GOOD MORNING: I knew what the answer would be — “We’re just old friends” — but I had to make the call anyway since I’d received so many calls about “guess who’s having lunch today (Thursday) at the Grill” in BevHills. “Mark Canton and Arnold Rifkin,” the recipients of a plethora of press in the past two weeks in the wake of the upheaval in Culver City. But an affable Rifkin assured that these two “old friends” had made this lunch date before the changes at Sony with ripples felt in BevHills at the William Morris office Rifkin, quite jovial, said, “I want to help him” (Canton). And coincidentally, at a nearby table was Canton’s attorney, Jake Bloom. Rifkin, now happily resumed and elevated at Morris, volunteered that this whole Sony affair made for “a real opportunity for an outgoing of warm emotion” for him. When asked his opinion of John Calley’s apparent ascendancy at Sony, he said he forewarned him “It’s no walk in the park!” The Grill used to be the lunch hangout for CAA’ers like Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer, but since both have moved to the Valley it is now the Morris meal-ing place Gary Sinise will star in Imagine’s “The Long Rains” at Universal with John Frankenheimer directing. He is “brilliant” in “Ransom,” said producer Brian Grazer. And Ron Howard, who directed Sinise in both “Apollo 13″ and “Ransom,” concurred. They also added they think “Ransom” is Mel Gibson’s “best work.” The producing-directing pair were at the Acad preem of their Universal “The Chamber” Wednesday night. And Grazer admitted, “There were times I didn’t think it would turn out but now, I think it’s going to be big. This was one of our best screenings.” On hand to take bows were cast members Chris O’Donnell, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway (fresh from her Star on the Boulevard), Lela Rochon, Bo Jackson, director James Foley and producer John Davis. “It’s Our Party” provided the appropriate Southern fixin’s for preemgoers including Diane Keaton, James Woods, Jason Patric, Ileana Douglas, etc.

TODAY IS GEORGE SIDNEY’S 80th birthday. He says he and wife Corinne have no special plans but let’s face it, everything about George is special. His list of credits is staggering from the days at MGM “Anchors Aweigh,” “Bathing Beaty,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” etc. to Columbia and “Jeanne Eagels,” “Pal Joey,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” etc. And his credits to the industry are also to be applauded, with lengthy service to the Directors Guild, the Motion Picture Academy and industry charities. He still has the same enthusiasm even though he walks with a cane but can still take great still pictures while in motion! Happy birthday George Also Wednesday, at the Museum of TV And Radio, West Coast, in BevHills, President Bob Batscha welcomed over 300 guests at the bow of the annual TV festival, now renamed the William S. Paley TV Festival. William C. Paley also spoke briefly of the honor of the fest being named for his father. Batscha reminded “The festival provides an opportunity for the creative people involved in the featured programs to share their experiences with the audience and gives the audience a unique behind-the-scenes look into some of TV’s most successful and critically acclaimed shows.” Like the “Playhouse 90s” that were honored Thursday night at the DGA. Among the opening night guests ooh’ing and ahh’ing the three floors of the magnificent museum on Beverly Blvd. and little Santa Monica were: Anna Lee, 83 and beautiful, proudly telling me, “I’m the oldest regular actress on TV” on “General Hospital” since ‘ 78. She’s also starred in features with leading men including John Wayne, Ronald Colman, Warner Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Boris Karloff, ad infinitum. Others at the museum included Frances Bergen, Eva Marie Saint and husband Jeff Hayden, Joan Van Ark, Barbara Bain, Pat Van Patten, Tony Thomopoulos, Martin Manulis, John Frankenheimer, Clarence Williams III, Lou Weiss, Barney and Richard Rosenzweig, Sid Sheinberg, June Taylor, Loreen Arbus, Allan Burns, Elinor Donahue, Jules Haimovitz, Jerry Katzman, Abby Mann, John Mantley, Pat Mitchell, Les Moonves, Norman Pattiz, Daniel Petrie, and hundreds more praising the first year of the museum here.

IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY at the spectacular 60th anni of Life cover with Marilyn Monroe’s face — artfully composed of 400 Life covers (all 2,128 of ‘em are inside) — the whites of MM’s teeth are made up of the March 29, 1954, Life cover of Pat Crowley (by John Engstead) as a teenager. … Sunday, Oct. 6, Sotheby BevHills displays the upcoming George Burns auction items including all his awards, Grammy, Emmy, but not his Oscar. Yes, Burns’ humidors are included. You recall JFK’s humidor gifted by Milton Berle went for $545,000. It’s expected the Burns auction will go into the millions and all proceeds go to charities including Cedars-Sinai, the MPTV Fund, the UJA. … The American Wine and Food Festival at Universal with 30 restaurants and 70 wineries participating, raised $500,000 for L.A.’s Meals on Wheels. … Tommy Farrell celebrates his 75th birthday Sunday.Up at Nicky Blair’s in Las Vegas, Ernie Borgnine (he parks his bus, the “Sun Bum” in Vegas) met up with Muhammad Ali they co-starred in “The Greatest” in 1977.

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