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DONNA RICE : The Path to Hollywood

September 13, 1987|PAUL ROSENFIELD

The waiter at the Ivy was either indiscreet or not terribly bright. "Mrs. Rice," he announced, approaching the restaurant's most visible corner--the inside corner table--"there is a call for you!"

Donna Rice excused herself to go to the phone. She had just arrived at the Ivy, late, after getting lost and stopping at La Scala for directions. She had confused Beverly Drive (near La Scala) with Beverly Boulevard (near the Ivy)--a common confusion for an out-of-towner. At La Scala she got directions from a stranger, a man who recognized her. Now the man was calling the Ivy to make sure she arrived.

When Rice returned from the phone, she had a nonchalant look on her face. "His name is--oh never mind," she said, handing the reporter a business card from a senior executive at a major studio. "He was just checking that I got here."

Rice raised her eyebrows with an I've-been-there look, the look of a woman wiser than her 29 years, and wondered aloud: "Was he thinking of me for a part, or was he wanting to ask me out? You never know who's in bed with whom here." Her pause did not seem deliberate. "I hate womanizers," she said lightly, "and you can't always spot them."

If the studio executive had power--and on some level he does, having held several top-level jobs in recent years--Rice couldn't have cared less. The subject was dropped.

The irony, of course, is that nobody at the Ivy seemed to recognize Rice; she said that nobody at La Scala did, either, except the studio executive. In restaurants on two coasts over the summer, Donna Rice--the Media Star of 1987--has gone unrecognized without even trying. One day she wears her caramel-color hair flowing to her shoulders, one day it's in a Sandra Dee pony-tail, but never is it disguised, nor is she--and she's been all over town all summer. The meetings have been endless, with potential managers, agents, producers, production companies and networks. She's crisscrossed from her parents' home in South Carolina to New York several times--taping "20/20" with Barbara Walters, filming a jeans commercial--and traveled to Spain (for a talk show, for which she received her only serious media money, a reported $20,000 fee).

On another evening, at the Hard Rock Cafe in L.A., Rice was asked what her life was like last summer--after all, she only met Gary Hart on New Year's Eve. She laughed softly. "Last summer was my high school reunion! I'm sure glad it's not this summer." Then she peered out the cafe's tinted window and stared at a woman in line, a woman wearing pants so tight they looked spray-painted on. Rice silently watched the woman with a look of knowingness, then she gathered her purse and jacket and got up to leave, again unrecognized (even in a very intense midsummer Saturday night crowd). "I'm going directly home to sleep," said Rice quietly. "Tomorrow I'm looking for an apartment and a car."

That Donna Rice is moving to Hollywood is not surprising to anyone, least of all Donna Rice. "I always knew I'd be coming here, like all the other girls who come to be actresses," she explained, making the move sound logical. "It's just that I wanted to come with an audition tape under my arm and some money in the bank. So I went to Miami before coming here. Miami is the third largest market for commercials. So I was just like the other girls--I just did it different. . . . I mean who else in the history of the world has this happened to?"

"This." The party in Aspen. Meeting Gary Hart. The chance encounter at Turnberry. The cruise to Bimini. The townhouse in Washington. The Miami Herald. The withdrawal. The aftermath. Last week's uneventful TV appearances by both Hart and Rice.

'If J.F.K. was the first media President," said writer Liz Nickles, who is collaborating with Rice on a proposed book, "then Donna Rice is the first media courtesan. I call this 'The Donna Rice Syndrome.' There is no parallel to Donna in history, for a reason. Technologically it was not even possible for a Donna Rice to have this kind of impact. No single individual is a match for the combined forces of modern media." Nickles means that neither Wallis Simpson in the '30s nor J.F.K. paramour Judith Exner had to deal with the velocity of media attention heaped instantaneously on Donna Rice. Never before has the media been as concentrated, or as powerful. And while Donna Rice may have charted a course for herself, she didn't chart this one.

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