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COVER STORY

Ready for Their Close-Ups

So, you wanna be somebody? Tinseltown Studios opening Friday in Anaheim, offers a chance to feed your face and your ego.

November 12, 1998|SUSAN HOWLETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even before his Italian lace-ups hit the red carpet, talent agent Keith Lewis was workin' that Hollywood thing.

Armani suit. A 3-week-old goatee. A look that screamed "A List."

But Lewis wasn't the only one getting the star treatment at this glitzy gala. For this was Tinseltown Studios in Anaheim, a new entertainment concept that pushes the envelope of dinner theater by allowing VIP wannabes to play celeb for a night.

"I've been to a lot of star-studded events, and this definitely creates the scene," said Lewis, president of the Costa Mesa-based Morgan Agency, dedicated to launching models, actors and child hopefuls into stardom.

The scene? Well, instead of the Hollywood sign, Tinseltown is illuminated by Klieg lights. And a 75-foot water tower on the grounds calls more attention to the $15-million facility near Edison International Field in Anaheim.

When it premieres Friday, it will accommodate as many as 700 visitors eager for the Hollywood experience--from mock celebrity arrivals to an elaborate awards dinner and show.

Each evening at Tinseltown Studios (founded by mythical film pioneer Cohnwarner Mayerwyn Selznuck), the gates of the lot open to an "invited" gathering of guests who attend to participate in the "Tinseltown Awards." A cast of 17 performers plays roving Hollywood reporters. They also sing, dance and show film clips from major motion pictures in which some audience members are featured playing parts such as Kevin Costner's role in "Field of Dreams" or John Belushi's part in "Animal House."

During the sneak preview last week, Lewis came along to provide an industry insider's perspective of Tinseltown, a 40,000-square-foot facility on East Katella Avenue in Anaheim not too far from two other themed dinner theaters in Buena Park. Wild Bill's has an Old West theme, and Medieval Times has a jousting arena, but the grand scale of Tinseltown Studios "puts it in a different league," Lewis said.

"With all the lights, you can feel the energy. At the Academy Awards, it's clear by the mob of fans that the average person really wants to be a part of the inside action. This allows them to do that for a night--it's fun."

The brainchild of Jim Garber and former Disneyland president Jack Lindquist, Tinseltown Studios is owned and operated by Ogden Entertainment, a division of Ogden Corp., a $2-billion company based in New York.

Ogden operates more than 130 entertainment facilities worldwide, including the nature-based Silver Springs theme park near Orlando, Fla., and the Top of the World observation attraction on the 107th floor of Manhattan's World Trade Center. In Southern California, Ogden Entertainment operates the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim and the Great Western Forum in Inglewood.

Despite the $15-million start-up, promoters said Tinseltown already has the makings of a Hollywood success story. According to spokesman Jim Garber, $1.7 million in group business has been booked through January.

"So far things are looking great," says Garber, president of Anaheim-based GarLin Productions, responsible for creating the Tinseltown concept along with Lindquist. "The feedback [at sneak previews] has been very positive," Garber said.

After guests are greeted by paparazzi and autograph hounds straining the velvet ropes, they are led into a celebrity bar area with purple-draped curtains and cast members in elaborate evening wear who toss air kisses and chatter like self-aggrandizing stars. Famous clips from a century of movie making play continuously on four preshow monitors.

"It's been ages, dahling," one sequined starlet said to a guest sporting blue jeans and a white T-shirt. "Simply ages."

"Famed legendary film mogul" Selznuck greets guests from a balcony above, a la Richard Attenborough as John Hammond in "Jurassic Park." He welcomes his "closest friends," making everyone feel like a star, if only for a moment.

Guests are then led into the grand ballroom, where a waitress or two may point and squeal at them.

"Look! it's Mel Gibson!" shouted one server, pointing at a Tinseltown guest, who was confused for a second because he in no way resembles the hunky star. "I just looove you," she gushed.

At the table, Tinseltown serves a three-course meal. Guests dine on green salad, choice of steak, salmon, chicken or vegetarian pasta. The signature dessert? A rich chocolate filmstrip with the Tinseltown logo in each frame.

As dinner is served, many of the Tinseltown celebrities are able to see themselves on two enormous television screens on each side of the stage. This pre-award show telecast features interviews conducted by mock reporters with guests as they arrived for the evening.

The screens display a "fly over" shot of the Anaheim building while dessert and coffee are served.

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