Is a remake just what the ‘Doctor’ ordered?

GOOD MORNING: “Doctor Zhivago” is the latest classic remake to join Robert Halmi’s humongous program of pix/minis. This one will be six hours for ABC and he’ll film in Russia, he tells me. I visited the set of the David Lean classic in 1962 when they were shooting Russian winter scenes in the 100-degree-plus heat of Madrid! Halmi’s currently filming the $ 40 million CBS eight-hour “Scarlett” in London — next on to Charlotte, Savannah and Ireland for a Nov. 23 air date. He then starts “Robinson Crusoe” in New Guinea and “The Hunt” with Christopher Reeve in Africa. I spoke with Halmi from Nunyuki, Kenya, the location of his current bigscreen project, “The Ascent.” He admitted this project “is the most challenging and most exciting of my career.” And he said no actors, other than his cast, have ever worked in as demanding a setting as the 15,000-foot-high sites of the movie. Tony Lo Bianco got on the phone to say they’d earlier been in a scene where an elephant charged –“his ears flopping, his trunk raised and trumpeting”– and stopped 30 feet away from them. He added they were also in the path of a rhinoceros. “It’s the experience of a lifetime.” Co-star Vincent Spano told me, “I drove my Jeep through a herd of zebra. I’m a real ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ ” They’ve slept in pup tents in freezing mountain-high temperatures and in 125-degree heat in the jungle for this WWII story of Italian prisoners escaping from a British prison of war camp. Ben Cross is the Brit and Rachel Ward co-stars. Don Shebib directs; Njeri Karago, who produces, is a Kenyan who graduated from UCLA’s School of Cinema. The company has the utmost respect and praise for her accomplishments with this movie for Halmi.

NEW YORK’S SNOWSTORM and a rear-end auto accident en route to JFK didn’t keep committee member Paul Witt from winging to L.A. for the Doctors Without Borders USA Inc. tribute to Lauren Shuler-Donner and Richard Donner. Their Thomas-Witt banner’s readying Nora Ephron’s feature (formerly titled “The Night Before Christmas”) for TriStar after turnaround from Disney … The pic’s set in L.A. but when the IA strike loomed, the company set up its interior sets in N.Y. — where the snow-slowed cast and crew now take the subways to work. Joining Steve Martin in the current untitled “Christmas” pic are Rob Reiner, Garry Shandling, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Klein, Madeline Kahn … Witt/Thomas now have their development deal at WB for projects including “Simple Prayers,””Man Plus,””Storm Chasers” and a comedy about a talkshow star and her producer … The tribute to the Donners raised $ 500,000 for Doctors Without Borders at the BevHilton, which was spartan-like in decor in order to put all the funds raised with the charities. Dustin Hoffman was the evening’s very appropriate (even funny!) m.c. And Paul Reiser provided a perfect note of humor, proving it can be done without resorting to anything off-color. Dr. Jonas Salk narrated a film showing the heart-rending work of the organization and Ambassador Daniel Spiegel further illustrated the Doctors’ work in “humanitarian diplomacy.” Also on the program, singer Linda Eder. The Donners were presented photos of the organization at work by Dr. Alain Destexhe, head of Doctors Without Borders, and board member Victoria Bjorklund. Lauren Shuler-Donner admitted to me she and Dick have discussed doing a movie based on a story of one of the doctors. She next starts “Free Willy II.” And Dick is in post on “Maverick.” Hoffman told me he has not yet approved a script to start a new film — it’s been two years, he lamented … Anne and Arnold Kopelson, at our table, were getting congrats on the seven Oscar nominations of “The Fugitive.” Kopelson spoke to star Harrison Ford (in Mexico with “Clear and Present Danger”) and director Andrew Davis to express his disappointment they didn’t receive a nod. “Harrison was my partner in everything on the picture,” said Kopelson. Next for the producer is “Don’t Say Anything” with Lili Zanuck directing.

A BIG BUDGET SCI-FI’ER is upcoming from Symphony Pictures’ William Greenblatt teamed with David Lynch — for TNT. Greenblatt’s also set a deal with the Louis L’Amour estate for “The Empty Land,” also at TNT. Greenblatt has also completed directing his first film, “Hits,” for his Symphony banner, whose exec VP Martha Humphreys got the funding out of Chi … Rodeo Drive added another star to its fashion rating as Chanel hosted a luncheon and spring-summer ready-to-wear showing at $ 200 a ducat for Education First!, the org co-founded by Lynda Guber and Carole Isenberg. Cynthia Sikes Yorkin was honorary chair. Stephanie Marston spoke to the chic Chanel group, who left with exquisite signature Chanel scarves. Tom Byrnes’ La Cuisine equaled the mid-day good taste.

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