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The power preschool

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Securing a good development deal in Hollywood has never been easy — which may be why, when it comes to child’s play, Hollywood’s power elite take their nursery schools as seriously as their three-picture packages. And why the Center for Early Education is Hollywood’s premier power preschool.

Founded 53 years ago by a group of psychoanalysts, who ”valued the inner world of the child,” and situated within spitting distance of that haute power-lunch counter, the Ivy, the center charges significantly less per hour than the average L.A. shrink does: $5,850 a year for a three-hour day, five days a week. But that’s only if your child can get in — because reserving a slot in Junior’s name can be harder than locking in a corner table at Spago.

”We get several hundred applications for 42 places, and there is no automatic sibling acceptance,” says Donna DeGaetani, the school’s early-childhood coordinator.

Lynn O’Hare, who is the associate producer of the forthcoming film Lorenzo’s Oil, starring Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon, sent an application to the center the day her daughter was born two months premature. ”We didn’t know whether she would live or die,” says O’Hare, ”and my best friend brought over the application and we sent it from Cedars Sinai.” Despite the head start, O’Hare’s daughter has been on the waiting list for the last five years.

Power parents who have beat the odds to get their children enrolled include studio executive Alan Ladd Jr.; television directors James Burrows and Barnet Kellman; entertainment lawyer Abraham Somer; movie writers-directors Meg and Lawrence Kasdan, and Amy Heckerling and Neal Israel; and performers Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest, Denzel Washington, and Peter Frampton.

”We don’t see ourselves as an industry school,” says DeGaetani of the place frequently referred to as ”the star school” or, less politely, ”the center for early materialism.” But star power is at issue among those who rumor that a hefty donation — $50,000 is the figure that is most commonly quoted — can lift a child off the waiting list and into the upscale sandbox.

DeGaetani dismisses such accusations: ”I know it’s probably been said, and it’s been said to me. I know these rumors exist about our school and every private school. People will try to get any edge they can, and I don’t blame them.” She does, however, admit that the center relies on its annual fund-raisers to help pay off its building debt and maintain its scholarship program, which in turn helps attract a nonwhite ethnic enrollment of 25 to 30 percent. Producer Doug Wick (Working Girl), who has two daughters enrolled at the center, thinks that the rumors are the result of hurt feelings. The school is in demand, he says, because ”all the teachers are smart and caring, and it’s a great environment that’s flexible to the needs of each child.” But Wick doesn’t believe anyone gets in just based on big bucks. ”There’s too much easy access to money in this town for them to take just some ugly money person, some…realtor who’s not interested in the world,” he says. ”They can take cool, interesting people who also happen to have dough.”

Still, at least one industry insider thinks the school may be teaching Hollywood culture of another sort. According to this source, items for bid at the annual fund-raising gala dinner-dance-auction have included a walk-on role on the television show Cheers and a dinner prepared by center parent (and Spago owner) Wolfgang Puck. ”It’s all about pressure to flex your money muscles,” he says. ”It’s all about power.”

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