‘First Knight’ captures classic epic feel

GOOD MORNING: Cecil B. DeMille would have loved it. First the movie, then the party. I’m talking about “First Knight”… I remember when I was a messenger in the mail room at Paramount, I loved to detour to or linger in what was the DeMille Building. I’d wonder as the master moviemaker pored over future films’ drawings, costume designs, miniatures of sets. And then I’d stand in awe on the great stages at Paramount as they all came to life. And next, to attend the Kleig-lighted premiere of a million-dollar (!) DeMille movie on Hollywood Blvd. Thus it was equally as wondrous to visit Pinewood studio last fall and tour John Box’s building where he too was creating the settings for the magic to take shape on director Jerry Zucker’s $60 million “First Knight.” It was exciting to be on the set where Zucker was directing a tender romantic moment between the handsome Lancelot, Richard Gere, and the entrancing Guinevere, Julia Ormond, while nearby, Camelot and King Arthur, Sean Connery in all his imposing splendor, awaited them. Ah, yes, this is what makes movie magic and it did that, Monday night, first at the Academy theater and then at the party on the Sony parking lot, converted into a Camelot setting, complete with Connery, Ormond and Gere. The regal trio, joined by the evil Malagant, Ben Cross, were surrounded by hundreds of peasants who happily paid homage. The evening was a benefit for the Venice Family Clinic and Children’s Bureau of Southern Calif., and more than $ 275,000 was raised … Gere was shorn of his shaggy (brunetted) locks but looked equally dashing for his legal role in “Primal Fear,” but told me he’d happily pick up sword (he does it so well) for another costumer. He and Ormond did almost all their own stunts, all their riding — one scene cost Gere stitching over his eye when his horse bolted … Connery, seeing the film for the first time, thoroughly enjoyed being back in action — but laughingly admitted it was Gere who had all the derring-do in this pic. P.S.: Connery still looks powerfully convincing in his battle scenes … Ormond returned to contemporary life immediately after the preem as she resumed filming “Sabrina” Tuesday ayem in N.Y. … As guests arrived on the party scene they were showered with flower petals duplicating Guinevere’s arrival at Camelot. Rows of knights in shining armor stood at attention to greet all. And Along Came Mary’s Mary Micucci and her merry men and maids served up groaning boards of cleverly menu’d culinary castle treats. Keith Edwards’ music by Johnson Edwards delighted the film’s composer Jerry Goldsmith who stood in front of the band … Jerry Zucker, who directed and produced along with Hunt Lowry, admitted, “I didn’t appreciate how much more time it takes to do a period picture. I never thought I’d make it each day!” But he was only four days over the plotted sked –“and 70% of the movie was exteriors.” He credits the cooperative effort of all “the monumental talents.” Zucker said he never felt it would be a problem for his pic to be released in proximity with the other period pics, “Rob Roy” and “Braveheart.” Nor is he worried that “First Knight” bowing July 7 will be up against “Batman” plus the arrival of “Judge Dredd” and “Apollo 13.””They are all very different movies,” he says.

“JUST CALL ME ‘RAMBRO’ or ‘Schwarzenegro,'” laughed Mario Van Peebles on the “Solo” set deep in the jungle outside Puerto Vallarta. Mario, starring in the pic with Bill Sadler, is being directed by Cuba’s Norberto Barba in TriStar’s sci-fi’er. He is completely shave-pated for his role as “the ultimate weapon, an assassin who can be programmed, replaced, repaired, etc.” He told me, “I’ve never played a machine before. But it’s a pleasure just to act in a picture without having to worry about directing as well. Now, all I have to decide is — between a margarita or a daiquiri.” He directed and acted in his previous pic, you recall, “Panther,” which was written by his father, Melvin. They plan to team again — as co-directors in a project about a sheriff’s department.

THANK YOU for your letters, faxes, phone calls about my comments about Michael Jackson’s destructive, inflammatory words in his “They Don’t Care About Us” song. With the album out, “The question now,” notes the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Hier, “can we keep (the song) off the air?” Sandy Gallin says there will be no video … Steve Tisch is honored with HELP’s Humanitarian Award Thursday at the BevHilton … Meanwhile, Tisch and Judith Light co-host the Life AIDS award to Howard Bragman Friday (23) … Janet Leigh autographs her “Pyscho” memories Thursday evening at Brentano’s in Century City … At the RP Vision Awards, Stan Dashew’s auction bid won a walkon “Baywatch” for Liz Gans … While some have stars on Hollywod Blvd. Johnny Grant will also have a building in his name on the boulevard — next to the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel… On hand for Al Green at the House of Blues: Sylvester Stallone (here to p.a. “Judge Dredd,” Nicole and Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and wife Donna Dixon, Joel Silver, Jonathan Lynne and David Hasselhoff.

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