GOOD MORNING: “Don’t make comparisons. Enjoy what you see,” Billy Wilder told me after he saw the preem of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicalized version of Wilder’s movie classic “Sunset Boulevard.” It was a very emotional experience for Wilder and his wife, Audrey. “We had tears in our eyes,” he admitted. “Remember, we had patterned the young girl (Betty Schaefer) after Audrey. It was a very sentimental journey. I was thinking back 45 years — to be alive to see the play — it was like seeing old friends.” As for the show, he noted, “It is very lush, a very well-done production.” He is very impressed with Lloyd Webber “– and he’s only 43 years old,” commented Wilder — who was only 41 years old when he made the movie. Webber had shown Wilder the script and tapes of a run-through early in production. “The genius of the entire enterprise is that they did not change the (movie’s) script. They left the script alone.” Wilder noted, “He (Webber) is very generous.” But when I asked if he was to get any compensation for his input (the script), Billy recalled, “Anything before 1960 belongs to the studio (Paramount) — no reimbursement is necessary.” And added, “Nor do I give a damn. I didn’t even ask my lawyer. I’m still looking forward to making my next movie”… He noted of Patti LuPone, “She is tremendous.” He reminded that Gloria Swanson was an actress who knew how to act in silents –“I didn’t have to change anything she did”… Nancy Olson, the only other surviving principal of the movie, who attended the preem with husband Alan Livingston and the Wilders, said she too was “moved to tears, looking back and seeing my youth pass before my eyes.” Nancy was 20 when she played the Betty Schaefer role. She sent the play’s Meredith Braun a bouquet, “From Betty Schaefer to Betty Schaefer.” And to Patti LuPone, “I know you’ll be a great Norma.” Nancy acknowledged that making the musical “is a very brave thing to do. It (the stage version) brings a new dimension to the movie. Go see it and make up your own mind.” The Wilders and Livingstons visited the company backstage at intermission and at the finale. And as the Hollywood quartet was walking on the London street to the party, they were mobbed by more than 50 fans seeking autographs. They had to take off in a taxi as the crowd increased.

THE REAL REASON PAUL VERHOEVEN departed Columbia’s “Mistress of the Seas,” he says, “Michael Cristofer’s script is brilliant. I wanted to shoot it exactly according to his script. The studio wanted to substantially change it.” Verhoeven claims, “Columbia wanted to bring up one of the two male parts and so Geena Davis’ role would be diminished. I felt that this was to be a female-driven picture and that’s why I liked it. It’s an innovative story which audiences would want to go and see. And they (Columbia) wanted to change it.” He added that Davis’ pact is not signed. Her CAAgent Rick Nicita confirms her contract is “not firmly set.” And notes, “She would love to do ‘Mistress of the Sea’ — but not ‘Master of the Sea.’ ” All ashore who’s going ashore … Patti Davis will be getting back the (very warm) letter her father had sent her during his early post-Presidential days and which she had sold to the Scriptorium’s Charles Sacks. The settlement calls for Davis to pay Sacks a fee, which he says is “a satisfactory solution, but,” he laughs, “I’ll lose money on the transaction”– because of the legal fees incurred … President Clinton called the late Patrick Lippert’s mother to express his sadness over the AIDS-caused death of young (35) Lippert, president of the music industry’s Rock the Vote org. Jane Fonda winged in from the VSDA convention in Vegas to speak at this evening’s services at Will Rogers State Park. Lippert launched his political career working (with Jane) on Tom Hayden’s first race.

WHAT A JOY to be in an audience at a theater to hear the joyous squeals of laughter and repeated happy hand-clapping of youngsters as they watch a movie. It makes you appreciate what good movies can accomplish. This was the feeling Monday night at Century Plaza’s Cineplex Odeon where “Free Willy” unspooled. Producers Jennie Lew Tugend and Dick and Lauren Shuler-Donner were on hand and Lauren told me, “I’ve made teen pictures before but never a family movie — I hope we make more. And with ‘Rookie of the Year’ getting off to a good start, it bodes well for family pictures.” Getting mobbed by the young crowd was 13 -year-old Jason James Richter, who delivers an amazing performance — along with “Willy’s” whales. Co-star Lori Petty was also there, and director Simon Wincer, plus WB’s toppers. As for complaints from aquatic parks about their depiction in the movie, Lauren allows, “We took dramatic liberties — it’s a movie. But maybe we may spur them to do things (to correct deficiencies). If we caused them to do something, then it was worthwhile. Frankly, I hate seeing any animals caged — in zoos, circuses, etc.”… Dorothy Beer, who has administered the MPAA Title Bureau operations for 50 years, is retiring this month as the Title Bureau moves to L.A. from N.Y. … Press agent John Strauss will be out of the hospital this weekend and returning to his office.

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