GOOD MORNING: It was not easy talking to my friend Hank Mancini on Monday. I had known he had cancer and he knew that I knew. I had spoken to this gentle gentleman of note a week ago, when he had already taken two weeks of chemotherapy. We decided to say nothing at that time, hopeful news would improve with time — and it could. “We need the love and support of everybody,” Ginny Mancini says. It was she who had called paramedics to rush him to Cedars-Sinai last month when Hank had trouble breathing. “I started sucking air,” he told me. They discovered he had “blood clots,” as he referred to them. And then, the cancer … He took medication and told me, “I’m on the mend.” And he says he may take “alternate routes that don’t follow AMA sanctions.” Friends like Jerry Perenchio and Marvin Davis have offered their planes to take Hank wherever needed for treatment. Everyone loves this quiet, unassuming and rare talented gentleman … He’s canceled concerts. But he continued working with Blake Edwards and Leslie Bricusse on the score for the upcoming B’way musical of the movie “Victor/Victoria” to star Julie Andrews. Hank had worked with them in Gstaad and was due to return there. But the trip would have been too tiring and Edwards and Bricusse flew here instead. They worked through this past Sunday. And Monday, Hank was in the recording studio with daughter Monica singing audition tapes for upcoming casting sessions here. I spoke with him from the studio. “You can see I’m working.” he said. “Sure , I don’t feel like setting the world on fire — but I can still write and do this work.” He and Bricusse completed the final song for the show, titled “Being a Woman.” They’ve written a total of 20 tunes over the two years’ preparation for B’way. Ginny’s favorite is “You Owe Me a Love Song”… He hopes to be involved in the casting for the major roles. “And I’m looking forward to the party.” The “party” is the April 19 “Tribute to Henry Mancini” at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion to benefit the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts and L.A. County High School for the Arts. It celebrates Hank’s 70th birthday (April 16). Performers include Luciano Pavarotti, Julie Andrews, Quincy Jones, Dudley Moore, John Williams and Andy Williams — and $ 2 million will be raised in Mancini’s honor.

“I’M DEVASTATED, he’s like my brother,” says Blake Edwards, who has worked with Hank since 1956, starting with the Tony Curtis-Martha Hyer starrer at U-I, “Mister Cory.” And every Edwards movie and TV show starting with “Peter Gunn.” Edwards said when they worked together on Sunday, Mancini “looked as good as ever.” Leslie Bricusse and wife Evie returned to London after the Sunday session and he told me, “We came to him, rather than have him make the long trip to us. But he is amazing. But no one likes seeing Mt. Rushmore not as its usual self.” Bricusse said he and Mancini have worked for years trying to create a successful B’way musical. They first tried to launch “The Little Prince,” then “Major Barbara,” and finally “Victor/Victoria.” “Can Hank Mancini write a Broadway musical score after so many movies?” Bricusse asked and answered, “Yes he can!”… And it will undoubtedly bring a Tony to Mancini, whose home already glistens with its record number of Grammys, Oscars and gold and platinum’d records toasting a rare genius of showbiz.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG ASKED the 5,000 Phoenix fans in the stands at the premiere party for Arizona’s Planet Hollywood who shouted approval of her Oscar hosting to write the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences asking them to invite her to ditto in ’95. Later, she told me she’d like to share those host duties next year with — Billy Crystal. Now that would be something … Whoopi gave the exuberant fans another treat when she later joined Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith on the outdoor stage/greeting platform and performed with the Bobby Mason Band. The fans went wild when this group joined in performing: Roseanne and Tom Arnold, Jim Belushi, Dan Cortese, Stephen Stills … Planet Hollywood partners Arnold Schwarzenegger (with wife Maria Shriver) and Sylvester Stallone were on hand; Arnold from rehearsals of “Junior” in L.A. and Stallone from “The Specialist” in Florida. Stallone and new Paramount topper Jonathan Dolgen were later huddling inside the premiere party, where partners Keith Barish and Robert Earl had earlier in the week opened the eatery to local charities … Monday, Schwarzenegger was back here rehearsing with “Junior” director Ivan Reitman, Emma Thompson, Danny DeVito, Frank Langella and Pamela Reed. Arnold has already tried on costumes depicting his three-, six- and nine-month pregnancy. “And the walk as well,” he laughed. In the movie, he and De Vito work in a research lab — where Arnold takes a dose of “Expectane”– and becomes pregnant! ‘Nuff said.

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