Late-night laffers find difficulty laughing

GOOD MORNING? As a guest on David Letterman’s return to the air Monday night, Regis Philbin admitted, “I was freaked out. I was to follow Dan Rather and while I was in the Green Room watching him break into tears, I wondered, ‘What am I doing here?’ The last two times I was on the show, Dave was either going into the hospital or coming back from it. And I was booked for the show six weeks ago!” Reege allowed that they were able to get a few laughs out of it when Dave asked, “What do you hear from Kathy Lee?” Philbin suggested, “We should send her over there (to Afghanistan).” The Letterman taping followed Philbin’s visit to the Twin Towers site. It was emotional, “watching the 1,500 workers going in and out” … Jay Leno, who told me he’ll return tonight, was not yet certain what he’d talk about: “It’s a different world.” The weekend had compounded his depression with a memorial service for Bud Robinson and news of the death of Freddie de Cordova. Jay said he met Freddie on March 2, 1977 (!) when Jay guested on Johnny Carson’s show. When de Cordova later was consultant to Leno, he recalled, “How many people in their 80s are still influencing — and having the right ideas on — TV, a business perceived as a young people’s business? He was a charmer, his father was a con man, but you could trust him. He was a history of the 20th century. How many people do you know who dated Greta Garbo!? He always brought something to the party. He always made me laugh.”

“SO HOW DID IT GO?” I asked that of Don Rickles, who went back to work at the Stardust last weekend. “I got though it,” he said. “I did exactly what I do and the audience thanked me for lifting their spirits.” So did “the bosses, who went beyond thanking me.” He will play his Harrah’s Lake Tahoe date this weekend but he is canceling N.Y. and N.J. dates “and talkshows — except maybe Regis” … It was an incredible assemblage of talent last Friday night: In four hours, producer Phil Ramone, Mike Greene of NARAS, LARAS prez Enrique Fernandez and Merv Griffin put together a show at the BevHilton to raise funds for the Red Cross. They gathered stranded Latin Grammy entertainers (plus others) for the show in the Intl. Ballroom of the hotel donated by Merv, including the catering, staging. etc. By 8 p.m. this cast was assembled: Plus One opened with “America the Beautiful,” Ruben Blades on “Skylark,” David Foster with Josh Groban and Nina Whitaker on “The Prayer” plus Celia Cruz, Francisco Cespedes, Laura Pausini, Isaac Delgado, Joan Osborne, Juanes, Shalim, Bacilos, Chucho Valdes, Jose de Eusbio, and Kevin Spacey — no, not singing a Bobby Darin song, but knocking everyone out with a dynamic version of “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” The finale: Nina Whitaker leading everyone in “The Star Spangled Banner” … Cliff Robertson, who is a licensed commercial pilot, says he was flying his twin engine prop Beechcraft at 7,000 feet above the Twin Towers when the suicide bombers struck. He was heading to L.A. but was ordered down over Allentown, Pa. He got to Oregon three days later and arrives in L.A. today to loop “Curse of the 13th Child” (also known as “The New Jersey Devil”) and to talk with exex of “SpiderMan,” in which he plays Toby Maguire’s uncle Ben. The pic includes (included?) World Trade Center scenes. In the pic, Robertson is killed as he stands in front of the N.Y. Public Library on 5th Avenue, where they had shot from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.

THEY FLEW IN FROM ALL OVER, but then were unable to wing out. For the wedding of Cecilia Peck to Daniel Voll, guests arrived from as far away as Bali and as near as Mexico for the Sept. 8 ceremony at the home of her parents Veronique and Gregory Peck. Most of the guests were the close friends of the couple but the showbiz contingent included Lauren Bacall and Jennifer Jones Simon as well as the Pecks’ poker-playing pals Barbara Sinatra, Angie Dickinson, Felicia Lemmon and Pat and Larry Gelbart. The ring bearer was the wedding couple’s 2½-year-old son Harper for the service performed by Rev. Jim Cavanaugh of St. Jerome’s … Talking about timing, Gelbart was in the midst of writing an anti-war play: his version of Aristophanes’ 411 B.C. play “Lysistrata.” It’s about the women of Athens, tired of their men going off to war with Sparta, deciding to lay down the law — and not lay down to have sex with ’em. The play’s for the American Rep Theater heading to ART at Harvard and the Hal Prince Theater in Boston … The Cuada de Sevilla troupe, which bowed its flamenco version of “Carmen” at the City Center last Wednesday, played its premiere show gratis — refunding to all those who attended as their contribution to spirit-raising … .Meanwhile all Broadway shows have either been refunding tix or arranging later dates for those unable to attend their show night ducats. For those missing out on “The Producers,” next March is the earliest open date … Can you believe it: at a time when people turn to their newspapers for more than one-dimensional TV, the L.A. Times has killed its Westside Weekly supplement. “I don’t take it personally,” columnist Robert Scheer told me. But it’s a personal affront to the community. While Scheer’s syndicated column on worldwide matters will appear once a week on op-ed pages, a gap now remains on what’s happening across the street.

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