GOOD MORNING: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, your host for the 77th Academy Awards — Chris Rock” … I spoke with Rock Wednesday after he’d held a meeting with his staff of writers for the Oscars. They’ve had only a brief time, so far, for inspiration following the announcement of the nominees. A very enthusiastic and soft-spoken Rock , however, allowed of the names of the nominees, “It will be much easier, for example, to do a joke about Clint Eastwood (double-nominated for his performance and direction of “Million Dollar Baby”) than one about Paul Giamatti” (who was not nominated for “Sideways”). Meanwhile, Rock says he has been working up to his emcee-manship for the past two months and has seeing catching all the films: Yesterday, after we spoke, he was en route to “Finding Neverland.” He said he’d seen “Million Dollar Baby” three times, “Ray” a couple of times, “Sideways” three times, loved “The Aviator” — “I’m a big movie fan.” He’d also visited the Museum of Television & Radio and viewed opening monologues of Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Steve Martin (“My favorite comedian of all time–he’s one of the reasons I became one”), Billy Crystal — and also the years when there were multiple dramatic/musical hosts. Rock said he’d also phoned Billy Crystal to ask about the good and bad areas in the Kodak Theater, and he spoke to Steve Martin, “who recommended a couple of writers” — Rock has seven. Martin also told him, “Since you called me this early, you’ll be fine.” Rock also knows several of the nominees — he co-starred with Morgan Freeman in “Nurse Betty.” He next co-stars with Adam Sandler in upcoming remake “The Longest Yard,” in which he shows fellow inmate Sandler the ropes inside the yard. Rock assured me Sandler will be in the Oscar show — “and he will be very funny” … Chris will warm up for the Oscar with appearances at L.A.’s Improv and in the Bay Area as well. He is excited about doing the show, noting, “Besides being the most prestigious award show — it is the LONGEST!” As for speculation that the show could have a three-second delay to avoid anything questionable, Rock allowed, “I would not be offended,” but he also reminded, “I’ve been on national TV before — including ABC.”

MARTIN SCORSESE WILL BE taking bows tonight at the Ziegfeld Theater — on the occasion of MGM Home Entertainment’s DVD release and 25th-anni party of his classic “Raging Bull.” Celebrating with him will be the film’s Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff and Jake La Motta. Also skedded to be there is Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese’s “Aviator” star and fellow Oscar nominee. Scorsese admitted he’s been present in the Oscar audience each of the six times he was a nominee (twice for screenplay), but this time he’ll be onstage — at least once — to present the Thalberg Award to Roger Mayer, with whom he works on the National Film Preservation Foundation board … Scorsese said he’ll also meet with Leo this afternoon to talk their next pic, “The Departed” for WB, starting in April. “For me to do another gangster movie — it had to be something special,” and Scorsese admits the William Monahan script about the Boston Irish is indeed “special.” Matt Damon co-stars and a top femme cop role is open … Scorsese says “Aviator” continued his American cycle of films, having had its “dark side” with “Gangs of New York” whereas “Aviator” was about “a visionary.” Still planned for his “American Cycle” is his own family’s story, “The Neighborhood,” which Nick Pileggi scripted; it’s being talked with producer Irwin Winkler … Talking of the 11 nominations “Aviator” received, Marty reminded that he completed the film “in 91 days — on schedule and on budget.” He also reminded me that he’d screened all of Katharine Hepburn’s movies — “the successes and the failures” — for Cate Blanchett, no doubt affecting her performance and encouraging Oscar’s voters to give Blanchett an Oscar nom.

TOASTING THEIR NOMINATIONS Tuesday night at Mr. Chow’s: Clint Eastwood and “Million Dollar Baby” producers Al Ruddy and Tom Rosenberg … Stag night at Dan Tana’s: George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt … Newest honor for the Peninsula Hotel of BevHills and its world-class restaurant, the Belvedere, is Mobil’s Five-Star award. And Ali Kasikci, the hotel’s managing director, has elevated the Belvedere’s Bill Bracken to exec food and beverage director and named Sean Hardy exec chef … David Slade has segued to the Knoll restaurant at Le Parc as exec chef … “Nunsense” celebrates its 20th anni with a seven-week run of Dan Goggins’ comedy musical at Theatre West, starting Friday with a benefit for SHARE and a kickoff for its May 14 Boomtown party. Betty Garrett, Lee Meriwether, Bridget Hanley, Barbara Mallory, Rhonda Stovey and Sandra Tucker perform special material … Among Johnny Carson’s silent contributions was a million-$ to Children of the Night. He had been a supporter for 25 years and also did public service announcements for the org … “We Care About Kids,” celebrating its 10th year, is readying its newest project, “In the Room,” a film about child abuse to be shown in high schools and colleges. The film is intended to “scare the hell out of young people who haven’t considered the unintended consequences of sex. Allan Rich, Peter Antico and Robert Young head the board … Veronique Peck continues Gregory Peck’s Reading Series at the L.A. Main Library, setting Mary Steenburgen and Joe Mantegna for a Feb. 12 program. And Harper Lee will be honored May 19 with a Library Gala. Her “To Kill a Mockingbird” was named the best novel of the century. Greg, of course, starred as Atticus in the film and the Pecks’ grandson (by Cecilia Peck and Daniel Voll) is named Harper … Harry Connick Jr. headlines the gala at the Frank Sinatra Invitational Golf Tourney Feb. 25-26 and Dick Van Dyke co-hosts the golf tourney. All proceeds go to the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center for Abused Children on Bob Hope Drive in the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage … Kaye Ballard, legendary big band singer and stage, TV and feature star, bows at “The Palm Springs Follies” Wednesday. She moved to Rancho Mirage, to a house once owned by Desi and Lucy … Thesp Eddie Steeples, who returned to L.A. after surviving the tsunami in Thailand, is readying to go back to work in “Akeelah and the Bee,” starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett.

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