Arsenio bows boffo ‘Bopha!’

GOOD MORNING: “If I can get Bill Cosby or Dennis Miller to take over for six weeks –” said Arsenio Hall — he’d take time off his talker to appear in one of the two movies he still owes Paramount. Miller was one of Arsenio’s guests at Hall’s screening of “Bopha!,” his banner’s first for Par. Hall is exec producer of the stunning and sure-to-be-talked-about pic directed by Morgan Freeman and starring Danny Glover, Alfre Woodard and Malcolm McDowell. Set in South Africa and filmed in Botswana (with its scenes’ accuracy confirmed by Nelson Mandela), “Bopha!” has something to say to audiences of every race. It’s a tribute to the filmmakers, including first-time director Freeman … Arsenio credited Barry London with fathering the project at Par (during Brandon Tartikoff’s tenure). “Every other studio turned it down,” said Hall. Quincy Jones would have done it but he was already committed to “Sarafina!” he said. The pic was promised by Hall for $ 8 million but came in at $ 10 — and looks easily twice that figure. Many worked for less than their average salaries “And Alfre Woodard worked ‘as a labor of love.’ ” It shows. “And I didn’t have any money to give anybody Benzes.” (Arsenio referred to Par’s bonus gifts to principals of “The Firm.”) He also KO’d his own trip to the Africa locations to save money — he performed exec producing chores via faxes. “I kept hands off during filming, but ‘hands on’ when it was being put together here.” Hall’s banner is developing a romantic comedy with three leading ladies for Hall. But, he insists, “I want to make movies I’d go to see. I refuse to give my audiences crap.” Of course he wants to direct as well as produce his pix. His staff’s hoping to increase his hiatus time and repeats so he could appear in features. As for his talkshow, Hall has a year to go on his contract with Par. “But I’m not ready to check into Johnny Carson’s guest house yet,” he laughed … Among those at Hall’s screening, Sherry Lansing, Barry London, cast members Malcolm McDowell (a terrifying heavy) and Maynard Eziashi (as the son of Glover and Woodard), Charles Dutton, Bernie Casey, Mario Van Peebles, Jerry Buss, Kenny G, etc. … Earlier, at the taping of Arsenio’s TV show, Kim Swann, VP of Hall TV, announced her engagement to Dr. Rick Marlink, exec director of the Harvard AIDS Institute, who surprised her by flying in from Boston with the ring. They’ll wed New Year’s Eve … Next Friday’s Hall show emanates from a contest winner’s home in Rockville, Md. It’ll probably cause a sigalert!

THE HEART OF HOLLYWOOD: Angela Lansbury, riding to work at 6 ayem Thursday, read here of Madlyn Rhue’s need of a job to qualify for SAG insurance to get medication for her multiple sclerosis. Angela phoned Madlyn’s agent and Rhue starts work next week in “Murder, She Wrote” for Lansbury’s Corymore banner for U/CBS … As you read this, the ink should be drying on the pact for Richard Dreyfuss to star in Bruce Beresford’s “Indian Summer” for Morgan Creek … Eight-year-old Jacob Parker, who plays Burt Reynolds’ son in “Evening Shade,” is campaigning for the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences to establish an Emmy category for child actors (up to the age of 18). Among those supporting are Burt, Meredith MacRae, Mary McDonough, and many more … It was Tony Bill who recommended his “A Home of Our Own” youngster T.J. Lowther (7) to Clint Eastwood for the latter’s “A Perfect World.” When the youngster got the job with Clint, Tony told me, “It was like seeing your kid go to college”… Looking at the week’s numbers, you could call Eastwood the best “place” bet in Hollywood: “In the Line of Fire” was the No. 2 pic, “Unforgiven” was the second highest in video sales, and his “Dead Pool” was second in Nielsen ratings.

POLITIX AND SHOWBIZ: BevHills Mayor Maxwell (Sonny) Salter’s skedded to unveil his standup comedy act Aug. 18 at Tatou, which inaugurates its Wednesday “Hidden Talent Revue” nights. (Salter was the only member of the BevHills Council to OK building of an 18-bedroom estate in the neighborhood of such stars as Jack Lemmon and Jay Leno. The Council voted down building the super-mansion) … Rod Steiger’s off to Hungary to star with John Hurt in “Borrowed Time.” He follows with the Sarasota-set “Seven Sundays.” Steiger, who says it’s been three years since he conquered depression, heads out in Oct. for the Natl. Mental Health Institute to “take the stigma off mental health problems”… The Melrose Improv’s the site Aug.13-14 for a “laugh-a-thon” to benefit flood victims. First stars to sign up: Jay Leno, Tom Arnold, Rosie O’Donnell, Fred Travalena, Wil Shriner, etc. It’s expected 200 comics will appear during 30 hours … Among those on hand at the Globe Playhouse to see “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Connie Sellecca, Martin and Charlie Sheen, Iman, Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, whose son Eric Brian Wells plays Oberon … London’s West End was treated royally Wednesday p.m. when the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, and Prince Edward attended “Crazy For You.” It was the Queen Mum’s 93rd birthday and , of course, the cast and audience serenaded her at the finale with “Happy Birthday.”

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