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This Tinseltown's Stars: Tourists

For $44.50 Each, Guests Can Get Their 15 Minutes

November 20, 1998|E. SCOTT RECKARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County, it seems, has just about everything the world associates with Southern California: beaches, theme parks, a high-tech economy, liposuction parlors.

There's just one quintessential detail missing: Hollywood.

But in a county known for enterprise, Fantasyland and shrugging off $1.64 billion in bankruptcy losses, studio envy is no problem. Not when you can build your own lot for $15 million, complete with a twice-nightly awards show, and invite the world at $44.50 a head.

Tinseltown Studios, a 678-seat dinner theater in Anaheim that debuted last weekend, resembles a sound stage wedged between a parking lot for the Angels' stadium and the Orange Freeway.

The concept--make people feel like insiders at a Hollywood awards show--was cooked up by a group that includes former Disneyland President Jack Lindquist. The entertainment division of New York's Ogden Corp., which manages the Anaheim Pond, was looking to bankroll "eatertainment" and signed on.

The group is betting that thrill-seeking suburbanites, visiting aunts from Dubuque and tourists alike will revel in walking a red carpet as cameras roll and lights flash.

Guests are greeted by "mogul" Cohnwarner Mayerwyn Selznuck, "autograph hounds" and "paparazzi" (photos can be purchased separately, along with alcoholic drinks and souvenirs). During a musical tribute to Hollywood, eight best actor and actress "nominees" from the audience are spliced electronically into actual movie scenes and shown on huge monitors. Winners get a gold-colored statuette--the Oggie.

The idea may have seemed a surer bet two years ago, when Ogden signed on and before themed restaurants ran into trouble. At Planet Hollywood, whose restaurants are adorned with movie memorabilia, falling sales have driven the stock price from an all-time high of $32 to $3.38 a share Thursday--and raised questions of whether the public has swallowed all the glamour hype it can stomach.

Tinseltown's promoters hope to overcome such problems with heavy audience participation. Ogling an ax from "The Shining" at Planet Hollywood is dull compared with stepping into a starring role yourself, they contend.

In addition to the featured nominees, virtually every guest at every show will be on screen at least briefly.

"My wife swore she'd kill me if she has to say anything in front of a camera," said Lindquist. "I told her nobody has to do anything they don't want to. But during the show, the cameras are going to pan the tables, so there'll probably be a shot of her sitting there."

Nora Lee, editor of the Urban Land Institute's newsletter, EZone, which covers new urban entertainment concepts, said the interaction "may be the very thing Planet Hollywood is lacking. There, you're on the outside looking in. And the food isn't very good."

Long-term success will depend on Tinseltown's 17-person cast, she said. "If the people are very good and the illusion works, that can overcome all kinds of other shortcomings."

Ogden officials assure the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that Tinseltown is no direct Oscars knockoff. The Oggie statuette eschews Oscar's streamlined-mummy look, instead featuring a naked figure strategically draped in film, one hand reaching to the stars.

Nevertheless, one early guest will be Scott Miller, a lawyer for the movie academy, which in the past has obtained court orders against companies for violating its trademarks.

"We will certainly take a close look at it," academy spokesman John Pavlik said. "Similarities with the statuette are a potential problem."

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