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Once upon a time she was Diana the Enchantress, a magician who pick-pocketed her audiences and sawed men in half at nightclubs in Las Vegas and Reno.

Today, Diana Zimmerman is pulling stunts of another kind like making a CEO disappear in a puff of smoke or having a keynote speaker make a grand entrance on a laser beam.

Those tricks and others like them helped Zimmerman, the head of Creative Meeting Services, become one of 27 finalists in the 1997 Greater Los Angeles Entrepreneur Of The Year competition sponsored by Ernest & Young LLP.

“It’s a thrill to be a finalist,” Zimmerman said in a phone interview from New York where she was staging a multimedia event for Hewlett-Packard Co.

“We are a very innovative company with a strong plan for growth, which is one area that the judging reviews,” Zimmerman said. “Also, I’m a female who rose through the ranks in a typically male-dominated industry who’s made a success without a college degree, something that is pretty uncommon these days.”

There were more than 75 candidates vying for this year’s award. Judging is based on the nominee’s background, their company’s performance, special skills, experience and accomplishments.

Additionally, participation in business, community or civic organizations is examined.

“Each nominee represents a compelling entrepreneurial story of innovation, sacrifice and success,” said Jim Peters, partner in Ernst & Young’s entrepreneurial services practice and director of the entrepreneur program in Los Angeles.

Other nominees include David Suissa, chairman and chief creative director of Suissa Miller Advertising Inc., which last year snared the coveted ad campaign for the Acura Division of American Honda Corp., and Mark Hughes, the founder of Herbalife International Corp. who is one of L.A.’s 50 Richest Angelenos with an estimated worth of $350 million.

The finalists were selected by 10 members of an independent judging panel that included Linda Griego, former CEO of Rebuild L.A. and Tom O’Malia, director of the entrepreneurial program at USC.

The winner will be named at a banquet on June 26 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. The award recipient will then be inducted into the 3,000-member Entrepreneur Of The Year Institute at the annual international conference in Palm Springs in November.

Regional winners then compete at the conference for the international Entrepreneur Of The Year Award.

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