GOOD MORNING: The Lakers, Jerry West and the NBA would not have been happy to learn, as I did Tuesday, what Shaquille O’Neal is up to. I found the affable, gentle giant surrounded by a mountain of metal junk on an enormous, otherwise-vacant lot near the Harbor Freeway at 1st and Beaudry. It was the location for “Steel,” the first of what WB hopes will be many feature versions of the DC comic (and a valued addition to the “Batman” bunch). O’Neal is costumed in steel for his action scenes and director Kenneth Johnson was cautious not to have the armor-plated O’Neal look ludicrous. Shaq’s co-stars Annabeth Gish and Richard Roundtree told me they’d all agreed to (at least) one sequel. And O’Neal said he couldn’t be happier. “I love doing action pictures.” He must love ’em: he said he’s agreed to only $200,000 for his acting role (he’s also an exec producer), as compared to his $123 million Laker contract. Of course, there’s an enormous merchandising plan afoot as well. So why would the basketballers shudder at the on-set action? Director Johnson described some of the stunts O’Neal insisted on doing, despite the fact his double was ready and willing. One of the scenes involved a burning helicopter; Johnson admitted he couldn’t blame the writer (Johnson did the script) but, he said, there’s plenty of humor in addition to the action. He had to write it in record time in order to get the movie rolling and O’Neal completed in time to depart for Laker training camp in Hawaii Oct. 3, for the season start Nov. 1. O’Neal said he’s in shape now: he has a gym and hoop on the set. He looked lean (not mean) as he and Roundtree completed a scene with young Gish, who plays a paraplegic. Shaq’s called upon to lift her in her wheelchair and Gish told me, “I’m so worried I’ll bump (break) his toe and the Lakers will be furious with me!” The set boasted dozens of wrecked cars, plus spectacular, beautifully designed sculptures made of discarded metals, ranging from passenger cars to earth-moving equipment. (Gary Wissner designed the set and created the metal art work as well.) Amidst it all is a 30-foot hill of metal garbage, which, on director Johnson’s direction, opened up for me and revealed a control center, from which Shaquille, Roundtree and Gish will operate vs. bad guys led by Judd Nelson. Roundtree, alumnus of “Shaft” pix and TV, told me he is glad that for a change he is not doing the running and chasing stunts that’s now in Shaq’s court. The Quincy Jones-David Salzman production is produced by Joel Simon; exec producers are Leonard Armato and Bruce Binkow (well as O’Neal). and Mark Allan is co-producer. The movie will come in for a (modest) $23 million on a 10-week principal-photography sked and 29 weeks post for special efx Roundtree is just back from filming a cable show during the hurricane in Raleigh and Wilmington. Gish is fresh from CBS’ “What Love Sees” (airs Sept. 22), playing a blind girl, co-starred with Richard Thomas. Gish next does the mini “True Women,” also for CBS.
THE ANTI-SEMITIC LYRICS in Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Care About Us” song in his “HIStory” Epic album have been changed in the foreign edition, I was happy to hear on receipt of the 2-CD set bought, on my request, in London and sent me by Variety‘s Peter Cowie. The package still contains a biographical and congratulatory booklet insert including a letter from Steven Spielberg who had earlier disclaimed knowledge of its inclusion with the then-destructive lyrics. … Mel Torme, in his ninth day of neurological rehabilitation, is cheered by family visits, letters and birthday wishes including one from Barbara and Frank Sinatra. Torme is still not able to speak, due to a tube inserted in his throat, but they are hopeful. He was cheered to hear daughter Daisy is making her feature film debut in “An American Vampire Story” and next starts “Uncle Sam Visits South Central.” … Roger Williams performed Rev. Robert Schuller’s favorite tune, “Autumn Leaves” at Schuller’s surprise 70th birthday bash at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Tuesday. Williams again plays at all Schuller’s Christmas Eve services.
THE ACADEMY OF TV ARTS & SCIENCES’ N.Y. Chapter’s 40th anni celebration honoring Milton Berle, Oct. 28 at the Waldorf, now includes Carol Burnett, Buddy Hackett, Joey Adams, Barbara Walters, Hugh Downs, Jerry Orbach and Henny Youngman, with more to come. … Igby’s Comedy Cabaret, for 12 years one of the top comedy clubs in the country, has been sold to Neal Rocklin, whose plans are to make it a music and dance club. Over 2,000 comedians have performed at Igby’s and before the Nov. 1 close of escrow, “Freaky Monday Nights” at the club will be hosted by Mark Curry. … Martin Lawrence and wife Patricia have decided to part. He’s back at work on his “Martin” series. … Lisa Kudrow hosts the second “SNL,” Oct. 5, with Sheryl Crow. As already noted, Tom Hanks opens the season Sept. 28. Hanks displayed enormous charm, wit and patience at last week’s Presidential gala: long stage waits and stagehands crossing in front of and behind him didn’t faze the good-natured Hanks one bit. The President, Hillary Clinton as well as the heavy industry hitters in the audience appreciated the multi-talented Hanks’ able handing of a difficult situation. … Tom and Toni Estey, execs at Baker Winokur Ryder, welcomed son Tyler Joseph Sept. 9 at N.Y.’s Mt. Sinai hospital.