Civil War story speaks of call to defend freedom

GOOD MORNING: “I wish this picture was ready for release now,” director-screenwriter Ron Maxwell told me from the “Gods and Generals” location in Williamsport, Md. But the second in the trilogy of the Civil War films will be released (by WB) at the end of 2002. Meanwhile, the $51 million pic is on sked and budget, Maxwell assured me. He says the film will remind that “other generations (of Americans) were tested before and rose to the occasion. This film is about America in crisis — pointing out that freedom must be defended.” Ted Turner and Robert Wussler visited the location last weekend when a company of 350 re-enactors were shooting (gratis) an 1861 scene. The film donates a million-$ to the preservation of battlefields in Virginia and Maryland. Still upcoming is the battle of Fredericksburg at Harper’s Ferry, to film when the weather gets colder. Turner will reprise his role from the first film, “Gettysburg”; he and Maxwell are talking the third, “Last Full Measure.” Maxwell also hopes to film his “Joan of Arc” and after directing Mira Sorvino this past week in “Gods and Generals,” he tells me, “Mira must be my ‘Joan.’ “Among other visitor/actors to the location: Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and mebbe Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), to play a member of the Irish Brigade in the battle of Fredericksburg. Bob Rehme, who exec produces the pic, will arrive on location at month’s end. He is just delivering “Conviction” to Showtime.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE OSCARS:Although the event will not be held until March 24, I asked Acad prez Frank Pierson his thoughts on the granddaddy of award shows. He allowed it’s too early to make pronouncements other than “Nothing is going to be quite the same in America. And it’s too early to predict the mood of the nation.” But he reminded that the Oscar is “to celebrate excellence.” Pierson, who has been a member of the board of the AFI, allowed he was unhappy that CBS will air the AFI’s first award show, Jan. 6. “But I don’t know what we (the Academy) can do about it.” Bob Rehme, former Acad prexy, told me he had spoken up in an early AFI board meeting (he was also a member) and told them he was “unalterably opposed to that move and I wanted it noted in the record.” Samuel Goldwyn Jr., an Acad board member, also told me his objections to the AFI’s award show in advance of the Oscars … Meanwhile, no one can object to this Friday’s awards by the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles. Man of the year is Gil Cates; other awardees are attorney Melanie Cook, Mario Lopez, Lisa Ling and Sarah Purcell. Cates, whose dozens of credits include producer of Oscar shows (10 times), director of the Geffen theater (he’s planning a second house), DGA prez, and dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & TV (he continues to teach there). He heads to the dinner at the BevHilton from KCET, where he is directing the PBS Hollywood Presents “Collected Stories,” which he first directed on the Geffen stage with Linda Lavin and Samantha Mathis reprising their roles in the Donald Margulies play. Cates is shooting in high definition-wide screen and says it is magnificent, “like nothing I’ve ever seen — it’s so beautiful.” Next for Cates is the Ford Theater special for ABC with the president on hand, when he clears the date. Although Cates will not be able to do the Oscars next year, he took time to lunch with the show’s next producer, Laura Ziskin, to talk his past experiences — and to ponder possible problems for Ziskin at the new site (the Kodak theater) and the new worries of the times … Cates is also readying to head the negotiating team for the DGA, saying, “If management is going to be thoughtful, then the DGA will be thoughtful.”

THE TV ACAD, CBS and producer Don Mischer conference-called Tuesday afternoon to set up Thursday’s outline of the Emmy presentation. Mischer admits the decision to cancel Sunday’s show was “gut-wrenching, but I was very relieved that it was canceled.” Monday, Mischer went back to taping “The Wayne Brady Show” with guests Jane Krakowski (“Ally McBeal”) and Roselyn Sanchez (“Rush Hour 2”), to air in Jan. Mischer now launches into his Olympics opening and closing show chores. As for the Olympics, he’s certain they’ll go on and adds, “I think they’ll be the safest place to be” … We’ll see Bo Derek again in her classic, corn-rowed hair from “10” as she cameos in Revolution’s “Master of Disguise,” in a scene with Jim Brolin, costarring with Dana Carvey and Jennifer Esposito. Derek, who is national chairwoman for the Disabled Veterans Assn. of America, will be on hand at their Prescott, Ariz., Creative Arts Festival, Oct. 19-22. She’s putting finishing touches on her autobio, now called “Riding Lessons” (ReaganBooks/HarperCollins), due Feb. 5 … The all-star fund-raiser at Palm Desert’s McCallum Theater for victims of the N.Y. and D.C. terrorist attacks raised $205,000. President Ford and wife Betty opened the show and it was closed with Barry Manilow leading a 94-member choir from churches throughout the Palm Springs area … The China Club hosted “Broadway Rocks” Monday night to benefit victims of the WTC. “SNL’s” Darrell Hammond hosted; it was also his birthday. Show standout was the “Full Monty’s” Patrick Wilson, who’ll star in “Oklahoma!” when the London troupe comes to B’way in Feb.

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