Kaplan leaves long Variety legacy

GOOD MORNING: He didn’t hesitate to call ’em the way he saw ’em. And his showbiz vision was perfect. Mike Kaplan, who died Sunday, started working with Daily Variety in its first Hollywood office on Vine Street, moving to larger offices on Yucca Street, then on to glamorous Sunset Blvd. and finally to its own building on Cahuenga. He covered everything, as did all reporters in those days, but his forte was the live and sometimes lively arts — “niteries” was the heading of those reviews. In those days he’d cover the likes of Billy Daniels at the Mocambo, the Will Mastin Trio starring Sammy Davis Jr. at Ciro’s, Martin & Lewis at Slapsie Maxie’s, Grace Hayes Lodge in the Valley with Peter Lind Hayes and Mary Healy, the inimitable fraternity of comics at Charlie Foy’s or the Slates, the acts at the Biltmore Bowl, the great bands at the Palladium. Saloon owners in those days weren’t always happy with some of his reviews — I read a couple of their nasty notes to Mike and to the editors. (The notes didn’t bother either of ’em.) Mike moved on to the world of publicity, maintaining the same integrity while representing only the best, producer-directors like Stanley Kramer and Robert Wise. Kaplan worked with Wise over 20 years and until recently was editing an unexpurgated video version of Wise’s classic “Sound of Music.” “Everything about Mike was accuracy,” said Wise, “no phony stories about anything.” There certainly was nothing phony about Kaplan. Funeral services are 11 a.m. Thursday at Mt. Sinai in Burbank … I first met up with Kaplan when I was leg man for Harrison Carroll and we’d see each other at saloon openings, which I reviewed for the Herald-Express. He told Daily Variety editor Joe Schoenfeld about me and one day in 1953 Kaplan asked, “Kid how’d you like to write the column for Variety? They’re looking for a replacement for Sheila Graham. I think you’d be OK.” Thanks, Mike; I hope I didn’t let you down.

AFTER MANY YEARS of marriage and divorce, Annabelle Weston and her ex, Jay Weston, are getting together — on a movie. (Annabelle married/was widowed by David Begelman after divorcing Jay.) The Westons’ project, “Maggie,” for Hearst Entertainment/Lifetime Cable, will star Rita Wilson. The Westons and her partner Marcy Gross, well as (scripters) David Fields and Ron Bass are exec producers and Joan Micklin Silver will direct the original family story of “unconditional love.” I caught up with Annabelle and Jay dining together at Spago — where he was probably wearing his other hat as eatery critic/publisher. In addition, his production banner has set Anne Goursaud to script/direct his “Seberg” biopic … “Tempest” producer Bonnie Raskin is taking plenty of heat from NBC Studios, reports Peter Fonda, star of the two-hour pic on location out of Charleston, S.C. It’s because Hurricane Bonnie (!) is breathing down the com-pany’s necks. Fonda reports NBC execs are worried about damage to their major set, a giant tree house built in a bayou 45 minutes out of town. “Tempest” is a “retelling” of Shakespeare’s final play, now set in 1851 on the eve of the battle of Vicksburg. The characters retain the names in the play, such as Fonda as Gideon (Prospero), Harold Perrineau as Ariel; other costars include John Glover and Katherine Heigl. Jack Bender directs the script by James Henerson. Fonda admits, “After ‘Ulee’s Gold’ (for which he received a best actor Oscar nomination), I didn’t think I could go back to television — but I wouldn’t miss a chance to play a wizard in a great storm!” In the TV’er, a tremendous squall (but no equal to nature’s own!) is created by special effects from the Frame Store, which did f/x for “Merlin.” Fonda commented of his Oscar night, “I did not go away a disappointed man!” He also stars in Showtime’s “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” with that TV deal also set before “Ulee.” Fonda told me he and daughter Bridget want to work together. He is plotting “The Petrified Forest,” in which she’d star, he’d direct.

CONGRATS TO SIRIO MACCIONI and family, celebrating the 25th anni of Le Cirque, one of the world’s great eateries. The party’s Sept. 14 at Le Cirque 2000 … Jerry Seinfeld’s surprise N.Y. walk-on in Paul Reiser’s initial seg of “Mad About You” even caught Jerry’s manager George Shapiro by surprise. The guys have been pals since their early 20s and get together regularly New Year’s Day. This week, Seinfeld meets with American Express agency reps at Ogilvy to talk the remaining eight days’ shooting on their pact. Jerry shoots some blurbs in a coupla days; others, like the “Superman” takeoff, take longer … Early bookings for the new “Roseanne” King World talkshow include Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Cosby, Kathy Griffin, Dennis Rodman and Judge Judy … Nicky Blair, back in action, has been bicycling between roles in segs of “The Love Boat” and “BevHills 90210” … Emmy winner Fyvush Finkel will be honored by the New York Alumni Assn. Oct. 3 at Beverly Hills High School. Finkel, now in the “Fantasy Island” series, will perform at the gala with his two sons and grandson … George Sidney, who has moved his residence to Las Vegas, receives Vegas’ Intl. Film Fest’s first Lifetime Achievement award Sept. 19 at the Orleans Hotel preceded by a screening of his “Viva Las Vegas” starring Elvis and Ann-Margret.

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