‘Airmen’ tells heroic story

GOOD MORNING: “This is a time when heroes are judged by how many records they sell, or sneakers, or T-shirts. Youngsters are manipulated by advertising and marketing. That’s why I really wanted to make this movie at this time.” So said “The Tuskegee Airmen” director Robert Markowitz, who is in Atlanta today before 1,000 members at the Tuskegee Airmen’s Assn. They will see the premiere of the HBO movie produced by Frank Price. It is the emotional story of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ “Fighting 99th,” the first squadron of African-American combat flyers in WWII. Markowitz, who is white, reminds, “These (airmen) are real role models for all youths. These men were dedicated to a cause larger than they. They only wanted to be airmen and did it quietly. Today — instead of that pride there is so much rage. They were the rock stars of their day. They achieved a record no one equaled, in combat with B-17s, never losing one B-17.” Tuskegee Airman Bob Williams tried for 50 years to get his story told, met up with Frank Price 10 years ago and Price tried to get it made as a theatrical feature but no studio would do it. He went to HBO and Bob Cooper said yes. “They they came to me,” said Markowitz, who admitted they first went to two black directors — but neither was available. “Then they came to me — it’s a very ambitious film, very sensitive and at the same time a war movie complete with aerial battle scenes, so they needed an experienced director who also could tell the human story.” Markowitz has “A Dangerous Life” and “Decoration Day” among the many credits that made him fit the bill. “I’ve made 25 movies over a broad spectrum and had the talent and craft to make the movie for an $8.5 million budget. It would have been three times as expensive as a bigscreen feature.” Laurence Fishburne, who had been in “Decoration Day,” came aboard and his presence helped — every top black actor pitched for a part. “I felt very bonded with them and I learned a lot through them how to feel like a black man in WWII. I am still friends with all of them (in the cast).” One of the writers, Paris Qualles, is the son of a Tuskegee Airman. The other two writers, Trey Ellis and Ron Hutchinson, are white … The cast includes Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Allen Payne, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Courtney B. Vance, Andre Braugher and John Lithgow as Sen. Conyers, Rosemary Murphy as Eleanor Roosevelt, Christopher McDonald and Daniel Hugh Kelly … Markowitz said they went to Quincy Jones for music, but he wasn’t available. “We were very fortunate to get Lee Holdridge to score with the 70-piece Toronto Symphony. HBO did everything first-class and Frank Price had a very clear picture of the subject. It is very rare today in this commercial market when you can put something back into the culture that says something positive — and feel good after you see it. We have to make so many films we wouldn’t have gone to see ourselves.””Tuskegee Airmen” airs Aug. 26.

FROM THE SUBLIME TO — Rodney Dangerfield on the set of his “Meet Wally Sparks,” which he wrote with Harry Basil — who also opens for Dangerfield in Vegas. Rodney is also one of the producers and investors in the $12 million movie. “I like to gamble a little bit,” he laughed. But he’s serious about his comedy movie in which he’s an irreverent talkshow host, “like Howard Stern, to a degree,” he allowed. Peter Baldwin directs with Rodney adding, “It’s a collaborative affair and every studio wants it.” Dangerfield says the movie and his own web site on the Internet are his pride and joy these days with as many as 100,000 bites a day for him — jokes, games, etc. He even asked those Internet fans whether he should accept the Academy’s invitation for him to join the actors’ branch of the Academy (having been turned down once). “They (Internetters) voted 2,500-100 against my joining,” he says, so he’s not accepting the invite. Meanwhile, he’s got this imposing list of performers playing roles/cameos in his movie: Burt Reynolds as his network boss, David Ogden Stiers as the governor of Georgia, plus Debi Mazar, Cindy Williams, Alan Rachins, Gilbert Gottfried, Julia Sweeney, Tony Danza, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Morton Downey Jr., Michael Bolton — with more to come.

GEORGE C. SCOTT DELIVERS the mail — he’s the voice of the U.S. Postal Service. Charles Stern set the stentorian tones of Scott’s special delivery … While Rosie Clooney’s five children congratted her first Emmy nomination in 50 years in Thursday’s Daily Variety ad, saying she could “now stay home and start driving carpool(!)”– Rosie’s far from home in Disney World shooting an A&E special … Talking above of large casts, “2 Days in the Valley” wrapped with a total of 20 names, the last, James Brown, on the final day’s filming … Last year the Oscars’ Governors’ Ball boasted Wolfgang Puck’s cuisine, and this year, the Emmys’ black-tie’d Creative Arts Ball Sept. 9 and the Sept. 10 Governors’ Ball following the Fox telecast will boast banquets by Patina’s Joachim Splichal. And the TV Acad’s also set Paul Cunliffe (Creative Entertainment Services) and Carleen Cappelletti to theme-decorate the ballroom events.

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