GOOD MORNING: A true Hollywood story is coming to the bigscreen — the seven-decades-long life of director William (Wild Bill) Wellman. Sean Penn will play the multitalented filmmaker, whose own life was at least as colorful as what he put on screen — which is saying a lot since his films ranged from “A Star Is Born” to “The Story of GI Joe,” “Battleground,” “The High and the Mighty,” “Nothing Sacred,” etc. Wellman joined the French Foreign Legion at the outset of WWI, later flew with the famous Lafayette Escadrille. And he directed the first Oscar-winning film “Wings” in 1927. His son, Bill Jr., an actor-filmmaker, spent years creating the documentary “Wild Bill, Hollywood Maverick” and now has the feature pact with Phoenix Pictures to write the screenplay and exec produce the bigscreen edition starring Penn — who had also read Wellman Sr.’s autobiog, “A Short Time for Insanity.” Wellman, fils, met with Penn and his partner Michael Fitzgerald in SanFran to seal the deal. Who would direct? “Maybe I’ll talk to Warren (Beatty),” Penn said to Wellman. … “My Dog Stupid,” a novella by screenwriter John Fante (who died in 1983) will be feature-filmed by Peter Falk with John Turturro directing. Fante’s screenplays ranged from “Jeanne Eagels” to “Walk on the Wild Side.” And Robert Towne is also screenplaying Fante’s major work, “Ask the Dusk.” Now Fante’s son, Dan (who had a deathbed reconciliation with his father), has written a roman a clef of his relationship with his father, “Chump Change,” to be published by Sun Dog Press. He also has a play, “Boiler Room,” running at the Actors’ Theater.
“THE DUKE” IS THE NAME of the Army’s new Stealth Helicopter, and the USO and Garth Brooks saluted John Wayne on the dedication of the plane Tuesday at D.C.’s Capitol Reflecting Pool. Brooks is a longtime Wayne fan, and he joined these Wayne family children for the daylong event: Michael, Ethan, Marisa, Aissa — plus seven grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They placed a wreath at the tomb of the Unknowns, lunched with Joint Chiefs of Staff and at Fort Myer, Michael flew the simulator of the ‘copter. Michael told me his dad tried to get in the Naval Acad, then in WWII, was “too old and had too many dependents. But he visited troops in the South Pacific, Vietnam — he had great respect for the military and today they showed the respect they had for him.” … Katharine Hepburn celebrated her 91st birthday Tuesday at home in Fenwick, Conn. Writer James Prideaux phoned and sang her “Happy Birthday” to which she replied, inimitably, “I’ve heard better!” Prideaux wrote three telepix for her plus his book, “Knowing Hepburn and Other Curious Experiences.” When John Dayton (who produced four telefilms with Kate) phoned her, she sounded “very strong.” And this, in spite of the fact that Kate hates to talk on the phone! … Robyn Astaire will participate in the Theater Development Fund’s Astaire Awards May 21 at the Hudson Theater in N.Y. Choreography awards go to “Ragtime’s’ Graciela Daniele and “The Lion King’s” Garth Fagan. Best dancers award goes to the Kit Kat Boys & Girls in “Cabaret”. … Don Rickles and wife Barbara join the grandparents ranks in Nov. when daughter Mindy and husband Ed Mann (prez of Mann Group Radio Services) expect their first child. … Joey Stabile, Jerry Lewis’ longtime manager-friend, is recuping following successful heart surgery at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Dr. DeBakey performing the operation.
ROBERT DE NIRO AND JOE PESCI were voice-doubled by Fred Travalena for the TV network airing of “Casino.” Travelena claims he had to loop the word “mother-” 18,000 times! … What a delight to see a movie with the taste, beauty plus excitement of “The Horse Whisperer.” The audience at the Avco in Westwood applauded Robert Redford’s chef d’eouvre mightily during its final credits. Despite the movie’s length the movement-to-the-restrooms during the screening was minimal — a sure test of a pic’s power. … The 30th anni of the TV’d “Batman” will be toasted Friday at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. Adam West will be honored by a dais of past cast members including Frank Gorshin, Terry Moore, Stanley Ralph Ross, John Astin, Deanna Lund, Jay Livingston and Zsa Zsa Gabor (who has not been seen around since the deaths of her mother and sister) … Looking ahead to more Seinfeld honors, on Oct. 4, the BevHills Museum of TV and Radio will honor him as well as David Kelley at their annual gala. … Howie Mandel, readying to launch his first (syndie’d) talker at NBC Burbank’s Studio 11, Johnny Carson’s site, met up with Fred de Cordova on the lot. Fred, who started with Carson in 1970, remains a “consultant” at the Peacock and he advised Mandel, “The key to being successful is in preparation. It’s the hardest work and I wish you luck.” De Cordova knows whereof he speaks — he is 87. … Carson, maintaining his constant privacy, did however request 21 past segs of Robert Wuhl’s “Arli$$” show. Carson and other “Arli$$” fans should be happy to know the show comes back for its third season Sunday, June 7.