Save the Children makes progress

GOOD MORNING: I’m back from vacation, and when I opened my first piece of mail a strange note fell out — a bank note, a 250-dinar note from the Central Bank of Iraq, with you-know-who’s picture on it. Accompanying the bank note was Bill Haber’s Save the Children Newsletter, detailing his visit to Iraq and Kuwait. It is a revelation of what conditions really exist — things I haven’t read elsewhere, like a one-on-one report with children and displaced persons living on blankets thrown on brick floors, “stealing electricity from overhead lines,” in places like the burned, looted and destroyed Museum of Natural History in Barah. I caught up with Haber Tuesday as he was leaving London’s airport. He reported on the progress by Save the Children in Iraq: “We are getting schools opened — and safe — for children.” He heads next to Bolivia. But while in London, the multi-media’d Haber also found time to seek out plays to bring to B’way. He told me he’d investigated working out the possibility of importing the current National Theater production of “His Girl Friday” to N.Y. We caught the Jack O’Brien-directed John Guare version of “The Front Page” at the National’s Olivier theater during our own brief stay in London earlier this month and can wholeheartedly repeat the applause given it by Variety‘s Matt Wolf and by the SRO audiences. We were in London before heading to Southampton to board the maiden voyage of Crystal Cruises’ Serenity, on which I was soon to talk about some of my 50 years writing this column with films and fotos added in the ship’s plush Hollywood Theater. We stayed at London’s Claridge’s Hotel before boarding. Our hotel room was one that had been beautifully decorated by Tessa Kennedy (the ex-Mrs. Elliott Kastner). The hotel’s lobby boasted classic portrait fotos of the world’s great women who had been at Claridge’s, including the Queen — and Katharine Hepburn. Also staying there was Marvin Hamlisch, who would also soon be boarding the Serenity to perform a magnificent concert with added hilarious repartee. Hamlisch told me he’s still trying to complete a musical version of Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” — on Broadway. Meanwhile, Marvin continues his concertours, including this month’s at Wolf Trap.

WHILE IN LONDON, I also caught up with Jon Avnet, who was returning from a Rome visit with Aurelio De Laurentiis on their “World of Tomorrow,” which Paramount will bow next summer in the usual “Mission: Impossible” slot. In addition to the De Laurentiises, Aurelio and Raffaella, Bill Haber is another exec producer. “Tomorrow” has been described as “a combination of Indiana Jones and Buck Rogers” — and Avnet says that’s accurate. The complicated f/x are being done here in L.A. through his Brooklyn Films, and he says there are “breakthroughs in new technology” in the pic, which was shot in high-definition. While in London, Avnet caught Hank Azaria in “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” (Azaria starred for Avnet in “Uprising.”) Producer Avnet is today busy directing one of his “Boomtown” segs for NBC.

IT WAS SHOWTIME EACH NIGHT aboard the Serenity. In addition to Hamlisch during our stay, Alan King was a featured performer. He told me he’d been playing cruise ships for years, “but this one is like a country club.” Alan also stopped in London to talk bringing “Goldwyn” to the West End. He’d just wound starring in a film, “Mind the Gap,” in N.Y. and is next readying to star in Paddy Chayefsky’s “The Tenth Man,” which Marshall Brickman is scripting and will direct … On another night in the ship’s Galaxy Lounge, the Four Plaids unveiled their new starring quartet and enlarged act. They now are booked to an exclusive pact with the Crystal Cruises … Among the passengers on this maiden voyage were Icon’s Bruce Davey and wife JoAnne; partner Mel Gibson was in L.A. completing editing on “Passion” and readying to head out for another test screening … Michael Caine took time away from his London home to wing to Dublin for a screening of “The Actors,” which he completed last year with Michael Gambon. He’s also since completed “The Statement” in France. And now Caine’s received word he’s to be honored by New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center on April 26 … Shortly before and shortly after we boarded our flights to/from London were Annette Bening with two children on one flight, with Warren Beatty and their other two children on a later flight. They all met up in Budapest, where she is starring in “Being Julia” with Jeremy Irons. … Good news on our homecoming: Daily Variety assistant managing editor Kirstin Swanson and David Wilder Jr. have set the date, Nov. 1, to wed in the Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez. The groom-to-be gaffs and best boys on indie films and photo assists on commercial shoots … Sept. 6-7, Disney’s California Adventure holds its second annual ABC Primetime Preview Weekend, where fans can meet the stars and get a preview of the new season. Those expected include John Ritter, Katey Sagal, Dennis Franz, Bonnie Hunt, George Lopez and Constance Marie, Faith Ford, Jim Belushi and his band performing … Uta Hagen will be serenaded by Marlo Thomas and David Hyde Pierce on her 84th birthday, Monday, at Marlo’s N.Y. place. David co-starred with Hagen at the Geffen Playhouse in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” and Marlo studied in Hagen’s master class … Mindy Sterling (Frau Farbissina in the “Austin Powers” pix) celebrated her 50th birthday at the Hollywood Roosevelt July 12, where she was surprised by longtime pals from the Groundlings including Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Hitchcock and Tim Bagley … Ed Begley Jr. hosts the Blue Planet Live concert at the Hollywood Bowl, July 18-July 19 … Outside Nate ‘n’ Al’s Tuesday at 7:15 p.m., a masked Michael Jackson ran into his former press agent, Lee Solters. An elderly woman passing by stopped and asked Jacko if he was really Michael Jackson. When he said yes, she asked if she could hug him. Fortunately he wasn’t holding a baby. So she hugged him, thanked him and went on her way. Ah, welcome back to Hollywood, Army.

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