Healthy Judd gets back in the act

GOOD MORNING: Naomi Judd, who announced her retirement from performing because of hepatitis, will return for a role in Kenny Rogers’ “Rio Diablo” CBS telepic, set in the 1860s. Producer Ken Kragen tells me Judd’s hepatitis “is now in remission” and she’ll play a sexy, tough roadhouse owner. Rogers plays a bounty hunter with a reluctant partner, played by Travis Tritt. They’ll shoot next month in Texas. Rogers will also tape a Christmas spec, and while he swore off “Gamblers,” the last one was so successful, you can bet there’ll be one in ‘ 93. NBC wants it. … Talking about Travis, his new video to “Get Out the Vote” includes his new tune “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man,” and manager Kragen played it for Bill Clinton last Friday night at a Northern Calif. small, private dinner for (very) heavy hitter$ . Kragen’s no stranger to Clinton–they met a year ago in the real Evening Shade high school, where Burt Reynolds made a kid’s dream come true by delivering the commencement address. Reynolds then played his first one-man-show date in Little Rock, Ark., and the Clintons attended. Fade-out, fade-in: Yesterday, in Little Rock, Kragen met with Clinton’s committee to outline his campaign strategy. It’s a four-phase program stressing the use of radio, plus TV-celeb forums with stars of all walks of life, from astronauts to movie stars And talking “Get Out the Vote”–Barbara Bush makes an appearance with that message at the Century Plaza Wednesday, and A.C. Lyles, who got out the stars for the GOP convention, dittos here. … Meanwhile, Richard Dreyfuss hosted a meeting at his home (the first of several planned) with Clinton officials to activate arts and entertainment in the campaign. … Jane Morgan (Mrs. Jerry) Weintraub sang for the Barbara Bush luncheon yesterday in Houston, where Arnold Schwarzenegger needed four Secret Servicemen, plus a trio of local police, to get through the fan-fare. … Miss USA and Miss Teen USA greet the Bushes and Quayles today on their first post-convention stop, in Mississippi Beach, Miss. The Miss Teen pageant’s TV’d Aug. 25 on CBS. Dick Clark and Leeza Gibbons host Betsy Palmer, in Indianapolis for the Humanitarian award from the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, turns over their $ 2,000 check to her favorite charity, the Concern Foundation for Cancer Research.

HOLLYWOOD REMINISCENCES: Today at La Costa, Esther Williams unveils her new line of swimsuits, some inspired by her pix (“Bathing Beauty,””Neptune’s Daughter” and “Million Dollar Mermaid”), as well as one swimsuit that tributes Marilyn Monroe’s famous billowing white dress from “The Seven Year Itch.” Esther sez her swimsuit version has a short, permanently pleated skirt. She recalled meeting Marilyn at a ’50s Hollywood Foreign Press affair. Williams and Alan Ladd were the performers of the year and Marilyn the “Newcomer.” MM wore a red dress, “which she was falling out of,” laughed Williams. “Joan Crawford gave her hell for wearing it. But I told her, ‘You wear whatever you want.’ The next day, Marilyn posed in a potato sack for Crawford.” Tomorrow, Williams joins stars at the Tropicana ’92 benefit at the Fairbanks Ranch for the Scripps McDonald Center. … Kate Hepburn, now home from CBS’ “The Man Upstairs,” phoned exec producer John Dayton to tell him she recalled starting rehearsals for the telepic 60 years to the day after she reported to George Cukor for the start of her first film, “A Bill of Divorcement.” Kate told Dayton the theatrical movie was shot in five weeks–the same time required for the vidpic–which airs Dec. 6. … Mickey Rooney, back from Paris and “Black Stallion” filming, is now off to New Zealand to wind the 26 new segs for the Family Channel. And Disney wants Rooney to cameo in its “Huckleberry Finn.” He played Finn for MGM in 1939–a year after he did “Boys Town.” In March, Mickey hosts the new “Boys Town” syndie’d series.

WITH OLD MOTOWN, new Motown and Mercury all here, I don’t know if I’m coming or going,” laughed Lionel Richie at Morton’s, where Polygram CEO Alain Levy and Mercury Records prez Ed Eckstine welcomed Richie to the Mercury Roster. Motown was repped not by current topper Jheryl Busby but by former exec Suzanne DePasse. … Dr. Billy Taylor, recipient of the National Medal of the Arts award, signed a recording pact with GRP. He’ll be here next week to interview Johnny Mathis and Branford Marsalis for CBS’ “Sunday Morning.” … Mathis, at the Greek next weekend, spends Labor Day weekend recording his next Columbia album, with Michel Legrand conducting. The album includes new tunes by Alan and Merilyn Bergman and Legrand. … Friz Freleng’s wife of 65 years, Lily, missed his Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies yesterday–she was hospitalized with a broken arm after a fall. … Steven Spielberg joins Walter Mirisch, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Norman Brokaw, Walter Zifkin , Peter Douglas and Kenneth Ziffren as entertainment industry members on Cedars-Sinai’s board of directors, which launches the “Campaign for the 21st Century” $140 million drive. … Jack Carter plays Shakespeare in the “Wholly Shakespeare” staged reading at the Matrix tomorrow.

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