GOOD MORNING: “A star is born — literally,” says John Hughes about the lead he’s seeking for his next Fox film, “Baby’s Day Out.””We really can’t cast until the last minute,” he says, “and then — we have to go fast!” The newborn baby (really 9 months old) will truly be the star of this picture. “And,” he laughs, “we’ll be real light on dialogue in this one. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time.” His cast has been shrinking in age with each succeeding picture. He recently wound “Dennis the Menace” with another non-reading co-star, the kindergarten-age Mason Gamble, who is six years younger than veteran (!) “Home Alone” star Macaulay Culkin. In “Dennis,” Walter Matthau stars as Mr. Wilson and Hughes will sequel only if he can get Matthau to return. He says Matthau is such a comic actor –“Even his hands are funny.” And will there be a “Home Alone III”? “It will be a chance to do something really different. I think it will be a lot easier than the second”– in which Hughes was damned if he did or didn’t follow the original’s pattern. He did — and we all know the sensaysh results. Twentieth’s Peter Chernin sat down with Hughes for a seven-hour (!) session talking more pix. “It was fun,” says Hughes. It’ll be more fun for Fox … Raymond Burr sounded fine following surgery to remove a kidney. “I’m probably better off with one than two,” he laughed. In three weeks, Burr begins “Perry Mason” No. 25 for Viacom/NBC, then six more. NBC and U were elated with his latest “Ironside” as well. And Burr happily told me he’s signed press agent John Strauss –“through the year 2000″… Ruby Keeler wants her friends to know she appreciates your good wishes as she continues her valiant battle against cancer … No sequels for him, positively, says Michael Douglas, for either “Basic Instinct” or the “Romancing the Stone” characters. He’s not contemplating any pic starts in the immediate future, as a matter of fact — while he and Kirk D. still search for the great father-son story. Meanwhile, Douglas is involved in producing the B’way legiter “Best of Friends,” co-starring his mother, Diana Douglas. Her late husband, Bill Darrid, originally optioned the play. William Partland directs “Friends,” which bows March 7 at the Westside Theater with Roy Dotrice. Marty Richards’ Producers Circle produces with Douglas’ Stonebridge. Meanwhile, Michael’s wife, Diandra, and her Wild Wolf Prods. with Tom Nell, Amie Knox and Olavee Martin, preem their docu “Beatrice Wood: Mamaof Dada” March 3 at the Pacific Design Theater. It’s Wood’s 100th birthday..

AMONG THE MANY L.A. Times employees taking the early-retirement buyout are more than a few Calendar staffers. They include 39-year veteran Aleene MacMinn, assistant Calendar editor and previous TV Times editor, who departs Friday. She insists she’s not “retiring” but taking the voluntary separation. She’ll continue teaching journalism to grads at USC … And Sylvie Drake departs as theater critic, after 21 years, on March 31. She plans to freelance and also review for the Times “for a while” while taking the buyout. “I want to challenge myself with other writing,” she adds. And Bob Epstein, after 16 years at posts that included exec arts editor, continues through March but will also continue to write profiles and features. Already departed is David Crook, deputy Calendar editor, who segued to San Gabriel Valley Newspapers as deputy managing editor for features and enterprise … Joanna and Sidney Poitier are off to Paris where daughter Anika, a student at American U., celebrates her 21st birthday on the 25 th … Hoyt Axton winged into L.A. for last Saturday’s wedding of his daughter, actress April Axton, to thesp Michael Ruggiero at St. Charles Boromeo Church. P.S.: While in town, Hoyt’s talking a new TV series and recording new voiceovers … Kim Newton, son of Vera Newton and the late thesp Robert Newton, will wed Cheri Hester in London Aug. 27.

GERALD MCRANEY’S IN Somalia this week to cheer U.S. troops. He’ll also visit the Weisbaden military base. You recall Mac and wife Delta Burke visited our troops during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. (Delta’s not on this hegira) … It’s happening around town at some of the plushest watering holes — cars are being stolen from eatery parking lots — even as the boys are parking celebs’ fancy wheels. Latest victim is Nikki Haskell, whose car was taken shortly after she alighted in front of Nicky Blair’s; and, as heavyweight Riddick Bowe and Bob Halloran were leaving Blair’s awaiting their car, it was stolen. Imagine if the thief chose to carjack the champ! … Planet Hollywood adds Jimmy Stewart and his handprints to their walls of fame … Linda Evans inked with Steve Himber at William Morris … Victoria Tennant signed with John Carrabino at Metropolitan Talent … Elizabeth Perkins pacted with Brillstein/Grey for management … David Murphy joined the H.N. Swanson Agency’s TV dept. … Dinah Shore tees off her annual Nabisco tourney with a media brunch at Hillcrest Feb. 22. … Tommy Cook’s lining up top celeb tennis players for his Matrix-Chris Evert Cup Feb. 22 -28 at Grand Champions benefiting the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center at Eisenhower.

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