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American Cinema Awards : Gest At Helm Of Anniversary Party

May 30, 1986|JOHN VOLAND

Even set against a landscape blurry with Big Thinkers, David Gest stands out.

At 18, a publicity director for a major record label; two years later, a vice president; and a few years more, one of Los Angeles' more prominent personal managers, handling Al Green, the Doobie Brothers, the Captain and Tennille and Burt Bacharach.

Not a bad resume for someone who feels, as Gest did at the time, "that I didn't really know what aspect of show business I wanted to be in. I wasn't firmly focused."

Now that the American Cinema Awards--giving a third anniversary party tonight at the Beverly Wilshire (Information: (213) 277-9616)--has given Gest a place to hang his shingle, he's thinking really big.

"Back in 1983, when I first got the idea for the awards and the foundation, I thought there was a need for a place where people from all over the world could come to study and learn about the stars and the films--the history of the motion picture industry. Now we're moving in that direction."

Thanks to John Conte, owner of KMIR-TV in Palm Springs, Gest (who's now 31) and the foundation have almost nine acres of prime beachfront property in Malibu as a place to park their dreams for a film center.

But then, that's more than they had last year, Gest admitted in a recent interview.

"When you're a new organization, it's very hard to raise funds," he said. "It's not like everybody calls you and falls all over themselves to give you cash. The first two years are always consumed with proving yourself. Once you get over that, you go into the business of delivering the things that you've promised to do. And that's what we're concentrating on now."

One of the things Gest promised to his initial backers (mostly industry people, though some doctors and businessmen were included) was "special" awards shows--events that would come to be known as Places to Be Seen. Last year's edition of the American Cinema Awards, held on Nov. 22 at the Beverly Wilshire, boasted co-hosting stints by Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Mitchum and Robert Wagner, while a cornucopia of stars glittered nearby.

The next thing Gest promised was a parcel of land on which to build the foundation's center. Several months later, Conte made his earthy donation.

What's next?

"We'd like to be giving more seminars--increasing the amount of educating we do," Gest said. "There have been several of these, but not enough. We're trying to bring all the performing arts into one mainstream, and tap into that mainstream in a way that everyone could benefit from. But we're not there yet."

Among the foundation's executive branch are people like actor Joseph Cotten, American Federation of Christians and Jews founder Irving Mitchell Felt, and former Columbia Pictures chief Leo Jaffe, and Gest said they are in agreement that the film industry's history is a priority matter for the group.

"There are a lot of great stars who have never received their just dues," he said. "And we felt this organization could enhance and enlighten the public about their contributions. That's why this foundation was established in the first place." Gest added that his foundation would also be sponsoring scholarships in the performing arts; two, for dance, will given at tonight's shindig.

But people driving along the Pacific Coast Highway shouldn't expect to see that center popping up tomorrow. Gest said he's "going to have to be patient with this one."

"Well, the center won't get built in a day," he added with a shrug. "But we do have definite plans for it. There will be a library--a complete research center, with scripts, magazines and collections of stills and books--and a movie theater, a museum and a performance amphitheater, seating a couple of thousand people.

"It will take a number of years," Gest continued. "And the more people become aware of who we are and what we're doing, the more funds will come in--and the quicker it'll be built. If we get it done in five to 10 years, it'll be incredible."

Picking up a fork, Gest laughingly pointed it for emphasis. "But then, no one's told me I can't do it yet. Who knows?"

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