Poitier takes on Oscar presenter duties

GOOD MORNING: It’s been a long time –“maybe 15 years”– but Sidney Poitier is winging to L.A. to be a presenter at the Oscars. He’s religiously avoided award-show presentations over the years; I know, after unsuccessfully asking him many times for the People’s Choice Awards. So howcum this year? “I was asked by a friend,” he laughed. The friend, of course, is our mutual pal, Quincy Jones. And it meant Poitier’s flying from N.Y. this week and then heading to Capetown for the start of Showtime’s “Mandela.” And, just for the record, Poitier had agreed to be a presenter on the Oscars before the recent Jesse Jackson protest vs. the Oscars. When I asked his opinion, a pensive and always thoughtful Poitier told me, “It is a subject which should be examined in depth — not in sound bites. It would be wise for all concerned to see if there is merit, material to explore as with any question of race, gender, ethnicity. It is not a question that has recently arisen. It has been around a long time and not getting a clear, concise exploration, like other subjects in American life that are uncomfortable or uneasy for society to deal with. But because they are uncomfortable, society should not go into denial and become the subject of sound bites. Sound bites tantalize us, and in many instances incite us. The media is powerful for teaching, entertaining — and inciting. Sound bites reach for the sensational. When you are dealing with real-life situations, sound bites can be a disservice”… In view of the start of his “Mandela” biopic, I also asked Poitier if he followed the past day’s divorce proceedings of the Mandelas in South Africa. He had. Would these bitter proceedings be part of his movie? “No. We only go as far as their separation.” Poitier will film in three of the prisons in which Mandela was held. “I hope you’re in good shape,” I noted. “I hope I’m as strong as he was,” Poitier said.

THE LANDMARK DECISION handed down by the Supreme Court resulting in the striking down of anti-miscegenation laws in 18 Southern states is re-created in “Mr. and Mrs. Loving.” The Showtime telepic was preemed Tuesday night for members of the Supreme Court and Congress at the Kennedy Center. Producer Dan Poulson told me the Hallmark production may also go the theatrical feature route. Tim Hutton plays Richard Loving, Lela Rochon (“Waiting to Exhale”) plays Mildred Loving, the Virginia couple threatened with the option of spending one-to-three years in prison or being banished from the state of Virginia. Their crime was falling in love and getting married, she being black, he white. Bernie Cohen, the young lawyer who won the case for ’em in ’67, was the catalyst in getting the Kennedy Center screening last night. He’s portrayed in the pic by Corey Parker. “Loving” preems on the 28th at the DGA, airs first March 31 … Mike Shapiro of Skyfire Prods. has created the film tribute to Kirk Douglas, for his Lifetime Achievement Oscar to be introduced by Steven Spielberg. This is the fourth film tribute Shapiro’s produced … The Board of Governors’ Ball will be particularly glittery this year, promises ball chairman Sid Ganis. World-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly is loaning millions of dollars worth of his chandeliers for the Ball tent. Large screens will again surround the party with recaps of the evening, and Jack Sheldon’s orch will tune the party designed by Carl Bendix … Meanwhile, over in Burbank, “Babe” continues its amazing recognition with a country fair Friday at the Virgin Megastore with nominee James Cromwell, Christine Cavanaugh (who was the voice of Babe), Danny Mann (the voice of Ferdinand the Duck) and director Chris Noonan. Well, it’s become the battle of “Il Postino” and “Il Porcino”– sorry, Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

THE FIRST WASSERMAN (Edie and Lew) Awards by NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts will be presented March 30 to top student filmmakers (undergrad and grad) at the conclusion of the school’s First Run Film Festival. The Wassermans are benefactors and good friends of the Tisch School … Leah Rabin is keynote speaker at the Jewish Federation’s Community Dinner March 31 at the Century Plaza. Marilyn and Monty Hall host and Richard Dreyfuss intros Mrs. Rabin … CBS’ “Touched by an Angel” receives the Anti-Defamation League’s Deborah Award as well as the Faith and Value Award from Movieguide magazine … Kim Cattrall and Daniel Benzali host the Intl. Documentary Assn.’s 14th annual Oscar nominees reception Saturday at the L.A. County Museum of Art following the daylong screenings and discussions … AMC bows its “new era” of moviegoing at its new megaplex in Woodland Hills Thursday when legends Ann Miller and Cyd Charisse also will be feted. AMC sez it’s the most advanced and most comfortable movie theater yet. Bring on the hits! … Lillian Culver, wife of Harry C., founder of Culver City, celebrates her 100th birthday Saturday. Her acting career included roles in pics and TV, including “Perry Mason, “Highway Patrol,” “December Bride” and “Death Valley Days.” And she initiated the first women’s talkshow on radio — in the ’30s!

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