” La Jackie was trailed by violinists, pianists, and champagne-bearing waiters.

But it will be Collins’ last book in her “Lucky Santangelo” series that really lays it on thick. “ ‘Lady Boss’,” Jackie pledged, “is going to revitalize Hollywood.”

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