Rejected by Falcon Crest, Cornelia Doesn't Exactly Feel Like Hollywood's Most Welcome Guest

updated 12/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/19/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

What's a debutante to do? All those acting lessons, those power lunches, those pounds shed and parties forsworn and—poof!—Cornelia Guest gets pink-slipped by CBS' Falcon Crest her very first day on the set. A few hours of work on a three-episode deal, and the producers call to say they've made a casting mistake. What does it take for a blue blood to break a leg?

Alas, Guest, 25, was declared "too young" to play Lorenzo Lamas' new love interest—described in the script notes as a 35-year-old tough cookie. Nothing personal, of course. "It was our problem, not hers," insists the show's executive producer, Michael Filerman. "I liked her very much," says director Joe Scanlon, "and for someone with not much experience, she did quite nicely."

It just goes to show what a harsh place Hollywood can be. A whole year of classes with Jessica Lange's acting teacher and still they want more experience. When Guest breezed in from New York last year to establish herself as an actress, it seemed for a time that things would fall neatly into place. In short order she bought a BMW convertible with cellular telephone, found a personal trainer, was seen around town with Rob Lowe and signed a management contract with Motown Productions. Then—what more can a girl do to show she's serious about show business?—Cornelia hooked up with Sylvester Stallone, one of the highest-paid movie stars of all time.

But when that relationship was put out to pasture last summer, Hollywood's most famous refugee from the horsey set settled down to a life of routine at the rented house in the Hollywood Hills that she shares with her childhood friend Angela Janklow, journalist daughter of power agent Mort Janklow. "I'm up early every day," Guest says. "I work out, meet with my drama tutor, attend meetings, run to the other side of town for an audition. By the time I get home, it's 9 o'clock and all I want to do is sleep. I'm not sure if this is what it's like to get old or not."

Can this be the selfsame Corny who announced upon the occasion of her presentation to New York society in 1982 that "the whole point of being a deb is to have fun"? True to her word, the only daughter of Winston Guest and his socialite wife, C.Z.—a Boston Brahmin—was famous by age 19 for cavorting in café society. But there comes a time when even a good-time girl has to get serious about her goals. As her mother said when the deb of the decade turned 21, "Cornelia is some number. She is a star, and she wants to be a superstar."

Where Cornelia Cochrane Churchill Guest comes from, superstardom is about as welcome as a case of rickets. No doubt her now-deceased godfather, the Duke of Windsor, would blanch at Cornelia's report that she recently considered starring opposite Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy in a low-rent thriller called Squad. But the Guests have always had a boisterous streak. Cornelia's hard-drinking father was known for frittering away his fortune on Ming vases and ill-conceived business ventures. Her mother, a onetime Ziegfeld girl, took a run at Hollywood herself in the '40s, and a nude portrait of her by Diego Rivera used to hang in a Mexico City bar. So C.Z. was in no position to scold this fall when Corny, clad only in flowing hair, appeared on billboards from Los Angeles to Rome to promote Oggi hair care products. The firm's CEO, Ramon AbiRached, says he chose Guest because "she is as close to royalty as you can get in America."

Yet Cornelia has often chafed at a royal role. Raised by a French governess and rigorously schooled in "how to give a dinner party and how to dress," as C.Z. put it, she stepped out of the traces at an early age. When studies at her elite Virginia boarding school, Foxcroft, interfered with her riding, she dropped out at 15, earned her high school equivalency degree by mail and then spent her college years taking acting classes and haunting New York nightclubs. Halston was her neighbor; Warhol painted her portrait (topless). "Reading books for four years is an excuse not to work," she said, "unless you're going to be a plastic surgeon or something." So while her peers labored over their senior theses, Guest co-wrote The Debutante's Guide to Life—which got her kicked out of the social register—then took up acting and moved to L.A.

In Hollywood, finally, Cornelia has shed the privileges of her background, though not the liabilities. "When she walks into an audition," says her acting coach, Kathleen King, "she doesn't have the luxury of anonymity. When she fails, everyone knows about it." Now, brushing herself off from the Falcon Crest debacle, Cornelia—who just shot a small part in Showtime's Brothers—says gamely, "It's a fact of show business that at one time or another most everyone gets replaced."

For now, audiences can only guess whether Guest has any acting talent. But members of her acting workshop, who admit to having been prejudiced against the perky postdeb, declare themselves impressed. Says one: "The reality is, she's a natural comedienne."

—Patricia Freeman, and David Marlow in Los Angeles

From Our Partners