Kaufman’s Tony Clifton legacy lives

Tuesday’s “Man on the Moon” world preem at Gotham’s Ziegfeld Theater had more than its share of premiere intrigue following the weekend junket prank of a Tony Clifton appearance pulled by Bob Zmuda, Andy Kaufman’s former comedy partner, best friend, and the co-exec producer of the film.

U execs, smarting over Clifton’s mock brawl with Jim Carrey and the leakage of footage to TV, were wary of an encore. Zmuda was well behaved, but stopped short of an apology, for fear that Andy would spin in his grave. “Nobody’s more of a supporter of the film than me,” said Zmuda, “but isn’t what happened really the message behind the film and who Andy was? I sympathize with Universal, but Andy was terrified he’d only be remembered as Latka. On his deathbed, he asked me to keep the legacy of Tony alive.”

Zmuda, who recently wrote reams about Clifton in the book “Andy Kaufman Revealed,” said Kaufman’s lounge singer creation infects all who portray him, even Garth Brooks, who shed the 10-gallon hat to meet director Milos Forman for the role of Zmuda.

“Garth Brooks met Milos and did Clifton for him, and a few months later, he turned Tony into his own alter ago character,” said Zmuda.

Carrey was miffed, but Zmuda’s junket prank was comparable to what Carrey did between takes while he was playing Clifton, said Danny DeVito, who stars in the pic and produced with Jersey partners Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg. “I didn’t find Tony’s latest outburst offensive, because it was consistent with his spirit,” said DeVito. “When Jim was playing Tony, I remember once that my trailer stunk to high heaven because he’d put limburger and salami between my mattresses. He cheesed everybody, meaning if Tony knew a reporter or important person was coming to visit the set, he’d rub his hands with limburger, come out to meet you, shake your hand, rub your shoulder, and you’d wind up stinking of the stuff and needing a shower. He did it to Ron Meyer, for crying out loud. He cheesed the head of the studio!”

Zmuda hopes the big studio cheeses don’t nix his Dec. 20 gig, a performance of Tony Clifton and the Cliftones at the pic’s Hollywood preem. “Tony sometimes takes over,” said Zmuda. “When Jim played Clifton, he said it was like having Tourettes Syndrome; you can’t control it. Andy had a big Hollywood career going, and the anarchy and radical edge of Tony consumed him. This hardly helps my cause and I knew I was going to cause trouble. But I said, this one’s for the gipper, and that gave me the courage to go forward.”

Forman admitted that Carrey’s insistence on staying in Kaufman/Clifton character was something he hadn’t encountered since directing Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” But the helmer felt the method worked. “When I got the taped auditions, the strongest tests came from Jim, Edward Norton and an unknown named Craig Anthon and I would have been happy with any of them,” he said. “Now, I couldn’t imagine anyone but Jim in that role.”

The preem was a benefit for PENCIL, a charity to get corporations involved in NYC public schools. Revelers included Kaufman’s family, Jerry Seinfeld, Seagram chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr., U execs Ron Meyer, Stacey Snider, Kevin Misher and Marc Shmuger, Michael Stipe and his R.E.M. bandmates, George Shapiro, costars Paul Giamatti and Courtney Love, and scribes Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. That duo, having now survived scripting quirky biopics of Larry Flynt and Kaufman, will next be busy scripting and directing their Marx Brothers biopic for Universal.

MORE WEBBERY: The Internet infiltration of Hollywood continues. Caroline Andoscia, the former production prexy of Sonnenfeld-Josephson, has become executive producer of Novix Media, the Internet media and entertainment company formed last summer by Michael Berman and venture capitalist Douglas Eger.

Berman was the cofounder of George Magazine, but left his post as prexy of Hachette Filippacchi Productions to join Eger. The site’s aim is to become a National Lampoon-like venue for the Internet, and Andoscia joins such recent hires as Pam Henning, the Loews Cineplex exec, and James Hewitt, who left Sony Online Ent. to join Novix. Andoscia called it “a tremendous opportunity to utilize the diverse contacts I have cultivated in the film industry. I can afford them interesting opportunities in this new environment.”

CASTINGS: John Hannah has signed a $1 million deal to reprise his role in “The Mummy II.” It is Hannah’s first seven-figure deal. U and producers Jim Jacks and Sean Daniel are finalizing a script with writer/director Stephen Sommers for a 2000 shoot with the rest of the original cast expected to return. Hannah’s repped by attorney Fred Toczek, agent Sue Latimer and managed by Gilbert Coates, Ltd…After beating out several young actresses for the female lead in the NBC mini “The ’70s,” Vinessa Shaw will get to age from 20 to 29 as a survivor of the Kent State massacre who moves to New York and becomes a feminist. Last seen in “Eyes Wide Shut,” she’s repped by UTA and Industry.

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