GOOD MORNING: The Russians are here, the Russians are here! Formalities aside, visiting Russian members of the American-Russian Foundation did at the BevHilton as they do back home at a Black Sea resort: they plunged in and out of the hotel pool, au naturel. Hotel owner Merv Griffin laughingly reprimanded ’em as he and Larry King co-hosted Tuesday night’s gala, which was simulcast to Moscow from the BevHilton’s Intl. Ballroom. It’s all part of the celebration of Moscow’s 850th anni. The two-day economic confab is to cook up joint U.S.-Russian biz. No, Merv is not planning to buy-build a hotel in Russia; he says he’s never even been there. But he has had dealings with ’em, when he found his “Wheel of Fortune” was playing on Russian TV — sans payment to him. The Russians claimed, “We invented it.” “How long ago?” asked Merv. “Four years,” they answered. “I’ve been doing it 27 years,” he reminded ’em. (But he’s still not getting any rubles resids or –?). Tuesday noon, Griffin was a little late arriving in his hotel’s lobby to meet Nancy Reagan, his lunch guest. And when Nancy walked into the lobby, she was immediately surrounded by 200 happily-surprised Russians, led by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzkhov. He had met Nancy with then-President Reagan at the Moscow Summit. Griffin came upon the scene of Nancy and the Mayor and apologized to Nancy (for being late) and to the Mayor (for being so informally attired: striped sports shirt and slacks). The mayor, through his interpreter, said, “I would like to be dressed like you!” When the Mayor asked Merv if he’d ever been to Moscow, Griffin smiled, “No, but the Kirov Ballet wants me to do ‘Swan Lake.’ ” “As the Swan?” asked the humorous Mayor. “No, as the Lake,” laughed the ever-battling-the-bulge Griffin. Seriously, Griffin said he felt very proud to see the U.S. flag flying alongside the Russian flag atop his hotel. As he later lunched at his Griff’s Cafe poolside with Nancy Reagan, he told me, “Remember it was Ronnie who got them (the Russians) to take down the wall.” Merv also invited to lunch Noel Irwin-Hentschel, chairman of American Tours Intl., who may be testing the waters to run (GOP) for U.S. Senate Roger Clinton entertained the visiting Russians (well as American hosts) at the Tuesday-night gala. Larry King, originally inked to be keynote speaker, graciously accepted the change in programming to moderate the panel. He, too, told me he has never been to Russia, birthplace of both his parents. … While Merv has no travel plans to Russia, he’s readying a return to Ireland where he bought John Huston’s castle in Galway, built in 1206 — which Griffin will use as a corporate retreat. When he told Anjelica H. of his purchase, he reports she was delighted it was he. Griffin’s Irish roots go deep. Before heading to Ireland next month, he takes his yacht to Martha’s Vineyard, where he will conduct the Boston Pops: one number is the “Jeopardy!” theme, which the multitalented Griffin wrote. This is not his first symphonic batoning: he once guest-conducted the Israeli Symphony. … Among celeb guests staying at the BevHilton was Mike Tyson. What was he doing there, I asked Griffin. “Biting the furniture,” he answered.
THERE’S A VERY GOOD REASON why Ron Howard hosts “Frank Capra’s American Dream” — both the theatrical feature version and Col TriStar’s Home Video ($19.95). He says he was in high school (already a TV veteran, you recall) when he read Capra’s book, “The Name Above the Title.” “It was the keystone for me in my drive to find the right people when the right story crosses my path.” Later, when Ron was graduating from TV to feature directing, he recalls, “I had a development deal with Frank Capra (to produce), but he was getting ill and the project never materialized. But what I learned from him was inspirational. It’s all about going against the odds. I hope I keep working in that direction.” Howard is now home in Conn. after driving his family through American National Parks, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and Yellowstone. He said he agreed to host the docu “on camera and/or voiceover. I didn’t care. And it took me 12 seconds to say I’d do it.” His favorite Capra movie is “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. “It has a balance of humor, social consciousness and drama.” “Ed TV,” his next pic (as I reported June 11), has those qualities as he confidentially told me the story which is being scripted by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel for Imagine and partner-producer Brian Grazer, natch Howard believes “If Frank Capra was around today I believe this (‘Ed TV’) is what he’d do. People who think ‘Capra-esque’ means saccharine are wrong” “American Dream” launches the “Centennial Salute” to Capra with Friday’s screening at the Nuart, followed by 15 Capra features. They are also available on Col TriStar Home Videos. Capra’s sons Tom and Frank Jr., who will intro the Nuart screening, are exec producers of “American Dream”; Kenneth Bowser directed. Tom told me his dad was “also pretty smart” — he retained half ownership of “Hole in the Head” and “Pocketful of Miracles” and a percentage of four Columbia pix, “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town” and “Lost Horizon.” Jane Wyatt, co-star of “Horizon” was at Tuesday p.m.’s Sony screening of “American Dream,” of which she is also a part. … The multitalented Quincy Jones, in addition to taking on new chores as exec producer of the latenight “Vibe” (on 202 stations in 98% of the market), also plans to develop his “Q’s Jook Joint” CD into a vidpic for HBO. And he tells me that he also sees the possibility of many more records seguing into dramatic movies. … Jayne Meadows and Steve Allen celebrate their 43rd wedding anni Thursday with their 12 grandchildren.