Tartikoff reveals battle with cancer

Army Archerd: Just for Variety

“I’ve beaten this opponent before,” Brandon Tartikoff said as he readies for a second chemotherapy session this week. He is undergoing treatment for a recurrence of Hodgkin’s disease.

This is the third time he is battling cancer of the lymph nodes.

He explains the reason for revealing the news to me: “Back in l981 I had my first recurrence. I was president of NBC, and while I was supported strongly by Grant Tinker, I did not think it wise, in my position, with a network which was not doing very well, to divulge my illness.

“Also, I was not very visible in that high position. So I felt I should keep it to myself. I was ill the first time when I was 23.”

But after his second bout, Tartikoff admits, “I became actively supportive of others who had it and I did a lot of one-on-one counseling with people with Hodgkin’s disease, giving them optimism and hope — from my example. I want to now be able to continue doing it for them.

“Also,” he laughed, “this (news) will explain why I will be wearing a baseball cap. The chemo will cause (temporary) loss of hair. And I will look like Dennis Rodman.”

Brandon celebrated his 48th birthday Jan. 13, having undergone the first chemotherapy the week before. The second treatment, Thursday, will be on outpatient basis, but the third will require hospitalization (for a short period in late Feb.)

“My modus is to just play through with my very sound (business) partners,” he admits. “I’ll be out of commission for a short time.” His H. Beale banner has 15 network and cable projects sold, five features in development and a Tartikoff line in Avon books, plus a cyber project with America Online … On Thanksgiving Day he discovered a swollen gland while shaving. He immediately met with Dr. Dennis Slemon, a leading oncologist who’s in charge of the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Unit. “He saved my life in 1981,” Brandon said, “and he was the prime force in why I got involved with the unit at UCLA” (and of which wife Lilly has been a tireless worker and fundraiser via the Fire and Ice Ball). … Although Tartikoff admits the third chemotherapy treatment will be quite a “wallop,” he feels confident to do all the above work “since most of it is on the phone anyway.” However, when he is out — he’ll be wearing that baseball cap. He says, “Dr. Slemon ran every test — and (the tests) are much more refined to-day — and there are no other signs of it.” Tartikoff was at NATPE last week “pressing the flesh” with 18,000 “and no one knew I was any different. But that was last week..” He is thankful for the enormous support from his wife. “We’ll get through it,” he promises. The Tartikoffs also have “gotten through” the recovery of daughter Calla after a near-fatal auto accident in Jan. ’91 at Lake Tahoe. They even moved to New Orleans for Calla’s therapy. With her improvement, they have been planning to move into a new home in Bel-Air this summer — Brandon is ex-pected to be fully recovered long before then. Lilly, his wife of 15 years, says she will be acting “as his nurse” — giving him the shots of the new drug designed to fight the disease. “He’s going to make it,” she promises. Lilly reminds that the name of Tartikoff’s new company is “H. Beale” and the logo is from “Network” with Oscar-winner Peter Finch as newsman “Howard Beale,” shouting from the window, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” Brandon now echoes: “Onward and upward” as he readies to meet the “opponent” once more.

HE WASN’T KIDDING when he said Eddie Murphy should play Martin Luther King Jr. It was Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and mayor of Atlanta speaking. He told me, “The Martin Luther King I knew in private life was a lot of fun — he used to do great imitations of preachers! And when I think of someone to play him, I think of Eddie Murphy. Everybody knows he (King) was a saint. But people who really knew him also knew he was a ‘get down brother.’ ” Young has no further political ambitions. “Been there, done that,” he laughingly admits. “But no regrets.” (He was mightily helpful during the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta) … Bill Haber, head of the Save the Children Foundation, is off to Vietnam on his latest saving sojourn. Accompanying Haber are wife Carole, Mary (Mrs. Pierre) Cossette and Luanne Wells … Monday night’s premiere of New Line’s “In Love and War” raised $111,000 for the Artists Rights Foundation to protect and preserve art threatened with modification, distortion or mutilation. The film’s director, Richard Attenborough, also a founding member of the foundation, winged in from England for the preem, as did Sandra Bullock, from the St. Martin location of 20th’s “Speed 2.” Chris O’Donnell wheeled in from “Batman and Robin” in Burbank. Attenborough now wings to N.Y. for three nights of preems there before returning home to London for its preem with Princess Di on hand, then Attenbor-ough’s off to the Berlin Fest. Attenborough next preps for a summer start of Largo’s “Grey Owl” to shoot the 1930s-set adventure love story in northern Canada … Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, who winged up from the Mexico location of “The Mask of Zorro” for the Clinton inaugural doings Monday night, return to Mexico City tonight to dine with Mexico’s president, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, before Banderas puts on the mask Wednesday … Alan Alda, who warbled for Woody Allen in “Everybody Says I Love You,” will sing Irving Berlin’s “Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” as part of the Salon at the Taper V tribute to Irving Berlin, titled “Say it With Music.” Others participating in the event (which is always a delight) are Joe Williams, Tyne Daly, Andrea Marcovicci, Allyn Ann McLerie, George Gaynes, Harry Groener, Corky Hale, Kathryn Zaremba, Mary Ellin Bar-rett and Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Susan Clines writes/produces, David Galligan directs, and Ron Abel is music director.

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