GOOD MORNING: The word “nigger” is used 38 times in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” sez Spike Lee – and he doesn’t like it. And neither do I. In Daily Variety‘s review of the pic on Dec. 16, Todd McCarthy points out, “nearly every phrase (spoken by Samuel L. Jackson’s character) contains the n-word.” Lee admits, “I’m not against the word,” (though I am) “and I use it, but not excessively. And some people speak that way. But, Quentin is infatuated with that word. What does he want to be made – an honorary black man?” Lee says he has spoken to Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein and the film’s producer, Lawrence Bender, about the excessive use of the word. Lee would like to find out from Tarantino why he used it so frequently in this film “and he uses it in all his pictures: ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs…’ I want Quentin to know that all African-Americans do not think that word is trendy or slick.” Lee admits, “I don’t expect them to change (the prints now out), but I want him (Tarantino) to know about it for future reference.” Lee is now in post-production on his “He Got Game” for a May release by Touchstone; Sony, where Lee has his deal, “didn’t want it,” he says, so he took it to Disney. “Game” stars Denzel Washington. He also starred in Lee’s “Mo Better Blues,” in which I (and others) called Lee to task for making the portrayals of characters Moe and Josh Flatbush Jewish caricatures: in his review, Newsweek’s David Ansen described them as “villainous Shylocks,” reminding, “Coming from a self-proclaimed enemy of ethnic stereotyping (Lee), this is inexcusable.” Tuesday, returning to the use of the n-word in “Jackie Brown,” Lee reminded Tarantino and his “Jackie Brown” filmmakers, “If I had used the word ‘kike’ 38 times in ‘Mo Better Blues,’ it would have been my last picture.”

NOW THAT STEVEN SPIELBERG has “Amistad” sailing, he has returned to his ongoing, offscreen humanitarian efforts. Monday, he and Troy Aikman partnered on the Starbright World interactive computer network to seriously-ill children hospitalized in five cities: Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, UCLA Medical Center, Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas City, Children’s National Medical Center in D.C., and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. The children, aged from 7 to high teens, were able to talk to and see Spielberg and Aikman for almost two hours from the filmmaker’s Amblin office at Universal. Portions will be seen on NBC’s pregame show, Sunday. It is Spielberg’s ambition to have the Starbright World (part of his Starbright Foundation) in 100 hospitals signed up by the end of 1998. Aikman is a Starbright Campaign Cabinet Member, partnered with his Foundation. And General Schwarzkopf is the Capital Campaign Chairman of Starbright … John Forsyth is responding to treatment for a respiratory infection, says his daughter Brooke. Forsyth, pere, has completed narrating 13 segs of PBS’ “The People’s Century,” with Alfre Woodard doing the other 13. John will celebrate his 80th birthday Jan. 29 with family at his Santa Ynez ranch … Well-loved agent Ruth Webb can use a cheery card at Northridge hospital, where she’s recuping following a near-fatal auto accident 10 days ago – it was touch and go for five days. She is now going to fully recover, say medics. Her office continues business as usual but Ruth will remain hospitalized through the holiday season … IMG founder and CEO Mark McCormack and wife, ESPN broadcaster Betsy Nagelsen, welcomed daughter Maggie Dec. 13 at Orlando’s Arnold Palmer Hospital. (P.S. Palmer was McCormack’s first client!)

MERV’S MALL? WHILE MOST of the 1,200 (free) guests at the launching of Christmas Tree Lane in Merv Griffin’s BevHilton International Ballroom were singing Christmas carols, others were whispering about bigger things to come. They include a giant mall to be built on the 20 acres – adding to the hotel and Robinson’s May Co. some of the world’s most famous, fashionable stores, and a 10-12 theater complex. It would be a $300 million-plus addition to fashion-conscious Beverly Hills. Meanwhile, at the Hilton Monday, $30,000 was raised so far, by the auction (Lyle and Sharon Waggoner auctioneers) of celeb-decked Christmas trees, with more-$ to come from silent bids open until Friday. SHARE benefits from the sales. Connie Stevens bought two of the trees and Merv bought one for $11,000. SHARE prez Patricia (Mrs. Tom) Bosley and Vanna White hosted the launching, with Merv of course leading the singing with the Children of the World Choir and Les Brown’s Band, and Merv’s 3-year-old granddaughter Farah dancing on stage with gramps. Meanwhile, Merv Griffin Entertainment (Ernie Chambers is senior VP) enters yet another showbiz field: the legit musical theater with “Memphis Murder Mysteries” by Jim Wann and Don Maass.Griffin’s syndie’d “Click” gameshow hosted by Ryan Seacret, is renewed and they’re adding a sitcom, “Open House,” on UPN. It’s created by Fred Freeman and Larry J. Cohen … PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) presents “A Christmas Pudding” compiled and directed by David Birney (fourth year) at the Westwood Presbyterian Church Dec. 19, with traditional songs and stories and proceeds to benefit the homeless … Olympia Dukakis joins the celeb food purveyors with her Olympia Dukakis Greek Dressing (her pic hugs the bottle neck). Now working in the low-budget feature “Better Living” shooting in Yonkers, Olympia tells me her son Ron (Zorich) created her salad dressing. She agrees that Paul Newman’s Own is “wonderful” (and a multi-million-$ charitable contribution), “but if you want a Greek dressing … ” … Aaron Spelling says President Clinton should have named his dog, “Barkansas.”

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