Hollywood’s most popular “newcomer,” Nigel Hawthorne, makes stage history Jan. 16-17 when he skips two performances of his West End comedy “The Clandestine Marriage” – the first time in his long career that the 65-year-old actor has ever missed a show.

The reason? The Oscar buzz surrounding his bravura performance in “The Madness of King George,” the film of Alan Bennett’s hit play that should fare better in the Academy Award nominations next month than it did at the Golden Globes, where it was blanked.

Film producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. has agreed to compensate West End producer Thelma Holt some &Pound;24,000 plus VAT (about $40,000) to cover two canceled shows – that’s $15,000 per show plus $3,000 a night in fixed theater costs, lost bar sales (!), etc. – in order to enable Hawthorne to fly to New York to do intensive promotion for the film, including a Tuesday stint on “Good Morning America.” Hawthorne Concordes back to London Tuesday afternoon, arriving well in advance of Wednesday night’s performance.

The actor, for his part, is treating all talk of Oscars with his usual modesty. “My big joy would be if Nick got one,” Hawthorne told me just before Christmas, referring to director Nicholas Hytner. “I think he’s got a golden talent.”

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