Kennedys back in ‘Purgatory’

GOOD MORNING: “This is great — we’ve got to get it out to all the bookstores,” said Crown publicist Andy Martin. He phoned Dominick Dunne, author of “A Season In Purgatory,” Wednesday ayem when news broke that Michael Skakel, a nephew of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy had returned to Connecticut to answer charges that he murdered a childhood friend, Martha Moxley, with a golf club — 24 years ago. “Isn’t it incredible,” Dunne then exclaimed to me — “and a new paperback just happens to be out.” And could there be a re-airing of the CBS miniseries based on Dunne’s novel that aired originally in May 1996? The mini, a David Brown Prods. and Aaron Spelling TV co-production had an all-star cast — however, it was known (and confirmed by exec producer E. Duke Vincent) that several actors had nixed roles because of the not-so-camouflaged Kennedy characters described by Dunne in his book: a religious (Irish-Catholic) family, powerful father, pious and revered mother, retarded daughter, brother who is a senator, etc. Dunne says, “I just gave it (the novel) Kennedy characters.” He obtained all the details of the 1975 murder of 15-year-old Martha Moxley and the surrounding list of characters and gave them to L.A. cop Mark Fuhrman (of O.J. Simpson trial fame) who then wrote “Murder in Greenwich.” Martha was killed on her family’s estate in Greenwich where Skakel, the son of Rushton Skakel, Ethel Kennedy’s brother, was a neighbor. Moxley was murdered with a golf club whereas in Dunne’s novel, the victim is killed with a baseball bat. Dunne is now writing the 1943 Wayne Lonegan case in which Lonegan was charged with murdering his heiress wife with a candlestick … About the reopening of the Skakel case, Dunne told me, “It’s a simply great feeling to know that something you wrote brought about some justice.” Meanwhile, Skakel’s attorney notes, “Michael Skakel is innocent. He was innocent 24 years ago. He is innocent today.” He also reminded, “This is not a Kennedy trial — it’s not an O.J. trial.” But it’s certainly more residuals and royalties for Dominick Dunne — and more heartaches for the Kennedy clan.

AND TALKING ABOUT MURDER: the slaughter of Israeli athletes by Palestinian killers at the l972 Olympic Games in Munich and the incredible bungling by German officials during and after the attack is the subject of Arthur Cohn’s “One Day in September,” which preemed under AFI auspices Tuesday at the Writers Guild theater. AFI president Jean Firstenberg opened the evening with an intro of the AFI’s 1991 Life Achievement Award, “a man of character, culture and courage — Kirk Douglas.” He received a standing ovation. Coincidentally, Kirk had also been present at those Olympics. On hand also, Michael Douglas (who also got a standing ovation) who narrates the docufeature, one of 12 finalists in that Oscar category. Producer Cohn paid tribute to the Academy for having originally recognized his “Gardens of the Finzi Contini,” which had been unable to get a distributor until its Oscar win; since then it has become one of the 20 most critically recognized films of all time. Oscar winners on hand applauding “One Day in September” included Red Buttons, Rod Steiger and Jon Voight. The audience also included His Holiness Shenpen Rinpoche, the pillar of the Buddhist religion from Nepal; Armond Habiby of Riadh, first adviser of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia; H.P. Egger, Swiss Consul General in L.A.; Ismail Merchant; Jean Claude van Damme; Daniel Taradash; Gloria Stuart; Jerry Leiber; Mike Stoller; Corky Hale; Phil Gersh; Jay Kanter, Marvin Meyer; Stan Margulies; and Stanley Rubin. Cohn said he was unable to get this film into the Berlin Film Fest nor was he able to get his “Children of the Night” into that fest — it’s about child victims of the Holocaust. Germany still does not want to remember. But the world will never forget — thanks to Oscar-winner Arthur Cohn who continues to make films to jog memories.

REGULARS WERE TURNED AWAY SUNDAY night at Matteo’s when Steven Spielberg took over the eatery to surprise birthday his mom Leah Adler on her 80th. All guests donned those fake Groucho Marx-like glasses, nose and mustache to greet her! And there’s a picture of her wearing one in a large photo with Steven’s signature, “That’s my MOM!” exhibited in her restaurant, the Milky Way — where she continues to joyfully work. She explains, “I’m having fun.” Further, for the birthday, Steven had also arranged for Matteo’s kitchen to be rabbinically supervised (for days in advance) to prepare a Kosher birthday dinner. “It wasn’t too shabby,” she laughed. Operatic singers serenaded the crowd from a stage erected at one end of Matteo’s … Over at the Improv, Ellen DeGeneres regenerated her nitery act Tuesday as she readies her standup for a variety special. Her appearance helped the night’s benefit for Grrrl Genius Club caring for babies with AIDS. Among those applauding Ellen was Anne Heche … After Tuesday’s preview performance of “Wit” at the Geffen, costar Kathleen Chalfant announced to the audience the death (AIDS-related) of director Derek Anson Jones. She asked for a moment of silence. It was a moving moment. Opening night, Jan. 27 is a benefit for the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Meg and Larry Kasdan, Carole Bayer Sager and Bob Daly co-chair.

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