GOOD MORNING: Robert Halmi donned aqua lungs and dove beneath the waters at Sharm El Sheikh, a little port between Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Halmi then surfaced and hurried to report, “I can’t contain myself!” The usually exuberant producer was more excited than ever. A onetime photographer (for Life and others), Halmi said, “I saw the richest marine life — beautiful fish, sharks, wreckage of countless ships sunk during the Suez Canal crisis.” It’s all now full speed ahead to start “Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” which, he says, will be “beyond ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ in special effects.” Halmi will build a sub like the one described by Jules Verne in the (French) first edition he just bought, and he’ll create, via high-tech enhancements to the image of a live octopus, the largest sea monster ever seen, even dwarfing Cecil B. DeMille’s in “Reap the Wild Wind.” The two-part CBS mini will be “more expensive than any TV movie ever made.” Halmi also is readying Homer’s “Odyssey,” and today he winds Neil Simon’s “London Suite” for NBC in England, having even lasso’d the Queen’s Horse Guard for a scene — had ’em re-strut their stuff three times! “This is the happiest time of my life,” Halmi said …”It’s highly erotic,” admits Billy Zane (“The Phantom”), although the sexual relationship between him and Gina Gershon (“Showgirls”) is never shown onscreen. Gershon plays his twin sister in Largo’s feature of Jim Thompson’s controversial “This World, Then the Fireworks.” The pic, also starring Sheryl Lee and Rue McClanahan, winds filming in Wilmington, N.C., this weekend. Zane assures pic will be “definitely an R.” It’s been filmed in 24 days, and Zane, who also co-produces with producers Chris Hanley, Brad Wyman and scripter Larry Gross, says, “I totally appreciate the cast, which rose to the occasion.” The Thompson drama “has been fighting to get out,” hesays. “He (Thompson ) couldn’t get it made during his lifetime because of its content. It’s the most dramatic roles I’ve ever done.” And a helluva change from “Phantom.” He segues into a nine-city tour for “Phantom” next week.“THE BOX OFFICE IS GOING THROUGH THE ROOF,” said “Victor/Victoria” producer Tony Adams Thursday after Julie Andrews’ withdrawal from Tony competish. “It’s double the regular day,” he added. Wha’happens on the Tony show if Andrews wins? She says she will not attend. “I really don’t know,” said exec producer Gary Smith. “It (her decision) has thrown us all into a reorganization plan,” but “we know it comes from her heart”… The B’way rumor mill was working overtime after Andrews’ dramatic curtain call. Adams said one story circulating said Andrews and other legit stars would be pitched (by another network) to do a special ahead of the Tonys, which air 9-11 p.m. June 2 on CBS … Meanwhile, the storm raging here was in Westwood where the WB-Universal-Amblin “Twister” preemed with smashing sound and light effects continuing at the post-party at the Armand Hammer museum, which looked Dali-esque with props draped and hanging as if twister-tossed. Along Came Mary provided downhome Midwest fare to settle stomachs. The pic’s effects brought repeated applause after Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton survived increasingly deadly whirlwinds. Director Jan De Bont said pic utilized computer magic never used before and (the former d.p.) has equal cine-magic planned for his “Speed 2,” which will start in L.A. again with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, who was on hand at the “Twister” preem. Among attendees walking by some protesting fans at the Village and Bruin theaters was David Geffen. Fellow DreamWorker Steven Spielberg, who is “Twister’s” exec producer, was the target of placards and flyers that decried the SKG Ballona Wetlands studio development at Playa Vista as anti-environmental. Cast members on hand also included Jami Gertz and Cary Elwes plus producers Kathleen Kennedy with husband Frank Marshall and Ian Bruce. Hunt’s “Mad About You” co-stars Paul Reiser, John Pankow, Anne Ramsey and Richard Kind were also there. While computer and special effects did most of the twister action, Hunt said scenes were terrifying for ’em in man-made mammoth winds — especially the grand finale. She said only two days were in-studio interiors. JOINING LES BROWN ON HIS BAND (of renown’s) 60th anni at the Palladium tonight, Bob Hope and wife Dolores. Hope and Brown have toiled together 49 years and Hope sings “I’m Available” (Evans & Livingston) and “De-Lovely” (Cole Porter) … Madame Wu, KCET Woman of the Year (twice) and benefactor of many charitable organizations, received the California Restaurant Writers Assn.’s first Humanitarian Award … Dennis Cole’s search for the killer of son Joe in 1991 airs May 17 on “Unsolved Mysteries” with a preview Saturday on “Entertainment Tonight”… RCA is releasing the pre-B’way celeb CD of Cy Coleman’s “The Life,” which includes one song, “Easy Money,” recorded by George Burns. In the planned legiter, it will be sung by — a 17-year-old prostitute.
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