Uniformed Travolta ready to dance, fly

GOOD MORNING: But what I really want to do is dance. I caught up with John Travolta on the Baltimore location of Touchstone’s “Ladder 49,” where he’s wearing the uniform of the city’s fire chief (a switch from his “Basic” Army Ranger uniform). In view of the enormous success of “Chicago,” I asked Travolta howcum he’s not returned to the genre from which his career sprang to stardom. “I’m hoping for it,” he admitted. “I miss it.” Following this fire-fighting film, he has no pic set on his agenda. But he is skedded for his second promotional flying tour for Qantas; last year he flew a 707 to 13 cities in 10 countries. This year he’ll pilot their 747 inaugural nonstop N.Y.-Sydney (20 hours). “Since 9/11,” he said, “I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for airlines.” He’ll also attend a UNICEF fundraiser in the Outback under the stars on July 7 … Travolta says there’s a “very subtle” reference to 9/11 in “Ladder 49,” the story of the relationships between his character, a young fireman played by Joaquin Phoenix and their respective families. As to who survives the big fire in the pic, Travolta says that is yet to be decided … The film’s producer, Casey Silver, who headed Universal during its making of “Backdraft” in 1991, allowed he’d informed Ron Howard (who directed it) of his plans to make “49,” which was in preparation before 9/11. (And talking “Backdraft,” the scorching attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood and Japan has attracted more than 50 million visitors since its opening in ’92) … Baltimore has proven to be a movie-friendly city and is affording many perks. Silver was fortunate in completing his Morocco locations for “Hidalgo” before the Iraq war started. “I’m glad we got in (there) in time,” he admits. Apart from these two action’ers Silver also has the love story, formerly “Tough Love,” now titled “Gigli,” co-starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. It’s the film on which they met and discovered their chemistry. And how.

JACK NICHOLSON’S UNABLE to make the press tour for “Anger Management,” as he’s working in the untitled Nancy Meyers film until June. But he is proud of “Anger” and screened it for his “old friends” Sunday night He praised Adam Sandler (who was in N.Y. selling the pic) and his production company on the making of the film. “He’s real smart, and a man of his word.” Nicholson noted. He laughingly noted he won’t have to explain that “Anger Management” is a comedy (much as he had told us that “About Schmidt” was a comedy, though he won a Golden Globe as best actor in a drama). He described the Meyers film (in which Diane Keaton co-stars) as a romantic comedy, but laughed, “This will probably be the last time they describe this as ‘a romantic comedy’ ” … Hugh Hefner celebrates his 77th birthday Wednesday. And, thank you, he’s feeling fine. He’s been celebrating for the past week, escorted seven Playmates to Feinstein’s (love the show!), went clubbing at Barfly and Joya, has a big pajama party at the Mansion Saturday night, and on and on. Brian Grazer’s readying a Hefner biopic, covering the ’60s and ’70s — and, Hef added, “with an actor playing me, to do it right!” Hopefully Sam Mendes will direct. Playboy celebrates its 50th anni in December and the search starts today for a Playmate for that very special edition. I asked Hef his opinion of the exposure of flesh on primetime shows like “Are You Hot?” He laughed, “That’s on Disney — ABC! They’ve turned it into a Playboy world!”

SUMNER REDSTONE AND PAULA FORTUNATO were married Sunday at N.Y.’s Temple Emanu-El. The wedding was attended by all the toppers of the Viacom, Par, CBS divisions who then toasted the bride and groom at a lavish dinner in New York’s ever-imposing Public Library … Dennis Cole and Marjorie Fritz are engaged to wed. Cole’s recuped from an accident suffered onstage in “Victor/Victoria” and ready to return to work … Pamela Hasselhoff today undergoes what she hopes will be her final (leg and hand) surgery from injuries from a motorcycle accident she and David Hasselhoff had Feb. 20. He’s OK … A memorial service will be held Wednesday at the Canon Theater for thesp Michael Jeter … Vibist Terry Gibbs, ushered into the Jazz Hall of Fame, tributes the late Lionel Hampton with his “From Me to You” CD … It was a combination of celebration and sadness at the John Wayne Cancer Institute Auxiliary’s annual Odyssey Ball at the BevHilton Saturday night. Michael Wayne, who died last Wednesday, had been the stalwart supporter of all charities and efforts by the Wayne family. Michael, like his father, was a giant in my book as well. Close to $1 million was raised for research at the John Wayne Cancer Institute … Dennis Weaver received a check for $250,000 from Charles Annenberg Weingarten for Dennis’ “Strive to Survive 2003” caravan from L.A. to Congress, May 1-14. It will urge mandatory greater-miles-per-gallon cars via non-gas-propelled cars … Steve Martin plus banjo, columnist Dave Barry and the Rock Bottom Remainders perform at UCLA’s Royce Hall April 25 and next day on campus at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Also performing with the Remainders are authors Scott Turow, Ridley Pearson, Mitch Albom, Greg Iles, James McBride, Roy Blount Jr., Kathi Goldmark and lead singer Amy Tan … Carol Connors sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Gold Star Awards at the Disneyland Hotel Saturday, where Shaquille O’Neal appeared in his official police reserve uniform. Size? Don’t be a smartass.

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