‘Godzilla’ hopes for big bite of B.O.

GOOD MORNING: With Steven Spielberg and his armada of T. rexes readying to devour box office figures with the bow of Universal’s “Lost World,” it was coincidental I had a call from the set of “Godzilla,” which is whetting the appetite of Sony TriStar for 1998. It was “Animal” calling — he’s the fearless cameraman played by Hank Azaria who co-stars in the epic coming from the creative team, which, like Spielberg, produced another billion-$epic, “Independence Day.” And if we think we saw mass destruction in “ID4,” wait til “Godzilla” gets loose in N.Y., promised Azaria, who reminded, “It’s based on a real story!” As you can see, Azaria hasn’t lost the great sensahuma he exhibited as Agador Spartacus, the Guatemalan houseboy to Robin Williams in “The Birdcage.” He now co-stars with Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno and Maria Pitillo in “Godzilla.” As for realism, however, a genuine tornado twisted through the “Godzilla” set in New Jersey, tearing down parts of sets. Azaria admitted, “We were all in our trailers — it was terrifying. How bizarre it was to see a tornado — with the Twin Towers of N.Y. in the background.” Azaria quickly added, “Where was Helen (his girlfriend Helen Hunt of “Twister”) when we needed her?” Azaria said making this picture is “a bear” for the production team of Roland and Ute Emmerich and Bill Fay (alumni of “ID4”) but “great fun for the actors.” Yes, Azaria has seen “Godzilla,” the larrupin’ lizard being kept in its Culver City lair for now, but soon to be sprung before the thesps — and the blue screens. Even with the latest special effects developments, Azaria said he doesn’t know how they’ll satiate the appetite of the beast as it noshes its way through New York. The Flatiron building was already one of the appetizers, Azaria allowed, reluctant to divulge (or digest?) any of the story. “They bring the script to us every day, delivered by a huge man, and we have to sign a promise not to breathe a word.” But he did say they are already talking about a sequel. While gadding about with “Godzilla,” Azaria will be seen on screen this summer in “Homegrown,” opposite Billy Bob Thornton (for whom Azaria sat in on a table reading of Mike Nichols’ “Primary Colors”). Azaria also completed a contemporary “Great Expectations” and the animated “Anastasia.” “I am blessed, I get to do a lot of different things,” he said modestly. … The 44th Boomtown show by the ladies of SHARE brought in $1,400,000 for the 44 charities which will share the proceeds of Saturday night’s show at CBS. It was a salute to 50 years of TV and to Merv Griffin. And, as usual, the list of professional talent notwithstanding, it was the ladies and their dance routines which (as usual) brought down the house. Of course, professional credits helped make it happen: producer Gary Smith, Bill Atkinson, choreos Charlene Painter and Carl Jablonski and orchestra led by Ian Fraser. The pro performers included John Byner, excellent (and very funny) as m.c. The stage was dressed like a live TV show — with background screened clips from a half century of TV chef d’oeuvres (some to be seen on the HBO 50th anni of TV). Sid Caesar, who was to appear, is sidelined with a broken finger and stitched forehead after taking a spill while stopping his Rottweiler from attacking another dog. Shecky Greene, who subbed for Caesar, received a standing ovation for his generous appearance, displaying his many talents. Others appearing included Joanne Worley in a TV news show takeoff assisted by Peter Falk, Robert Stack and Chuck Woolery. Gloria Loring sang her TV theme, Natalie Cole (intro’d by Michele Lee) brought down the house (as always) with “Unforgettable,” duetted with her father, Nat King Cole. Griffin, who received the “Shining Spirit Award” (as presented by Steve Allen), also delighted by singing “I’m the Bandstand Singer.” Bill Maher exhibited his no-holds-barred standup comedy talent: “People in Hollywood spend all day trying to figure out how to screw one another and then spend the nights giving charity events” Tom Bosley, Marion Ross and David and Tracy Nelson recalled the family TV show era Downtown Julie Brown and Jamaal Wilkes intro’d the sports dance extravaganza Joni Berry designed all the costumes. She also was given the SHARE Lifetime Award along with Miriam Nelson Meyers and Gloria Franks. Corinna Fields is the outgoing SHARE prez and Patricia Bosley is incoming prez. Marilyn Hudson was named member of the year. And Sandra Scully is chairman of the board. The new Chasen’s on Canon Drive is a hit — open seven days for lunch and dinner and now for an after-theater menu as well, owner Grady Sanders reports. Friends of the former Bistro Gardenwill be happy to see Jose Santos, now maitre d’ at Chasen’s. Also there from the Garden is terrif pianist George Merick. On hand the other eve, a dinner party by the Fred Haymans for the Ricardo Montalbans and Tim Vreelands. Also there: Joel Silver, Drai’s chef-partner Claude Segal to well-wish Chasen chef Michael Otsuka and a very svelte and again glamorous Anna Nicole Smith. … Mother’s Day at Matteo’s was also a full house. Supping spaghetti, etc., were Carole and Walter Matthau (already in rehearsals for “The Odd Couple” sequel) with son Charlie M. and Aram Saroyan, Meredith MacRae and daughter Allyson, the Harvey Siberts and Ray Liotta. … Johnny Grant gets his hand and footprints at Mann’s Chinese theater today with police, fire dept. and Air Force participation.

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