Did he or didn't he?
Only the 500 or so guests at last night's premiere of "The Imagemaker" know for sure, and they aren't telling. They're hoping everyone else in town will pay good money to find out at the movies. About 50 of them invested money in the movie thriller. And a good portion of the other guests were either in the film or on the cutting room floor.
After the bang-up ending, Marilyn Weiner, who with her husband Hal produced the show, gave the audience the highest accolade:
"They gasped in the right places," she said.
The film about a former White House media consultant, billed as the first full-length movie shot in Washington by Washington filmmakers and financed by Washingtonians, was previewed at the Embassy Theater. It opens nationwide today.
Hal Weiner, coproducer and coauthor, gave the invited audience a hint of the plot before the movie started: "In 1974, I read a story . . . about a TV personality who killed herself on camera. That started it off."
Michael Nouri, the Imagemaker himself, likes to play the wit. He warned the audience before the 7 o'clock showing that "it's cut to just six hours, but at 9 p.m. we'll pass canape's."
Actually, it ended at 9 p.m. and was followed by a progressive supper on every floor of Raleighs: From smoked buffalo billed as "The Meat of the Matter" to Lame Duck Pancakes with hoisin sauce to Chocolate Lips for telling the news.
Nouri, in a blue-striped, double-breasted suit fit for a millionaire gangster, arrived at Raleighs with Connecticut Avenue basking in the kleig lights. On his arm was Viki Light, his fiance' (they're to be married in April) and a talent agent. Asked how tall he was, the star said, "6 feet 9." "He's 6 feet 3," said Light, cutting him down to size. Nouri shrugged. "I lie. She tells the truth. I'm fantasy, she's fact."
Nouri's height and muscles didn't make life easy for Raleighs, which costumed the show. "We had to order his clothes all custom made," said Neal J. Fox, head of the store.
Gossip Diana McLellan, who plays in the climactic scene of the movie with Nouri, said, "He was great fun, joking all the time. Except just before the big scene, when he went off by himself."
Not all the investors were typical big spenders. "I read their ad asking for investors. I'd always wanted to be an angel," said Gertrude Rothman of Takoma Park. "I think we're going to get our money back, but I don't care. I figured I shouldn't invest if I couldn't afford to lose it." Rothman is retired now, but she has sold real estate and run an alterations department. "I was an extra in one scene, at the Palm, but it was cut."
George Coleman, who plans health programs overseas, said he invested because the Weiners are his neighbors, "and I'm a Washingtonian who believes in his city."
Author Ben Wattenberg, who wrote "The Good News Is That the Bad News Is Wrong," said he wasn't concerned with the way the media were portrayed in the move. "It was an entertaining, suspenseful movie. A good movie is sitting on the edge of your seat."
The moviemakers praised the cooperation they got from the city's government and its people. "When we were shooting on Newton Street, the neighbors cooked Mexican food and made cookies for us," said Marilyn Weiner. "Washington people are great, not cool like in L.A." said Nouri.
The proud producers tried their best not to sound too Hollywood.
Melvyn J. Estrin, the executive producer, said, "Well, it's not 'War and Peace,' but we finally made it."
"This night doesn't compare to when the children were born or my first trip to Europe, but it comes next," said Weiner.