GOOD MORNING: “The best gauge (of a film’s rating) is a preview audience — not the ratings board,” Martin Scorsese told me. He said he’d always hoped for an R for Universal’s “Casino.” But “perhaps we showed it (to the board) a little too early — we had been anticipating an earlier (release) date. But each screening told us a little more.” How to temper the questionable scene in which mobster Joe Pesci squeezes out a confession by placing a victim’s head in a commercial vise — until an eye pops out — was solved by co-star Joe Pesci, said Scorsese. When asked whether the character’s violence was excessive, Scorsese said, “The real guy (portrayed by Pesci) was far more violent!” Some security guards and dealers at the Riviera who were around in “those” days told Scorsese, “The real guys were even tougher!” But, a final murder scene was also shortened as well. And in one scene, Scorsese’s mom, Catherine, playing a mobster’s mom, admonishes him for using profanity! But, the film’s violence is outweighed by his artistry. The complex relationships among Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone and Pesci make Las Vegas of that era come vividly to life. Those who only know Vegas as today’s so-called “family” town will be as fascinated as those of us who knew it “when” the wild, wild east ruled the wild, wild west.

SCORSESE SAID U DID NOT QUESTION the lengthy, difficult schedule or the budget, which he claims is “somewhere between $40 million and $50 million.” It’s all up there on the screen, as they say. The fictional Tangiers hotel is the Riviera, whose casino was actually used –“live” for six weeks of night shooting. It wasn’t easy … Scorsese said Sharon Stone had enormous enthusiasm, “Couldn’t wait to get on the set each day. She was first in rehearsals.” She kept asking Scorsese for tapes of actresses’s performances that he respected. He has the highest praise for her, as well as for De Niro and Pesci. The supporting cast is also as real as those I used to see roaming the casinos in the “good (bad?) old days”… Scorsese and author/co-scripter Nick Pileggi will team again on “The Neighborhood,”on the arrival of little Italy in the U.S. Pileggi wound the script three weeks before Scorsese’s father died. They’ll make it “a couple of pictures from now.”…”Casino” preems Thursday, with TNT devoting the night as a tribute to Scorsese-De Niro pics: “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver” and “N.Y., N.Y.”; it’ll include interviews with both “on how we work together,” said the director. How do they work so well together? “Trust,” Scorsese said. “We are both so hypersensitive to each other’s feelings. It’s a blessing”… Scorsese leaves for India in February to confab with the Dalai Lama for the Universal biopic now being written by Melissa Mathison. It will be all Asian actors, promises Scorsese. Next is the George and Ira Gershwin biopic for Irwin Winkler at WB. Scorsese’s love for film protection continues as he meets with Elliot Silverstein on the further clarification of labeling of films shown on TV –“to be more specific on the content of the editing,” says Scorsese. “We have to be cautious of phrases such as ‘time compression’ — as used for movies converted to TV. Sometimes it may cost an actor a job — when I’m looking to cast. But studios are coming around,” he says, “to taking care of films in their vaults.” He gives thanks to Turner for its restoration program for the golden age of films, the ’40s and ’50s as well as the silents. Scorsese really loves movies.

BARRY DILLER AND RON PERELMAN were brunching Sunday at Patrick’s Roadhouse, but nothing is cooking. “It was “just a continuation of our friendship,” assured Diller … There was plenty cooking Sunday night at Bergamot Station warehouse in Santa Monica, converted into a N.Y. subway terminal for the post-preem bash of Columbia’s “Money Train.” Co-stars Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson were on hand, plus co-stars Jennifer Lopez and Robert Blake, producers Jon Peters, Neil Canton and director Joe Ruben — and attorney Robert Shapiro. Sets from the film’s subway station (noises and graffiti to match) served as food stations for Along Came Mary’s N.Y.-style menus, from deli to Chinese, pastrami to potstickers … Baby relief: Marilu Henner wound her stint on Comic Relief on Saturday, went home with husband-producer-director Rob Lieberman and — awoke at 3 ayem, rushed to Cedars-Sinai, where they welcomed son Joseph Marlon L. at 4:23 . Henner hosts “We’re Having a Baby,” an ABC-Dick Clark special to air in early ’96. The camera crew was on hand as Henner was going into the delivery room — they got there before the doctor. That indeed is showbiz.

A HUNDRED YEARS — A Hundred Stories” is the title of George Burns’ 10th book. It’s being compiled by George with his head writer Hal Goldman and manager-friend Irving Fein. Reminder: Burns’ 100th birthday is Jan. 20 … Back from B’way and into “ER”: Oscar winner (“Sayonara”) Red Buttons goes dramatic again as he guestars in four segs of the “ER” series.

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