DeVito masters moppets for ‘Matilda’

GOOD MORNING: Well, they didn’t say it would be easy. But Danny DeVito takes it all in his stride. The setting was Sony’s Stage 27, the tallest stage in Hollywood and the site of many MGM movies starring some of the biggest little stars in Hollywood. Now again, the stage was a school room setting filled with tiny tots, 7- to 8-year-olds directed by DeVito in TriStar’s “Matilda,” a screen version of one of Roald Dahl’s bestsellers. It’s not easy handling as many as 170 kiddies (there were only 25 working in the scene I watched). But DeVito, the father of three, has a good understanding of the kids’ problems — although it’s frustrating to work a few minutes with the moppets, then have to ship them off to school for periods of no less than 20 minutes, then resume directing ’em, etc. Working out the film schedules requires the patience of Job and the sagacity of Solomon for DeVito. His co-star and wife, Rhea Perlman, also is commuting between Vancouver and her role opposite Tom Arnold in “Carpool” to the Culver City lot and “Matilda,” where she plays DeVito’s wife and “Matilda’s” mother … The pic is another of Jersey Films’ plethora of product. They include “Feeling Minnesota” for New Line, “Get Shorty” at MGM, “Sunset Park” for TriStar and the “Fish Called Wanda” “equal” (not sequel), “Fierce Creatures.” “Matilda” was formerly at Universal and the turnaround added to the cost, bringing the budget to “around $30 million.” But that’s because producer/director/co-star DeVito says, “We are all taking less.” His past practice of “taking less” upfront against gross percentages has proven profitable. The pic stars Mara Wilson as young Matilda, the DeVitos her parents; Danny with dark hair and pencil-thin moustache as a sleazy used car salesman, and Rhea, as Matilda’s bingo-crazed mother, is blousy with Medusa-like hair. Britain’s Pam Ferris, with uncomfortable padding, plays Miss Trunchbull, the evil headmistress who tortures Matilda, and Embeth Davidtz is Miss Honey, who comes to Matilda’s rescue. The DeVitos’ youngest, Jake (7), visits the set to watch the kid actors and also views dailies — but is not in the movie … DeVito demonstrates his savvy in handling the moppets by having them giggle on cue for him — and for exec producer Michael Peyser and associate producer Josh Levinson on the set with us.

BIGGER THAN THEIR FIRST Special Hollywood Issue — that’s Vanity Fair’s December “TV Hall of Fame” edition. Editor Graydon Carter sez more than a million copies will be on the stands and 10 photographers are lining up the portfolio. Last weekend, TV’s “detectives” were assembled on U’s backlot for Annie Leibovitz’s lens: Hal Linden, Bob Stack, Sharon Gless, Tyne Daly, Angie Dickinson, Angela Lansbury, Fred Dryer, Buddy Ebsen, Peter Falk, Dennis Franz, Kate Jackson, Don Johnson, Edward James Olmos, Richard Roundtree, Jimmy Smits, Robert Wagner among ’em. And Ben Vereen interrupted N.Y. rehearsals of “A Christmas Carol” to wing here for the “Roots” reunion shots with LeVar Burton, Cicely Tyson, John Amos and Leslie Uggams for Herb Ritts’ lens … GQ is going all out on Hollywood with its October issue covering everything from directors’ and producers’ opinions of crix to John Travolta’s confessions. Also Daily Variety’s Peter Bart’s article on “The Other Arnold”– Rifkin of William Morris. And Daily Variety’s John Brodie’s story of the Mafia in (or out?) of Hollywood … Fran Drescher, doing a p.a. on David Letterman’s “Late Show” for her new “Nanny” season, noted she’s joining Francis Ford Coppola’s “Jack,” with Robin Williams, Bill Cosby and Diane Lane.

PRINCE EDWARD WILL ATTEND Andrew Lloyd Webber’s presentation of the National Youth Music Theater of Great Britain concert Oct. 25-28 at the City Center in N.Y. The company of 20 youngsters (11-19) will perform “The Threepenny Opera” and “Pendragon.” Webber underwrites the program. He’s now working on the workshop of “Whistle Down the Wind” for stage as well as feature film, the animated feature version of “Cats”– for which John Gielgud’s recorded — plus “Evita,” the movie, for which he’s making some musical “adjustments, re-orchestrating some things”… Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World — Inside Out” will be a 39-week series on the insides and outsides of all Disney’s lands, studios, etc. Brad Lachman Prods. readies for — the Disney Channel and syndication. Lachman’s also readying the second “World’s Funniest Outtakes” for the Fox net with Harry Anderson hosting … Universal Studios Hollywood’s the site for MTV’s taping of a “Real World” reunion show Saturday to air in February … Atlantic Records hosted a bash at the Bowery Bar for Bruce Roberts’ “Intimacy” CD bow. Mica and Ahmet Ertegun, just back from their home in Turkey, greeted guests including Clarissa and Edgar Bronfman Jr., for whom Roberts sang at their Caracas wedding last year. Cindy Crawford was there as Roberts’ date. Also there, David Geffen, Barry Diller, Calvin Klein, Marla and Donald Trump., Bobby Zarem and Kim and Art Garfunkel.

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