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Ovitz departure surprises many

GOOD MORNING: “I was shocked,” Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein told me after Michael Eisner called him Thursday ayem to inform him that Michael Ovitz was leaving. At the time, Weinstein was on the set of “An Alan Smithee Film,” working as an actor. Although the Weinsteins came into the Disney family before Ovitz’s arrival, Weinstein said Ovitz “had been great to me in my early career. He allowed me to read scripts and to help with casting advice. He was a leader he had vision. When he came over to Disney he was always available for advice.” Weinstein claims any time he saw the two Michaels “They were like two friends. I never saw any antagonism; but the tension (reported by the media) wasn’t good for the company.” Weinstein said Miramax’s program of 30 films will be cut to 20 next year. He said both Eisner and Ovitz told him the market was too crowded “and I’m not stupid not to listen to two smart men.” This year Miramax’s banner is promoting Oscar hopefuls “The English Patient,” “Everyone Says I Love You” and “Marvin’s Room.” As for his role in “Alan Smithee,” Weinstein said he’s playing “Sam Rizzo, a private eye with a shot of bourbon and a beautiful blonde. Don’t tell my wife! I’m going to suggest that every studio head play a role for one day they’ll be more sympathetic to actors.” Weinstein was standing alongside “Smithee” scripter and producer Joe Eszterhas, whose feelings I also asked about Ovitz’s departure. You recall Ovitz was once Eszterhas’ CAAgent and when Joe departed for ICM the famous battle of words ensued with Eszterhas’ much-quoted four-page letter accusing Ovitz of saying: “My foot soldiers who go up and down Wilshire Boulevard each day will blow your brains out.” The quotes were denied by Ovitz but no one forgot ’em. Eszterhas says he’s not seen or spoken to Ovitz since, although he’s written about him, recently saying, “The town is not the same since he left CAA. I felt he was being muzzled at Disney. I like to see more fun in this town the way it was when he was there (at CAA). It’s like the Kremlin without Stalin, the ‘Tonight Show’ without Johnny.” … Also “acting” on the “Alan Smithee” film this week, attorney Robert Shapiro in his boxing trunks, punching a bag at the L.A. Athletic Club. In the pic, Shapiro nixes representing Smithee saying he’s trying to avoid “high-profile cases.” The movie also locations at Victor Drai’s two celeb-eateries, with Victor debating whether to play himself, since he’s not done so even in movies he himself produced. And even though Arthur Hiller directs Hiller, performed the (very legal!) wedding service for Drai and his wife Laryn Locklin. Meanwhile writer/producer/restaurateur Stanley Ralph Ross plays the maitre d’ at Drai’s in “Smithee” Ross owns Hamptons Hollywood Cafe! Disney employees received their copy of Disney Hot Line newsletter (one sheet) with Mickey Mouse carrying a paper titled “Hot Stuff” with the banner, “Michael Ovitz to Leave Disney.” The house (mouse?) organ went on to tell of Ovitz’s departure Jan. 31 and of the affection each Mike has for the other. … Things aren’t what they seem dept.: Eisner and Ovitz were smiling and tete-a-tete’ing at great length only last Saturday at the Marvin Davises’ wedding party. … And then again, Jean-Claude Van Damme was all smiles and exuberant when he checked in to be introduced at my platform at last week’s preem of “Daylight” only to check into a hospital shortly thereafter for treatment of substance abuse.

AND NOW FOR THE OTHER SIDE of Disney: ICAN (the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse & Neglect) was readying its annual (Saturday) party for the abused children at MacLaren Children’s Center when it learned the number of kids had almost doubled to 300 and further, some of the promised suppliers of toys/gifts fell out! Marty Ingels put in a call to Michael Eisner on Wednesday and by nightfall, trucks pulled up to ICAN. Deanne Tilton Durfee, director of ICAN and ICAN Associates, happily told me the Disney gifts will more than fill the empty stockings. Sounds like a Disney movie but this is real.. Over $100,000 was raised at the Center for the Partially Sighted “With a Little Help for Our Friends” gala at the BevHilton for honorees William H. Elliott, Max Factor III, Alan Shabo, Fred Stern and Gary Smith. Gail Purse produced the show, which starred a sensaysh Tony Danza and his troupe (which plays Atlantic City, Vegas, etc.) including gorgeous dancers Janice Cronkhite and Audrey Owen and Pat Rico (Tony’s 73 years young tap teacher) and Lenny LaCroixz’s group. Buz Kohan scripted. (Danza, solo, heads to the Rainbow & Stars Jan. 21-Feb. 1. The capable Steve Edwards m.c’d, as he has every year. And 12-year-old violinist Danny Chong, alumnus of the Disney Young Musicians orch and YMF, wowed the audience, as did comedian Wayne Cotter who was wearing a beeper, since his wife was expecting momentarily. Exec producer Gary Smith next heads to D.C. to ready CBS’ Jan. 19 53rd Presidential Inaugural Gala at the Cap Center on the eve of the Inauguration. Ted Harbert learned the ABC affiliates (including Atlanta and Detroit) that did not air the Ebony mag special Thanksgiving night had preempted for local programming in which they could air eight minutes of commercials instead of the one minute allotted during a network show. The stations told the web Thanksgiving weekend is a “huge retail weekend” and the golden opportunity to sell the local air space. That’s showbiz.

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