‘I Love N.Y.’ reborn

GOOD MORNING: “I Love New York II” is launched at noon today, with Governor George Pataki making the announcement surrounded with as many showbiz personalities as could be assembled overnight. Robert De Niro and Mets pitching ace Al Leiter were among the first to volunteer appearances. The original 1976 “I Love N.Y.” state-financed campaign was the brainchild of Gotham praise agent Bobby Zarem, who is again on board … Saturday saw the UCLA campus’ Jules Stein Eye Institute tribute to Edie and Lew Wasserman, Lynne Wasserman, Carol Ann Leif and Casey Wasserman (and the dedication of the new Edie and Lew Wasserman Eye Institute Center), which finale’d with all singing “America the Beautiful.” Jamie Lee Curtis, the Lew Wassermans’ goddaughter, femceed with Suzanne Pleshette, who also narrated the film clip showing the incredible contributions of the Wassermans to the Institute, UCLA and to the country. A congratulatory tape by President Bill Clinton was shown … It was a weekend of joys and sorrows for all, particularly Pleshette, who the next day attended the memorial tribute for her first husband, Troy Donahue, at Beverly Garland’s Holiday Inn in North Hollywood. At the service emceed by Donahue’s longtime friend and press agent, Bob Palmer, were Zheng Cao (Troy’s fiancee), Sally O’Neill, Diane McBain and Connie Stevens who, along with Pleshette, then attended the laughs-only tribute to Jan Murray celebrating his 85th birthday at the Improv in Hollywood. Connie then caught the red eye for the retirement services Monday (!) for Gen. Henry H. Shelton, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

A TIME TO WEEP and a time to laugh — and laugh is what they did at Sunday night’s Improv birthday (85th) party for Jan Murray. Among those he thanked for showing up: comedians, writers, doctors and two rabbis, “One for prayers, the other with a eulogy.” Veteran writer Irving Brecher (his credits date back to scripting Marx Brothers pix and Jackie Gleason’s first TV shows) noted it was a good idea to hold the event at the Hollywood site: “It’s close to Cedars-Sinai.” Brecher noted he, too was 85, “three operations ago.” The giants of comedy were on hand to give their all (and tell all) about themselves: Buddy Hackett, Shecky Greene, Sid Caesar and Red Buttons who even dropped his pants for laughs. The guests of Toni who gave the dinner party for husband Jan included fellow funnymen Tom Poston (with bride Suzanne Pleshette) and Carl Reiner, plus Cyd Charisse & Tony Martin, Monty Hall, Nanette Fabray. But before the veteran performers took the stage, the Improv’s Budd Friedman brought on some of the younger comics who play there: Max Alexander, Vinnie Favorito, Jimmy Brogan, Maria Bamford and John Caponera. They were awed by the showbiz history in their audience. And in the words of Red Buttons, they all learned that “old” is — when you can’t play the Improv … Jan noted “There’ll always be comedy and there’ll always be comedians” … Among those absent, Milton Berle, 94, did not feel up to the crowded evening and Don Rickles and Phyllis Diller had (paying) gigs. Chris Rock had been honing his new material at the club the previous week.

UP TO THE LAST MOMENT,“Saturday Night Live’s” Lorne Michaels wasn’t sure N.Y. Mayor Giuliani would be able to kick off the season’s opener (backed by fire fighters and cops). It was effective and appropriate and hizzoner’s humor helped set the tone for the show — and the audience. It seemed like NBC had added some commercial time to the show but Michaels wasn’t aware of it. As for this coming week’s opener, he says not to look for an act to follow the mayor — such as the governor or George W. … I just learned that, following the all-star telethon at CBS a dozen stars segued over to Dan Tana’s to watch the show b’cast on the three-hour delay for the west coast. Among them: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, David Spade, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, Jim Woods, Benecio Del Toro. They were all joined in singing ‘God Bless America” by other diners including Bruce Ramer, Dino Conte and Tana … At Sunday’s Laemmle Santa Monica screening (part of the month-long tribute to John Cassavetes), Gena Rowlands appeared along with Peter Falk following the screening of “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974). The duo got a standing ovation. Gena called Falk on the spur of the moment to join her with the appearance — to thank people for coming out and to encourage others to ditto … Ismail Merchant will receive a tribute Saturday at the Mill Valley Film Fest showing of Merchant-Ivory’s “The Mystic Masseur.” Honored there Sunday: Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Malcolm McDowall and Sissy Spacek … The Screen Smart Set Auxiliary of the MPTF hosts its 33rd annual Celebrity and Fashion Show & Auction Wednesday at the BevWilshire … Marilyn & Monty Hall will be honored for their dedication to charitable causes at the Julia Ann Singer Center’s lunch and fashion show Thursday at the BevHills Hotel. Yarmy’s Army, actors helping actors comedy troupe, raise funds for the Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theater at Beverly Garland’s Holiday Inn Wednesday. Comedians include Shelley Berman, Pat Harrington Jr., Jim MacGeorge, Louis Nye, Tom Poston, Jack Riley, Ronnie Schell and Christopher Weeks. Sam Denoff and Elliot Goldwag produce the events.

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