From The Shtetl To The Bar

NAME: Rusty Lemorande

DESCRIPTION: Producer of “Yentl.”

LAST SEEN: Heading for the bar.

Rusty Lemorande had one more day to go, directing his much-touted special effects re-make of the sci-fi classic “Journey to the Center of the Earth” for Cannon Pictures.

On that day in 1987, Cannon’s mercurial prexy, Menahem Golan, pulled the plug, informing the director that the company was out of cash. Lemorande had to pay for the last day of shooting out of his own pocket. And instead of a planned post-production f/x extravaganza, Lemorande’s opus was finished off with foot-age from an embargoed South African exploitation pic and sent straight to video.

“It’s an old wound opening again,” says Lemorande, 38, speaking of the incident.

Today, Lemorande has one more summer session to go at the University of Wisconsin, where he is studying for a law degree. He is also toiling on a few showbiz projects-in-development.

Things may be lukewarm for him now, but a decade ago Lemorande was a lightning rod for new pix, a hot producer before he was 30. When Virgin’s Richard Branson wanted a producer for his feature film “Electric Dreams,” he called on Lemorande.

And when Barbra Streisand wanted a producer for “Yentl,” she got Lemorande. Together they toured Eastern Europe on a mission to research Jewish orthodox culture. They strolled the streets of Prague and Budapest, she in full Yentl drag and he with his Super 8 to document the shtetl scene.

Lemorande’s career got hotter as he produced and co-wrote “Captain EO,” the 20-minute Michael Jackson film that played for five years at Disneyland. It has finally been yanked from the park, but will reappear on a laser disc – “and I’ll make even more money,” Lemorande says.

But then he attempted to parlay his producing career into a directing role on Cannon’s “Journey.” “‘T guess that’s where I got lost,” Lemorande says. Nevertheless, like every Hollywood hopeful, his comeback plans include several projects.

One is a musical remake of “The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao,” a pet project of Jackson’s. Another is a Las Vegas stage spectacular based on the life of 19th-century French magician Robert Houdin which, says Lemorande, the long-lost Allan Carr is producing and financing. David Copperfield is slated to create illusions.

He is also working on another film musical for Jackson, a remake of “Angels With Dirty Faces,” the James Cagney classic.

Having hung out with Jackson at Neverland and on tour with the singer “during the difficult times,” Lemorande says they became quite close. “I think he’s pretty amazing.”

Lemorande now preaches the interactive gospel as only a new convert can, chatting fluently about blue laser technology and video compression, and his idea for a CD-ROM on the making of “Yentl.”

“It’s going to take a year of my life,” he sighs.

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