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A New York Socialite Goes Hollywood : 'Deb of the Decade' Cornelia Guest Is Pursuing an Acting Career

June 26, 1987|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

All's well at Spago. The famous are filling up the Garden Room, and the cameras record each arrival.

It's a good turnout: stars Gregory Peck, Angie Dickinson, Roddy McDowall, Ali MacGraw; producers Allan Carr, Fred De Cordova, David Niven Jr.; artist David Hockney; writers Jackie Collins and Judith Green, who is the guest of honor at this photo opportunity masquerading as a book-signing party.

Off in a corner, a young blond woman ignores the commotion and quietly converses in French with her darkly handsome escort. But her eyes are fixed warily on the paparazzi. Whenever one comes close, she retreats farther into the room's shadows.

A few photographers glance at her. After all, she's strikingly pretty in a sweet sort of way. But they aren't interested in wasting film on what must be, ho-hum, just another undiscovered starlet.

Who Is She?

"Hey," a reporter calls out, pointing to the woman. "Isn't that Cornelia Guest?"

The party's publicist pauses. He squints to get a better look at the woman. "Cornelia Goetz?" he says, puzzled. "You mean she's related to that New York subway vigilante?"

"No," the reporter replies. "Cornelia Guest . Daughter of C. Z., 'Deb of the Decade,' darling of the gossip columnists. Don't you remember?"

The press agent's face goes blank. "Never heard of her."

And he walks away to corral a real celebrity.

Cornelia Guest hears this and laughs, those patrician-sounding peals giving away her aristocratic origins.

Then she begins to explain how a champagne-swilling cherub, who attended 365 parties in 1982, danced until dawn in New York discos and never could keep straight whether her favorite charity was Save the Children or Save the Trees, matured into a 22-year-old who moved to Los Angeles two months ago to study acting seriously in an atmosphere of anonymity.

"And now I'm the first one home at 11 p.m. and sound asleep."

She grabs a steamy slice of Wolfgang Puck's pizza off a waiter's tray ("I can't resist this anymore") and takes delicate little bites. After each one, she dabs at her mouth with a napkin.

"I really don't know if anyone out here knows my reputation. And I hope that they don't," she says.

"I think that in New York I got a really bad rap. I mean, I wasn't as bad as everybody thought I was. You know, I was 18 years old and everybody goes out at night when they're that age. And I just happened to do it in front of the press.

"But I don't do that anymore. It's over. To me, that was one stage in my life. And now," she says, with a sweep of her hand to take in the scene at Spago, "this is another."

A young woman comes up to Guest and gives her a playful hug. Guest introduces her as Christina Green of New York and Palm Beach. They look so much alike they could be twins; in fact, they're childhood friends.

"Yes, we were little terrors," Green says.

"And we still are," Guest adds.

"No you're not," Green says, looking forlornly at her friend. "All I can say is that we miss her desperately in New York. Absolutely.

"We know she's out here trying to become a great star, which she probably will. But everywhere back home, people are saying, 'Where's Cornelia? Where's Cornelia?' It's true ."

Guest frowns ever so slightly.

"And I say, 'Don't worry. You can visit. I have a guest room. I'll even come get you at the airport.' "

Guest's attention is diverted by her escort for a moment, and Green confides that she thinks her friend has fled New York for good.

"Well, she said to me at lunch the other day at the Beverly Hills Hotel that the nicest thing about being out here is she can walk into any restaurant in this town and, No. 1, she doesn't know a soul. And No. 2, nobody knows her. And No. 3, it's more relaxed. She doesn't have to get dressed. She doesn't even have to brush her hair.

"Whereas she said that if she walks into Mortimer's or somewhere else in New York, she's got to say hello to 50 people before she can sit down."

Guest is the first to admit that leaving home was hard. Her oh-so-social family is an East Coast institution, after all. Her father, the late Winston Guest, was a second cousin of Winston Churchill, an heir to the Phipps steel fortune and one of the top 10 polo players in the world. Her mother, C. Z. Guest, maintains homes on Long Island, in Palm Beach and on Park Avenue, has a vast array of famous friends, including Nancy Reagan, and keeps occupied writing a gardening column for the New York Post.

National Publicity

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