Safe Landing for Gibson Premiere

The man Vanity Fair called "the very model of a modern motion-picture star," Mel Gibson, was the center of a female squeal-fest Thursday night, when Tri-Star Pictures launched its new film, "Air America."

It was a splashy old-fashioned opening: a screening at Mann's Chinese Theater, a block-long red carpet down the middle of the street (taped to the asphalt), and a gala party on the roof of the parking structure of the nearby Holiday Inn.

The evening was a benefit for the American Film Institute (in association with Tri-Star and Carolco Pictures), and the event planners did a great job transforming the concrete platform into a fair replica of Adventureland, with taped bird calls, tropical plants and the sounds of planes strafing overhead. Ambrosia catered a lavish buffet of Thai-American-style food, complete with urns of cold Thai iced tea.

Completing the Teahouse-of-the-August-Moon effect, a prop plane with a 30-foot wingspan stretched over the party, spitting smoke. Another plane, constructed entirely of chocolate, hung over the dessert bar like a Spruce Goose designed by Hershey.

Gibson created havoc among the camera-toting tourists when he walked to the party, and even the normally blase premiere types lost their cool when he posed for a photo opportunity. As soon as the last flashbulb popped, Gibson and co-star Robert Downey Jr. were rushed by autograph-seekers (many of whom seemed to come from within the industry).

"Oh, I suppose I could be persuaded," said AFI director Jean Firstenberg, when asked to pose with Gibson. She added, "Bette Davis did a seminar at the AFI in January of 1983, and she lamented the lack of real stars in Hollywood today. She said, 'There's one gentleman who just might make it, and his name is Mel Gibson.' And that was back in 1983."

Also on hand: "America's" co-stars David Marshall Grant, Marshall Bell and Tim Thomerson; as well as Ernest and Tova Borgnine, Freddie and Corinna Fields, Chuck and Ava Fries, Sherry Lansing, Ken Kragen and Cathy Worthington, Lorna Luft, Karl Malden, Ed McMahon, Donna Mills, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bob Rafelson, Suzanne Somers, Ken Wahl, Edgar Winter (in a wicked-cool purple jacket) and Robert Wise.

There was dancing to taped Madonna and M.C. Hammer songs; schmoozing to Aretha Franklin and the Commodores, and there were gift bags of "Air America" T-shirts, perfumes and something called "Redken Creatif Centigrade Therm-active Bodifier 4L." The hotel guests, however, had the best celebrity-watching posts, hanging out of their windows to watch the festivities. They got a great view of the proceedings without having to set foot on Hollywood Boulevard, which looks more and more like "Blade Runner" with each passing evening. (Perhaps the midnight denizens down there could use a spritz of Redken Creatif Centigrade Therm-active Bodifier 4L.)

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