Mandela, Williams work on conservation docu

GOOD MORNING: Montel Williams meets with Nelson Mandela in South Africa next month to produce and direct a documentary on animal conservation. Williams says Mandela has appointed him as “ambassador” for an animal preservation park. Williams, who had co-produced the docu “We Are Family,” is now also readying to produce and direct a feature, “Changewater Pond.” He has an additional three-year pact for his talker with Par where, he notes, “they have backed me 100%.” Williams is in L.A. today to host a reception and book signing for his father, Herman Williams Jr., the first black fire chief in a major U.S. city. The book is “Firefighter” (Hay House) and the signing site is at the African American Firefighter Museum in South Central L.A. Saturday. The publication had been held up due to 9-11. Williams, fils, winged in from snowboarding in Utah for the event and returns to taping his Emmy-nominated talkshow. He takes breaks from those duties to snowboard, he says, and next heads to slopes in British Columbia. When that snow melts he’s headed further north to Alaska, then down to Chile. “Snowboarding keeps my brain in touch with my feet,” he claims. He is joined in the sport by actress-model Tara Westwood. As for their future on level ground, he says, “We’re working it out.” While the subject did not come up on any of his shows, I asked his opinion of the Oscar wins by Halle Berry and Denzel Washington. His answer: “It was great, not for African Americans — but for our nation. We were under a microscope. And this became a shining beacon of America. It was amazingly wonderful for America. I’m proud the Academy voted the way they should have — it just so happened their performances merited it.”

THE FIRST MAJOR HOLLYWOOD FILM to go on extended foreign location after Sept. 11, wraps production today in Cinecitta. It is 20th’s “The Sin Eater.” The film, with “Omen”- and Exorcist”-like tones, filmed scenes outside the Vatican, inside one church in Rome and had technical assistance from priests as well. Brian Helgeland directed his screenplay for producer Craig Baumgarten who Thursday also welcomed a congressional delegation on the set. It included Florida’s Bill Young, California’s Ken Calvert and Texas’ Henry Bonilla, Neil Abercrombie of Illinois, and Rodney Frelinghuysen of N.J. They all had been on hand while Rome was on a terrorist alert last week. The pic’s exec producers Michael Kuhn and Tom Hammel had also invited the U.S. Marines assigned to guard duty at the Embassy on the Via Veneto to visit the movie company. Everyone wants to visit a movie set … “Tru Confessions,” the Disney Channel’s original movie airing for the first time tonight is another film depiction of the problems of a family with a developmentally disabled youngster — this one a teenage twin brother of a “normal” sister. The mother’s played by Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Mare Winningham, who has played similar mother roles in “The Boys Next Door” and “Special Olympics.” She is the mother of five — with fortunately no problem among ’em — but at one time it was feared one of her children might be affected. “It comes with the territory when you’re pregnant,” she reminds me. “Love comes in all packages.” She next stars in and exec produces, with Jason Trucco, “Joey, a Mechanical Boy” based on a Bruno Bettelheim case.

IT’S A HAPPY 86th BIRTHDAY present for Gregory Peck — and wife Veronique — daughter Cecilia and her husband Daniel Voll welcomed daughter Ondine Alexandra Peck Voll, Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai. They have a 3-year-old son, Harper. Cecilia and Daniel are producing, with Bridget Johnson, “an edgy love story” for HBO. The loving leads are in prison — separately. Voll’s article, “Riot Baby,” the story of a 10-year-old boy born during the L.A. riots, appears in the May issue of Esquire … The New York Friars will toast club founder Milton Berle on April 29 at the clubhouse. Alan King, will m.c. — he has the night off “Goldwyn” … Artie Shaw, who will be 92 on May 23, tells me he’s written his epitaph, it’s “Go Away!” Don’t get him wrong, Shaw is feeling fine — and as feisty as ever. And he’s happy with RCA’s boxed set, five CD’s of just under 100 tunes, including some that were never released. He’s also pleased with the Artie Shaw Band touring with Dick Johnson on clarinet — yes, playing Shaw’s solos as well. Dan Rather is also readying to interview Shaw for a special seg on “48 Hours” … Congrats to Line Renaud who was medal’d as a Commandant of the Legion d’Honneur … Peter Yates is headed to Toronto to film Paramount-Showtime’s “A Separate Peace” about four boys in an Exeter-like prep school in 1942 … Eva Marie Saint and Jeff Hayden will read Willa Cather’s “On the Divide” for UCLA’s Friends of English department Sunday and will also read it for residents of the Motion Picture and TV Fund Country House and Hospital May 16 … Services for thesp Tony Young will be held noon Saturday, at All Saints Church in BevHills … Emmy winner Doris Roberts spends her “Everybody Loves Raymond” hiatus in a new production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” at the Strand in London’s West End, bowing May 15. CBS is also putting up Roberts’ gueststint in “Touched by an Angel” into May sweeps and for a 2002 Emmy.

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