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Helmer learns perils of casting

GOOD MORNING: “There’s no question about it — women are the aggressors!” That’s “Mars Attacks!” screenwriter’ Jonathan Gems’ opinion as he prepares to direct his first film, “The Treat,” about three women in a brothel. Gems arrived at the above conclusion in the course of readying (casting?) the “Treat.” “When I first came to Hollywood,” said the British-born playwright, “I heard stories about the ‘casting couch.’ I now find it is completely the reverse.” And while prepping this pic, he says he got a legal letter from the lawyer of one hopeful actress claiming harassment! So far cast in “The Treat” (based on the play written by his mother, Pam Gems), are Christina Applegate, Daniel Baldwin, Seymour Cassel, Andrew McCarthy, Alfred Molina, Yancy Butler. Gems scripted and produces with Susan Shapiro for Cineville Films. And talking about casting Gems says when he wrote WB’s “Mars Attacks!” he dreamed of a star cast, but “first of all, I didn’t think it could be made at all. And with the cast I had in my mind I knew it would be too expensive so I just considered it a fun idea a fantasy.” But director Tim Burton changed all that. When Sarah Jessica Parker agreed to do it, then Pierce Brosnan and when Jack Nicholson said yes “We started getting requests from more stars than there were parts for. It was like a tidal wave when Jack came on.” Of course trying to arrange skeds of the various stars became a challenge along with the four locations, L.A. Las Vegas, D.C. and Kansas. “If they ever give a special award for producers, Larry Franco should get it,” Gems said.

THE “WHEEL OF FORTUNE” STOPS conveniently on its next hiatus in May ’97 and does not resume until August giving Vanna White time to welcome her second baby in July. She and husband George Santo Pietro also have a son, Nicholas, 2. Vanna tells me she again plans to work up to the start of the show’s hiatus. “I hope everyone gets used to seeing me pregnant.” “Fortune” recently bought her a $250,000 wardrobe which she admits being unable to wear. “But it’s a good problem to have,” Vanna adds. She is under contract to spin those “Wheel” letters whether she’s pregnant or not until 1999 White is adding music to her talents with her “Santa’s Last Ride” CD and storybook. The music’s by Leslie Bricusse, Henry Mancini and John Williams with Tom Bosley playing Santa Regis Philbin, who has a new three year ABC pact, is here to tape a non-Regis Philbin-like role in ABC’s “Life’s Work” at Disney. “I wanted to play a real character, not myself,” he told me, “and this came up out of the blue.” In the “Life’s Work” seg, he plays a D.A. who stole Christmas! Family tradition: Nell Newman, daughter of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, started the Newman’s Own Organics — The Second Generation, and in two years, her products have cornered 54 % of the nation’s healthy pretzel biz. (P.S. They’re delicious!) Nell’s division of Newman’s Own will do $2 million this year and like Paul she will contribute the profits to charities. … Back in ’72, student journalist Paula Weinstein met Jane Fonda at the Democratic Convention. Years later Paula became Fonda’s script reader. Fade out to ’96 and Weinstein, in a conversation with Tom Hayden invited his (and Fonda’s) son Troy (Garity) to be in HBO’s Sinbad starrer “The Cherokee Kid.” Troy impressed director Paris Barclay who cast him as a saloon bartender. Hayden, who showed up on the set during shooting is also expected at Monday’s preem, which benefits Project Angel Food. … Miramax, Gwen Verdon and the AFI’s Third Decade Council hosted the screening of Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You” at the NuWilshire. Verdon co-stars with Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton in Miramax’s “Marvin’s Room,” also bowing this month.

THIS IS THE BUSIEST preem season I’ve seen in a long time. In a week with nightly affairs, Thursday’s big event was U’s “Daylight” starring Sylvester Stallone, followed by a giant rain-dampened party in an “underground” tent in the lot across the street from the Chinese. Ambrosia Prods. transformed the tent to the tunnel of the pic complete with burned out cars, twisted girders, “rubble” and thousands of gallons of water crashing through (contained) pipes and portholes. Along Came Mary cooked up the N.Y. menu of Italian, Chinese, deli and Greek cuisine. Mary had ditto’d Wednesday at the “My Fellow Americans” post-preem party at Chasen’s and tonight at Par, after the “Mother” preem, she cooks up a fancy feed “mother” Debbie Reynolds could never have fixed for “son” Albert Brooks. … Jayson Kane takes time off readying the new Duet restaurant in Westwood to guest in the “Frasier” seg titled, “Three Days of the Condo” Lynn Redgrave was surprised at curtain call of her “Shakespeare for My Father” at London’s Haymarket (terrif reviews) when Michael Aspel joined her onstage to declare those inimitable words “This Is Your Life.” She was joined onstage by husband John Clark, daughters Annabel and Kelly and son Ben, sister Vanessa, brother Corrin and old school chums. And the theater audience got a second show for the price of the one. … Veteran makeup artist Webster Phillips is honored by the So. Calif. Motion Picture Council today at the Sportsmen’s Lodge for his 60 years in the industry from Barrymore to Burton.

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