Monkey see, monkey do? Biz goes ape

GOOD MORNING: The movie biz continues to go ape. Although “Buddy” didn’t attract much of its anticipated family bizness — which audiences supposedly were crying for — producers of Disney’s June 1998, $85 million “Mighty Joe Young” are confident their (RKO’s) debut in “the big world” will be a winner. Dina Merrill, whose husband is Ted Hartley (RKO Pictures’ co-owner and partner), said the pic is halfway through production in Hawaii and will complete in L.A. Merrill says the new “Young” is close to the 1949 original story, but with the added genius of Rick Baker creating three apes — in sizes varying from ape infancy in the jungle to a height of 16 feet on its arrival in L.A. … Disney, meanwhile, is readying its July 10 bow of “George of the Jungle,” a comedy combination of humans and (animatronic) apes and other animals. … All the above producers would like to see their simian cinematics achieve the big bunch of bananas captured by “Congo” — $150 million-plus worldwide. Ron Underwood’s directing “Mighty Joe Young” with the cast headed by Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron and Linda Purl, with Naveen Andrews (Kip of “The English Patient”) as the heavy. … Dina Merrill takes a break from moviemaking Thursday to appear at the GOP’s Pro-Choice Alliance Dinner honoring its founders, at the Women’s National Republican Club in N.Y. … Next for the Hartleys and RKO is “The Locked Room” for New Line, with Michael Radford directing.

“BARBRA STREISAND TOLD ME to gain weight. She wanted me fat and ugly,” said Brenda Vaccaro. “But I cried for weeks after looking at myself in ‘The Mirror Has Two Faces.’ And I haven’t done anything (roles) since. So I started on a diet — and I’ve lost 50 pounds.” She unveils the new Brenda July 24 at the Mark Taper Forum, where she’ll star in Leslie Ayzazian’s “Nine Armenians” for Gordon Davidson. “It’s very funny,” she promises. … Last weekend, Vaccaro says, she had “the most fun I’ve had in years in the hippest show”: she did the voice of “Lucy” in HBO’s animated “Spawn” for Jack Fletcher. … “An arrest has been made,” LAPD confirms, a charge of “assault with a deadly weapon” in the brutal beating of celeb photog Bill Jones (countless Hollywood preems, Jet mag, L.A. Sentinel, etc.). He was attacked by an assailant with a baseball bat after Jones reportedly accidentally sprayed water on a passerby while washing his car last Saturday. Jones is in critical condition at King Drew Medical Center. … Gianni Russo plays a porno film producer in six segs of Aaron Spelling’s “Pacific Palisades.” Russo also wrote the screenplay for “PCH” (Pacific Coast Highway) as a Fox TV pilo. … While Pope John’s in Poland, “Brother of God” preems — it’s the movie based on a play he penned. Scott Wilson, who stars in the film, is in Poland with his wife, Heavenly, for the festivities. The pic’s directed by Krzysztof Zanussi and the preems are being held in Warsaw, Cracow and Shaopone. … Amy Brenneman, Robert De Niro’s leading lady in “Heat” and Sly Stallone’s g.f. in “Daylight,” now plays Scott Glenn’s wife in “Lesser Prophets” with Jimmy Smits, John Turturro, Dennis Hopper and Sheryl Lee. … Today, Tony Danza again awards two Taft High School seniors with $1,000 scholarships in memory of Lamoun Thomas, the Taft student who was fatally stabbed at a bus stop five years ago. … Over $800,000 was raised for the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA at the dinner honoring Ted Mann and Rhonda Fleming Mann, benefactors of UCLA’s Rhonda Fleming Mann Resource Center for Women with Cancer. The evening, “Artists in Support of Cancer Research” was held Saturday at the BevHilton.

NOT IN THE SCRIPT: Mandy Patinkin, wearing dark glasses at the Tonys, said he was wearing them “not because I am trying to be a Hollywood movie star,” but because he’d regained his eyesight because of a cornea transplant — he asked the audience to remember the moment and to donate their eyes. He got his cornea from the donated eyes of a 12-year-old child. Retinitis Pigmentosa’s Helen Harris, on hearing Patinkin on the Tonycast, wrote him and he will appear at RP’s Vision Awards June 23 at the BevHilton — and he’ll bring his friend and booker Moishe Rosenthal, who has retinitis pigmentosa. Vision Awards honorees include Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, Robert Altman, Lauren Shuler-Donner, Albert Brooks, Jon Voight, Stan Lee, Alan Pakula, “Babyface” John Williams among industry toppers. I will be pleased to emcee Lifetime’s “Television for Women” event at the Hotel Bel-Air Wednesday. It will be hosted by Lifetime CEO Doug McCormick and Disney/ABC’s Gerry Laybourne. … Bill Cosby, in town for the Playboy Jazz Fest, will be on hand tonight at the Melrose Theater for HBO’s workspace one-woman show of T’keyah Crystal Keymah, who stars on the TV’er as Erica Luca.

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