GOOD MORNING: Austria will not begin to disburse the $800 million to Holocaust slave labor survivors and to those whose property was confiscated (stolen!) — until all lawsuits by these survivors are settled. And to that end, U.S. District Court judge Shirley Wohl Kram has appointed Walter Zifkin, chief executive officer of the William Morris Agency, as special master “to engage in settlement discussions with respect to litigation brought by Holocaust survivors against Austria.” There are thousands of Austrian Holocaust survivors worldwide who have still not received compensation. Judge Kram is the mother of Steve Kram, chief operating officer, West Coast, of the Morris Agency. She has known Zifkin for 13 years, and he says they have had many discussions over these years — and particularly recently in view of the above. At dispute are those who would share in an $800 million disbursement. Zifkin confirms to me that the country of Austria and the Austrian companies are not prepared to start the distributions until there is “legal peace.” He also reminds that these recipients are quite elderly and their ranks thinning and thus a need for quick resolutions. He says, “I feel privileged and honored (to have been chosen for this assignment). And although I have dealt with many international subjects (in the entertainment world), I would not try to compare any of them with this. It would be ludicrous.” He also reminds, “I did not seek this (appointment). But I feel I could not resist doing something that will be a moving experience for me — and for the survivors. I hope we can resolve it quickly.” There are about 150,000 surviving claimants. He will meet with counsels for the differing factions and members of the Justice Department, the defendants and private companies. “The plan,” he emphasizes, “is to get an agreement with all parties to petition the court for voluntary dismissal of cases and thus allow proceedings of payments.” There is, he says, a deal for $400 million for the forced laborers, and $400 million for the appropriated properties which have been agreed to by the U.S. and Austria in advance of the one conflicting class action suit. Zifkin added, “Austria is feeling the pressure of the world” — another factor in everyone’s hopes he can bring about agreements — and a fair distribution. He reminds that the individual amount is not great — at the most $7,500 — but it will mean much to many who are living in poverty. He will head this meeting April 19-20. “I plan to do my very best to get all to be in agreement,” he said. He has retained, per court permission, the N.Y. offices of Loeb and Loeb to assist him … Zifkin’s mother-in-law was a survivor of a concentration camp. He has been a supporter of the Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance and the Washington, D.C., Holocaust Museum. But he reminds that not all of the slave laborers were Jews. He admits that this chapter in his life “is very emotional for me,” adding that “the William Morris Agency is totally supportive. I am very proud and honored of what I am doing, and if I can make something happen it will be with me the rest of my life.” He will report back to Judge Kram who will make her final decision. “But what I establish will be a factor,” he hopes. Zifkin is performing these duties pro bono publico.
METHINKS THEY PROTESTETH TOO MUCH: TV Guide quotes David Letterman’s bosses, pals, etc. on their opinions of his irreverence. CBS president Les Moonves who has been a regular “target” of Dave’s said, “I have never been mad at Dave Letterman in my life, and this feud was totally overblown.” Letterman carried on a campaign after Moonves’ meeting with Castro; Letterman placed his boss on a list of 10 — and had an actor play him “as a bit of a dope.” Moonves tells me, “It’s part of the game” … Worth quoting: At Saturday night’s Bar-B-Q at Lorschland, Red Buttons, describing President Gerald Ford as “a man who said Sunday night after the Oscars, ‘Our long national nightmare is over.’ ” Or, “A man who once yelled at the Russian Tea Room, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wallpaper!’ “
GESUNDHEIT! Henry Winkler auctions off his (prop) handkerchief after each performance of “The Dinner Party” at the Music Box — benefiting B’way Cares-Equity Fights AIDS. What started off as a $100 contribution has now developed into something not to sneeze at — a $1,100 bid. Winkler’s co-stars John Ritter and Len Cariou also take turns in the lobby post-performance signing autographs ($20 a pop) for the charity — $67,000 in 24 performances. Winkler winds his stand June 3, having bowed in Neil Simon’s play, October 1999 at the Mark Taper. He returns home to L.A. where he and Ann Daniel will produce “The Heartland Ghost” for Showtime starring Beau Bridges. It’s based on one of the stories from their “Sightings” series — and the first of many yarns from that series to go to movies. Two more are in development … I asked Winkler if he and Ritter discuss Ritter’s erstwhile “Three’s Company” costar, Suzanne Somers, who is suffering from breast cancer. “We talk about it a lot,” he said sadly. “John is very concerned” … Erin Brockovich, the real one that is, will be honored May 1 at the BevHilton as part of the Academy of Business Leadership’s first Crystal Globe awards, “Celebrating Women Who Make a Difference.” Also to be honored, Debbie Allen and Leticia Aguilar, L.A. market president for the Bank of America. Edward Olmos m.c’s … Mickey Rooney, who was toasted on his 80th birthday last week, called to say so long Tuesday as he and wife Jan departed to start a 10-day club tour from Ohio to New Jersey.