‘Li’l Abner’ gets new movie treatment

GOOD MORNING: Al Capp’s cartoon strip “Li’l Abner” is coming to the bigscreen — for the third time (it was also a TV series and B’way musical). Ernie Chambers, enjoying the success of his movie version of the comic-stripped “Dennis the Menace” (coming back for a sequel), obtained the rights to the Dogpatch characters from Capp’s brother, Elliott Caplin, executor of the estate. The first “Abner” was filmed in 1940 with a cast including Buster Keaton, Chester Conklin, Edgar Kennedy, Martha O’Driscoll … The second, in 1959, was the movie version of Panama and Frank’s B’way musical and starred Peter Palmer, Julie Newmar, Stubby Kaye, Stella Stevens. Chambers is also readying the movie version of the comic strip “BroomHilda.” Caplin’s book, “Al Capp Remembered” (Bowling Green U.), hits the stalls next week on the 60th anni of the “Li’l Abner” comic strip. There’s a lot to remember about Al Capp … On the heels of Thursday night’s giant AIDS fundraiser (APLA), Drew Barrymore tells me, in her next movie, “Boys on the Side,” in which she co-stars with Whoopi Goldberg and Mary-Louise Parker, Parker dies of AIDS at the finale. “She gets progressively worse during the movie — but her hopes get better.” Herb Ross directs the pic. And they’ve been rehearsing to start filming in N.Y., then Pittsburgh, L.A. and Tucson as the trio drives across country. “It’s a relevant story,” says the young Barrymore, who admits, “This movie is teaching me things.” She’ll first be seen in “Bad Girls,” which filmed five months due to its start/stop, director change, etc. Barrymore is on the cover of February’s Esquire, and is in a print campaign for Guess? But insofar as TV is concerned — she asks, “Please help me stop the rumors”– that she’s to replace Shannen Doherty in “Beverly Hills, 90210.””I love Aaron Spelling — he’s my favorite producer,” she told me. (They did “2000 Malibu Road.”) “And I love ‘90210’ and ‘Melrose Place”– I watch them — but I’ll be in ‘Boys on the Side’ until May. And other movies are in the works.” Spelling said he spoke to Barrymore’s agent (UTA’s J.J. Harris) only about future pilots … Barrymore, who will be 19 Feb. 22, and started her career at 6 in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” and who wrote her autobiog, “Little Girl Lost,” in 1990, says, “I am now leading a very peaceful, respectable life. I learned my lesson early.”

ILOVE CBS for being willing to use the title –‘My Breast: A Big City Story of Love, Cancer and the Perils of Dating,’ ” says Meredith Baxter, who exec produces (with Diane Kerew) and stars in the true story by Joyce Wadler. Betty Thomas directs. Baxter says, with all respect to “First You Cry,” this MOW is an irreverent look at a relationship — there are two men’s roles, a friend and a lover — very refreshing, adult — and informative without being a documentary. “But — we never minimize it,” Baxter assures. “We treat it with a lot of respect. My stepmother had a double mastectomy and a friend’s wife died of breast cancer.” They film in Toronto. She knows it won’t be as cold as her last MOW, “One More Mountain,” the Donner party story directed by Dick Lowry in 18 -below Calgary weather. Lowry calls the Marian Rees Disney TV’er for ABC “a story about family, about survival, overcoming overwhelming odds — heroic and inspirational. And it’s true”… CBS will also air Catherine Butterfield’s “Mothers and Daughters” about a woman who learns she has cancer and tries to form a strong relationship with her ex-husband’s wife to create a legacy for her children. It’s based on Butterfield’s own experience. Her play “Joined at the Head” at the Pasadena Playhouse parallels her powerful CBS project.

KIRK KERKORIAN’S LINCY FOUNDATION contributed $ 2 million to the Red Cross’ earthquake relief fund … Ronald Reagan, GaryOwens and Robert W. Morgan will be inducted into the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame in October. A new Hall of Fame building will be part of Anaheim Stadium when it relocates from its former home in New Jersey … Variety Clubs Intl. chairman Monty Hall, Gene Autry, Phyllis Diller, Bob Hope and Buddy Rogers host Saturday’s “Variety Salutes the Women” at Marriott’s Rancho Las Palmas. It benefits Variety’s Children’s Charities. Guests of honor are Jackie Autry, Marilyn Hall, Dolores Hope and Beverly Rogers … Sitting in on drums in the 30-piece orch at Paul Anka’s Bally’s show Saturday will be — mogul Ron Perelman who twirls the sticks as well as his cigars … Robert Evans has to deliver the completed autobiog “The Kid Stays in the Picture” by midnight Monday — or return the advance — which he says he doesn’t have any more … Robert Sean Leonard (“Much Ado About Nothing,””Dead Poets Society”) has signed with the William Morris Agency. Leonard is currently filming New Line’s “Safe Passage” opposite Susan Sarandon and Sam Shepard.

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