Schlatter's 'Freedom' makes for an icy show

GOOD MORNING: “Celebration of Freedom” producer George Schlatter admitted when it was over, “This was quite an adventure. I’ve been through some tough ones, but this one was the toughest.” The show, originally skedded for two hours came down to an hour and 10 minutes. He had wondered, f’rinstance, whether the Rockettes could perform as rehearsed on the slippery stage, which was icy and alternately hit by snow flurries? They couldn’t, limited instead to taking a bow. Van Cliburn warmed his hands on the hood of a presidential motor home to try to play “The Star Spangled Banner.” But the snow and cold also KO’d his perf. The Golden Knights Parachute Jump and Air Force Flyby also were axed, victims of the low ceiling. The show held at the Ellipse at the White House was expected to play before an audience of 65,000, but the number dwindled with each passing hour. Adding to the weather problems, security was so tight that non-skedded occurrences stopped everything and everyone, including rehearsals. Despite it all, Schlatter was his ebullient self as he and writer Buz Kohan readjusted the script and appearance order. Host Ryan Seacrest arrived during the sub-freezing weather and rehearsed the show through the night, receiving cheers from everyone … Appearing on the slippery stage were Gary Sinise, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kenny Chesney, Andrea Bocelli, Yolanda Adams, Mary Haskell (duetting to an onscreen Ray Charles on “America the Beautiful”), Patti LaBelle on “The House I Live In” and the ensemble on “This Land Is Your Land.” … Rumored around the show was that Dennis Hopper’s appearance was KO’d because wife Victoria Duffy had been a Kerry supporter — while Dennis was a Bush man.

THE STORY behind Van Cliburn’s planned D.C. appearance dates back to Jan. 12 at the Beverly Wilshire, when the world’s greatest 88′er graciously agreed to perform a rare (mini) concert at the Arthritis Foundation Commitment to a Cure gala honoring Billy Friedkin with the Jane Wyman Humanitarian Award. The evening raised $400,000. Jack Valenti introduced Friedkin by calling him “one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.” He also paid tribute to Billy’s wife, Sherry Lansing, as “one of the most gifted women in the history of the American cinema.” Friedkin in turn called Valenti “the man who has done more for movies and television industries than anyone.” Friedkin then surprised yours truly by also toasting my birthday. Schlatter, who also produced that evening, saw Van Cliburn in the wings waiting to go on and asked him, “Do you know how to play ‘Happy Birthday’?” Of course he did, and Friedkin brought him onstage where he promptly sat down at his Steinway and played — and sang — joined by the banqueteers. It is something I’ll not forget! … After completing his “Happy Birthday” rendition, Schlatter asked if he wanted to appear on the “Celebration of Freedom” show. “Sure — but what would I play?” Van Cliburn asked. Schlatter promptly answered, “The Star Spangled Banner.” Also winging to D.C. to perform is Carol Connors, who will sing “The Star Spangled Banner” tonight at the California “Democracy Ball” at the Convention Center … Schlatter facetiously says he “helped” get Richard Nixon elected by having him as a guest on “Laugh-In,” where his one-liner “Sock it to me?” became a regularly repeated clip.

DESPITE THE delays in D.C. caused by the fierce weather — plus the security closures throughout the city — all the participants showed up at the NBC inauguration brunch put together by Vic Garvey. They included GE chairman Jeff Imelt, NBC Universal CEO Bob Wright and wife Susan, Universal’s Ron Meyer, NBC topper Jeff Zucker. Also Lynne Wasserman, speaker of the house Dennis Hastert, governors, senators and congressmen from both parties … A bill titled the Foster Care Monitoring Act has been put forward in the U.S. SenateL.A.’s Daphna (Mrs. Richard) Ziman has been effective in getting the L.A. City Council and L.A. County Board of Supervisors to pass resolutions setting up a joint task force on measures to assure that every foster child in LA. County would have a mentor by the year 2010. Ziman is co-host of the Children Uniting Nations Oscar viewing dinner and after-party Feb. 27 at the Factory. Chefs who will donate their wares at the dinner previewed the menu Saturday at the Crescent Hotel in BevHills.

THE MILITARY has opened Camp Pendleton, the Point Loma Sub Base, North Island Lighthouse Tower Lookout and the San Diego Naval Base to CBS’ “JAG” to shoot segs next week. Producer Peter Dunne tells me the access has never before been given to the series, now in its 10th season. The storylines will “not ignore the fact we are at war.” The facilities will be shown with regular service personnel, which will “give the show an added texture,” he said … Jodi Berry, who segued his career from the boxing ring to singing, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. A familiar figure supporting the town’s top charitable events, wife (of 32 years) Joni requests any donations be made to SHARE. Service will be held Friday noon at Hillside … A memorial was held Sunday at Harmony Gold screening room for Artie Mogull, onetime president of United Artists Records, head of A&R at MCA Records and VP of A&R at Capitol … Hans Zimmer is spokesman for TCM’s Young Film Composers Competition, taking over for the late Elmer Bernstein … Joe Campanella will be honored by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Friday at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. … After Tuesday’s bow of “Oklahoma!” at the Pantages, Jeremiah James (who stars as Curly) stepped forward and announced a special guest in the house — John Raitt of the original 1944-45 touring company. Raitt, who received a standing ovation, celebrates his 88th birthday Jan. 29 … Doris Roberts has parted with Innovative Artists — but continues with manager Michael Cannata.

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