Ex-skinhead lauds ‘American History X’

GOOD MORNING: Among those who came up to congratulate Edward Norton after Monday’s preem of “American History X” was an ex-skinhead: T.J. Leyden (32), whom I caught up with at the Maple Dr. supper party. He said he’d been a member of the Hammerskin, Neo-Nazi Nation from the time he was 14 until he was 29. “They are all around the world — South America, Europe and all through the U.S.,” said Leyden. But, 2-1/2 years ago, he began thinking about getting out of the movement. His mother went with him to the Wiesenthal Center in L.A. and he has since become a consultant for the Center’s “Tools For Tolerance” program, a national task force against hate. Leyden turned over all his Nazi and skinhead materials to the FBI and police and he confers regularly with them. Is T.J. concerned about his own safety? “I’m always worried,” he admitted. “I’m cautious; my life is definitely restricted. But it (my life) is 20 times better.” What did he think of the movie and Norton? “His portrayal and the movie are excellent,” he said, noting the similarities between the movie and his skinhead life. “I can relate to the movie! New Line has done a remarkable job of showing how the skinheads recruit.” He wants youngsters to spend a two-day program: one, visiting the Wiesenthal Center for Tolerance, and two, seeing the movie — and not necessarily in that order … At the preem, Norton was almost unrecognizable, compared to his appearance in “American History X.” He admitted he’s lost more than the 30 (muscular) pounds he had gained for “X,” and is now trimmed for Fox 2000’s “Fight Club” co-starring Brad Pitt (who sneaked in to see “X” but didn’t make it to the party.) Norton claimed it was easier to take off the weight than put it on: “I just collapsed like a balloon,” he laughed.

DIRECTOR TONY KAYE was not at the “X” preem, but he told me he has seen it “And I could have fixed (?) it.” He still plans to file suit against the DGA “for not allowing me to remove my name from the film.” He is still (seven years) working on his docu on abortion, “G-D” and prepping the Marlon Brando starrer “One Arm,” with Brando making Kaye promise “to run any of my unusual behavior by him first!” … Producer John Morrissey said he wished Kaye had been on hand at the preem to hear the applause. Accolades also were given the picture before the screening by Amnesty Intl. executive director Bill Schultz, who said the organization is proud to be associated with the film. Exec producer Steve Tisch thanked New Line for its courage. They bow the pic in N.Y. and L.A. today, five more sites on Friday for two weeks to await word-of-mouth reaction and hopefully start an Oscar campaign for the Edwards (Norton and Furlong), scripter David McKenna and others … Morrissey and exec producer Lawrence Turman team next on UA’s “What’s the Worst That Can Happen,” with Sam Weisman directing, and “Trail of the Dragon” for Propaganda, with Wayne Wang at the helm … Steve Tisch was busy on another civic front Tuesday a.m.: He is Capital Campaign chairman for the new ERAS Center, whose groundbreaking ceremonies were held on the former site of a drive-in theater at Sepulveda and Jefferson, where the new center will be built. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, with beautiful wife Janet, officiated at the ceremony. Among those on hand, Barbara Cull, who founded the ERAS Center 18 years ago by borrowing $100,000 on her home. Since then, ERAS has helped 100,000 young people “at risk.” Others from the committee on hand included Joni Berry, Gloria and Mike Franks, Ada Sands, plus Culver City’s Mayor Sandra Levin and the L.A. Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. The new facility will allow ERAS to triple the number of children and families they serve.

GET OUT AND VOTE,”written by Michael Moore, will be read by Frances Fisher at Thursday’s noon rally in Torrance. Fisher’s brother Bill is California spokesman for the “Censure (Clinton) and Move On” Internet movement, in which Frances is also active … Susan Lacy, award-winning creator of “American Masters,” is in town for the AFI Fest screening of her latest important contribution to TV, “Leonard Bernstein: Reaching for the Note,” which airs tonight on PBS. Lacy also is part of the David Wolper-moderated docu panel today. She was in town recently to interview Steven Spielberg, Robert Hughes and Jamie Wyeth for the “American Masters” portrait on Norman Rockwell. The “Masters” series will have Lee Grant directing the Sidney Poitier story; they’ve already shot him at his birthplace on Cat Island. Sidney told me it was a very emotional return for him … Bob Stack is busy day and night starring in the feature “Killer Bud” while shooting his “Unsolved Mysteries” series for CBS. Stack’s beautiful wife Rosemarie displays her talents with a showing of her paintings now in the windows of Saks on Wilshire Blvd. and a reception Thursday … Dina Merrill and Ted Hartley host a cocktail’er today at the L’Ermitage for the Hartley-Merrill Intl. Screenwriting prize winners. They’re already talking a sequel for their “Mighty Joe Young” from RKO/Disney at Christmas … Happy birthday to Fred de Cordova, who celebrated his 88th Tuesday with champagne and caviar. He mused, “I was just thinking how blessed I’ve been.”

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