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USA, U launch rival Susann pix

GOOD MORNING: While USA Networks prez Rod Perth and Michele Lee were announcing, Tuesday night, their Jackie Susann telefilm project to start filming in June in Toronto, “to air in the fourth quarter” of this year, Universal was busy rehearsing for a May 20 start of its long-in-preparation Jackie Susann bigscreener, “Isn’t She Great” — which will be released in the spring of ’99. “I don’t know why they (USA) are doing it,” said Mike Lobell, producing “Great” with partner Andrew Bergman directing the Universal feature. Bette Midler stars as Susann, Nathan Lane as her husband Irving Mansfield, Stockard Channing as Susann’s best friend, David Hyde-Pierce as Michael Korda (who edited Susann’s “The Love Machine” and wrote up the experience for the New Yorker) and John Cleese as the Simon & Schuster publisher. Paul Rudnick (“In and Out”) scripted. The bigscreen feature’s story takes Susann from her early childhood, in the ’20s — “When she grew up under a cloud” — to the ’70s. It’s a comedy — as you can well imagine with Midler and Lane co-starring — “but it also has heart,” Lobell insisted. “She was a very courageous lady.” The feature is budgeted at $30 million and will shoot 90% in Montreal, plus two weeks of exteriors in New York. … Meanwhile, the $4.5 million USA Network Susann project starring Lee will be directed by Bruce McDonald, whose feature, “Hard Core Logo,” bows this fall as “presented by Quentin Tarantino.” Lee said of her two-hour TV pic (Daily Variety, May 12), “We can show more of the sexuality” (on cable) of Susann’s life — and they’ll cover four decades of it. P.S.: Lee just sojourned at the Canyon Ranch — in order to fit into Susann’s own gowns, which she’ll wear in the movie! P.P.S.: Michele also says she has one of Jackie Susann’s ankhs to wear. You can bet Bette’ll wear one, too.

BILLY CRYSTAL, WHOOPI GOLDBERG, Placido Domingo, Natalie Cole, Patti LaBelle and Celine Dion — that’s the talent lineup for an event whose honorary chairman is Bill Clinton; co-chairs are David Geffen, Harvey Weinstein, Carly Simon, Cindy Crawford, Ted Forstmann, Pierre Cossette, Marty Richards and Clive Davis. The gala benefits the G&P Foundation, the date Oct. 5, the place, N.Y.’s Plaza. The mission of the G&P Foundation, founded by songwriter- publisher-producer Denise Rich, is to promote research in the fight against leukemia — Rich’s daughter Gabrielle died of the disease. Also at the gala, Milton Berle will celebrate his 90th birthday and his 85th anni in showbiz. And Kirk Douglas will be honored with a grant in his name to the Motion Picture & TV Country House and Hospital. Ron Perelman makes the presentation to Kirk This Saturday marks the final day of Fred Hayman’s on Rodeo Drive. A “Gone Fishin’ ” sign goes up on the store windows until — Louis Vuitton moves in July 1. They’ve taken a 20-year lease on Fred’s property. … Beverly Hills never looked lovelier than in Dorothy Rice’s latest book, “Beverly Hills With Love,” her paintings of everything and everyone you know in BevHills — including the insides-outsides of Rodeo Drive. … Southern Cal.’s longtime successful restaurateur, Bob Morris, returns to his roots — Malibu — to open the Paradise Beach Cafe in Paradise Cove, on the Sand Castle site where his father sold his original restaurant June 24, 1964. Bob opens the new eatery in June. He has 2,000 vintage pix of the area, plus stills from movies that were filmed there — and he’s seeking more to decorate the eatery, which he says will be the quintessential beach cafe. Morris will also open a Hollywood cafe — on the west side of Mann’s Chinese in the soon-to-be-revitalized Hollywood Blvd. It will be a 24-hour eatery to take advantage of the — 9 million (!) tourists who annually test their feet you-know-where.

HUGH HEFNER WAS BACK AT DRAI’S with five (!) gorgeous gals. … Gabriel Byrne was caught off guard at Indochine where he was surprise birthday-partied by pals including Katie Wagner, Elle McPherson, Ellen Barkin, Randall Wallace, Kevin and Lucy Pollack, etc. … Sandy Baron, who bought/sank Jerry Seinfeld’s “father’s” Cadillac in one of the funniest segs, is watching the final seg tonight at No. Hollywood Medical Center — but Sandy will be out in a few days and OK to work again. … Lucie Arnaz, whose one-niter at UCLA last month was a sellout, returns to L.A. to host the AIDS/Actors Fund Tony Awards live telecast/party at Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar, June 7. July 20-Aug. 2 Lucie reprises Reprise theater’s “Wonderful Town” revival in Orange County. Husband Larry Luckinbill hits the boards May 20-21 in Shel Silverstein’s “The Trio” at N.Y.’s Ensemble theater, while still doing his Clarence Darrow and LBJ one-man shows around the country. … Victoria Principal joins Chi’s Second City one-niter of David Ives’ “Mere Mortals” May 28. Principal played at L.A. Theater Works last month in “Time Flies.” She bowed her new cosmetic line, “Color Principal,” on QVC — and sold out in 20 minutes! Principal has her own successful beauty products catalog as well.

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