GOOD MORNING: HBO is giving the first pitch for its “61*” to George W. The initial public/private screening will be Sunday in the (40-seat) White House theater. Billy Crystal, who directed and exec produced, will be among the invitees. The film is a dramatization of the 1961 Yankee season when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit 61 and 54 homers, respectively. President Bush is a baseball fan. You recall he was among those who bought the Texas Rangers in 1989 (which came into being in 1972) and he was instrumental in the building of their new ballpark in Arlington, Texas, in 1993. And as Yankee Stadium is called the House That Ruth Built, it has been said the Arlington ballpark is the house Bush built. He borrowed $500,000 to be a part of the team. The investment grew into $15 million, according to the New York Times. But it wasn’t strictly the money — Bush was (is) a fan, who collected balls autographed by the greats. And there is no greater baseball fan than Crystal, who has dreamed of making this movie. He was a friend of Mantle’s, his boyhood hero. Just last month when Crystal was in final editing while also starring in and co-producing Revolution’s “America’s Sweethearts,” he enthused about the HBO movie to me, elated at how he was able to obtain the vacated Tiger Stadium in Detroit to double perfectly for the Yankee Stadium of 1961. Barry Pepper plays Roger Maris, Thomas Jane is Mickey Mantle. Ross Greenburg exec produced with Crystal, and Robert Colesberry produced Hank Steinberg’s script and the great Haskell Wexler lensed. The public gets to see the HBO’er starting April 28 with preems preceding April 16 in L.A., April 23 in N.Y.
MONDAY IS HUGH HEFNER’S 75th birthday, also son Marston’s 11th. Hef celebrates this Saturday night with his pajama and lingerie-clad friends (his seven girlfriends), daughter Christie and husband Billy Markovitz in the Mansion, then Monday with Marston and his young friends along with his 9-year-old son Cooper. They live next door to the Mansion with their mother Kimberly — there’s an open gate between the two properties. Hefner had just come from a tooth implant session at the dentist Wednesday and said, “These are the best of years. I’m doing all the right things.” And taking one Viagra a day. “With seven — you have to,” he laughed. By the way, he plans to take them all to Cannes, Milan, Munich and London later this year. As for these being “the best of years,” he says Playboy products are going better than ever with rabbit designs on an increasing list of items and in layouts in prominent fashion mags such as W, Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, etc. “Women are wearing them on jewelry, T-shirts, hats, etc.” He credits Sarah Jessica Parker sporting the rabbit on “Sex and the City” as Hefner’s little helper. P.S.: The series also filmed at the Mansion last year. He still hopes to achieve Internet gambling in London and Las Vegas. Hefner says he has “re-emerged” after 10 years, having been “bruised” by the failure of his marriage. They have never divorced, “and I have no plans to marry again,” said Hef. Sorry girls. Maybe he’ll change his mind on his 80th birthday … Outdoor sports note: R.J. Wagner narrates the history of the Masters golf tourney in two one- hour CBSpecials immediately preceding Saturday and Sunday’s teeoffs at Augusta … Elizabeth Taylor makes the scene again — this weekend at the Taos Film Festival.
GARY COOPER’S CENTENNIAL year kicks off May 5 at the Academy with a gala tribute and the debut of a Cooper exhibit remaining until mid-July. It repeats at the Museum of Modern Art in N.Y., bowing May 31. The Sun Valley Film Festival will be dedicated to Cooper, a longtime resident who cemented his 20-year friendship with Ernest Hemingway there. The fest will also preem a new “Cooper and Hemingway” documentary. In Paris, the Hotel Ritz’s Frank Klein will dedicate a Gary Cooper Suite in the hotel where he filmed “Love in the Afternoon.” Maria Cooper Janis, his only child, is delighted with these plans for Cooper, who would have celebrated his 100th May 7. He died May 13, 1961. Her book, “Gary Cooper Off Camera” (Abrams) continues to be a film lover’s delight … Tom Sherak receives the Fulfillment Fund’s Champion for Children Award at the annual Achievement Awards, June 16 at the BevHilton. It’s in recognition of Tom’s tireless commitment and unwavering support of the Fulfillment Fund, a collaboration with KTLA Charities … Ralph Edwards is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s 80th annual installation April 12 at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Edwards’ “This Is Your Life” and “Truth or Consequences” are only two of Edwards’ contributions … Florence Henderson performs at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut on Easter Sunday, sings the national anthem or “America the Beautiful” at the Indy 500 and Wednesday, she taped another commercial for Polident … Bob Balaban admits, “We tried to get a big fat movie star” — for a movie star role in Robert Altman’s USA Films’ “Gosford Park” — but when they were unable to set one, Balaban took it. He’s one of the producers. The cast includes Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Charles Dance, Alan Bates … Tonight’s the night to answer all those mag layouts on the fashions at the Oscars: Glamour mag’s “first-ever Don’ts Party at Norm’s Diner on La Cienega. Come dressed as your favorite Glamour don’t.”