Heston works on–what else?–biblical epic

GOOD MORNING: “De Mille would have loved it,” Charlton Heston told me on the longhorn from Tiberias, Israel, where he’s filming the four-hour special “Charlton Heston Presents the Bible.” Heston not only gets to again play Moses, but Pharaoh, Joshua and all the principals of the King James Bible, “a monument to English prose.” While De Mille used casts of thousands for his stories of the Bible, “here it is the words that do it,” said Heston. He was working in a recently discovered Roman amphitheater 40 km from Tiberias. “It is spectacular,” he said. “The stage is 120 feet wide and 30 feet deep, with giant marble columns. It would cost $500,000 to build today, and it’s in very good condition.” He is recording the stories from this stage. “At first, we considered building a set–it would have cost as much as a Spielberg-class set,” he noted. “This is as exciting a project as anything I’ve ever done.” It’s Heston’s first visit to Israel–although he’s done four films in Egypt, including “The Ten Commandments,””Khartoum,””The Awakening.””Don’t forget,” he laughed, “Moses never crossed over Jordan.” Heston also wrote his commentary for the mini and says he was helped on research by “three wise men”–a rabbi, plus Episcopal and Baptist ministers. When Heston’s reading his commentary from the New Testament, he wears one color of shirt, and a different-colored shirt for the Old. When filming the many locations, he wears desertwardrobe, boots and a sun hat. The Jerusalem stories were filmed in three locations. Other sites include Mount Ararat and Elat. Heston, who played Moses and “Ben-Hur,” of course received warm welcome in Israel–“I have a large constituency here,” he laughed. Tourists, viewing him at work in the giant theater location, are requested not to applaud after his Bible readings. He works six days a week–“and on the seventh I do not rest. We are shooting this in 28 days.” (He hopes to wind in time to get to the start of Wimbledon.) Great music of the ages will back the film, which also will include art masterpieces of Bible stories. In addition to the A&E network shows, audio and video (for schools and commercial sale), laserdiscs and a coffee-table photo book will be the “almost infinite” tangential possibilities of this work, said Heston. The Jones Entertainment Group presents the project with Chuck’s Agamemnon Film Prods. Fraser Heston and Philip D. Fehrle are exec producers; Tony Westman directs.

IN THE FIRST AGENCY CHANGE in her entire career, Jacqueline Bisset signed with the William Morris Agency. … The Artists Group’s Tom Korman and Ed Goldstone in the past two months have signed Tony Curtis, Brooke Shields, Jennifer O’Neill, Sally Kellerman, Maud Adams, Jan Michael Vincent and Charlene Tilton. … O’Neill leaves for Sao Paulo to star in the Mike Curb movie “Discretion Assured,” with Michael York and Burt Young, then returns for Wilshire Court’s “Perfect Family” for USA Cable. … Herb Mitchell re-inked with the agency. … Jason Priestley, on the first day of the new season of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” was felled by a lung “blister” resulting from hefty workouts for “Calendar Girl.” He missed two days on the TV’er, plus this past weekend’s charity appearances. It’s hoped he’ll be back at work early this week. … The Greer Garson Theater will soon be a part of the SMU campus. She also has the Garson Communications Center & Studios at the College of Santa Fe. Greer, who lives in Dallas, sounded chipper on the phone, although she admitted she doesn’t get around much. She plans to be back in Palm Springs this fall. … Delta Burke hosts “Laughing Back,” a comedy-musical spec on Lifetime for the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault, June 27 at the Raymond Theater in Pasadena. Bruce Vilanch is working on the show while also playing a landlord in ABC’s “Kindred Spirit,” with Jackie Smith and Corbin Bernsen.

IT’S ALWAYS A DELIGHT when Peter Ustinov’s in town. He’s here visiting daughter Pavla, and they were dining at L’Orangerie –“It’s a tradition for us,” he smiled. He’s also here to loop “Lorenzo’s Oil,” in which he plays a heavy, with Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon. He next heads to Toronto for his UNICEF ambassadorial duties. Next year, he heads to Russia (CIS) with a planeload of serum. “They can’t afford it,” he noted. Ustinov’s also writing the screenplay of his book “The Old Man and Mr. Smith” (Arcade)–the story of God (“Old Man”) and the devil (“Smith’)” in Washington. Which role would he play? “I can’t play the devil–I’m too fat.” What about “God”? “It depends how mobile I am,” laughed the 71-years-young Ustinov. … Buddy Hackett, who plays the Desert Inn Mondays and Tuesdays, has been SRO for 14 weeks. Hackett worked only six nights in ’91 and nine nights in ’90–by choice–during his separation from wife Cherie. He now works two hours onstage–no orch, no opening act, just a stage manager. And for $25 a ducat (with two drinks). He took the job at “half my Caesars Palace salary.” He’s now “not that far away from it” again. P.S.: He also plays Caesars Atlantic City. His outlook on life is simple: “When I get up each morning, I know no one owes me a thing.” What does Hackett owe? “I owe everybody courtesy–except about something that infringes on me.” Hackett was one of the elite whom Johnny Carson invited to be on his last round of shows.

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