Will ‘Dennis’ menace Matthau again?

GOOD MORNING: “I’m already signed for the sequel,” Walter Matthau revealed from the Chicago location of WB’s “Dennis the Menace,” in which he plays Mr. Wilson. And what about a series? “PUH-leeze!” exclaimed Matthau, who reminds that the feature role “is all physical, falling down, getting hit by golf balls. It’s like being a counselor at camp.” As in the popular Hank Ketcham comic strip, Matthau’s character, Mr. Wilson, hates kids, especially Dennis as played by 6 -year-old Mason Gamble. “And I thought I was going to stay aloof so he (Gamble) wouldn’t know I’m a sucker for kids. But on the first day of shooting, he said, ‘There’s Mr. Wilson’ and jumped in my arms and started kissing me. So that was that!” Cartoonist Ketcham, by the way, is opposed to any obscenities or profanity in the face of women and children. Thus the worst Wilson can say is “g.d.” Not so in Matthau’s previous outing with kids: In “The Bad News Bears,” one 11-year-old’s reply to Matthau was, “bull—-.””This movie is ‘family values’ all the way down the line,” Walter laughed. But he admits Christopher Lloyd as “Switchblade Sam” so frightened one of the youngsters, the kid broke down crying and couldn’t work for two days. “He scared me, too,” said Walter … John Hughes scripted the movie and Walter says exec producer Ernie Chambers had earlier paged him for the B’way musical. “But I don’t sing,” he answered … Next for Matthau is another outing as the rumpled lawyer in the “Incident at” telepix for Robert Halmi.

IT WAS A “LONG TIME IN COMING” to L.A. but exec producer Dick Wolf launched his “Crime and Punishment” here yesterday with the first of six hourlong segs for NBC. It was first skedded to film in N.Y. as does his “Law & Order,” then Chicago. “But it (Chi) was as expensive as N.Y.” (He would like to do a show in Chi eventually–“It’s great-looking.”) Then came cast changes. “Crime and Punishment” now stars Rachel Ticotin and Jon Temmey. “The L.A.P.D. is giving terrific cooperation. The city now realizes police shows do help.” The TVer has a unique format: the first half is told from the criminal’s point of view, and in the second, the cops put it together … Paul Sorvino shoots his last “Law & Order” in N.Y. next week–and makes one appearance beyond that. NO, he’s not killed. “We hated losing him–we parted on excellent terms,” said Wolf. “But I feel blessed in getting Jerry Orbach to replace him. It’s like taking over a role on B’way”… Paul Newman’s the Mad Hatter, Alec Baldwin the March Hare, Rosemary Clooney the Queen of Hearts, James Naughton the White Rabbit and Newman’s daughter Lissie is Alice. The production is “Alice in Blunderland,” written by A.E. Hotchner (Newman’s Own partner), and it will be played Saturday at Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Conn., for children 7-15 with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The stars also will appear as other characters in the evening’s show, whose total proceeds go to the camp … Paula and Rod Steiger learned their February stork arrival will be a boy. They’ll name him Michael Winston S.: Michael’s for Michelangelo, Winston’s for Churchill.

WILL NICOLAS CAGE don his “Flying Elvis” costume again? He hosts the “Saturday Night Live” season opener …”NFL Today” co-hosts Terry Bradshaw and Greg Gumbel, who did cross-plugs with (CBS, natch) “Evening Shade’s” Burt Reynolds, will guest on the Nov. 6 “Shade”–in which Reynolds will be a guest on a (fictional) “NFL Today” show … Burt and Loni hosted the “Evening Shade” gang at LaVern Baker’s Cinegrill bow–after which Reynolds also bought a Baker CD for each of his 25 guests. He’s a longtime fan and requested hits dating back to the ’50s … Paragon Entertainment’s Jon Slan and Richard Borchiver hosted the annual “rooftop party” that kicked off the Toronto Film Fest … New Orleans D.A. Harry Connick Sr. joined his son in the middle of his set at the U-Amphi to duet on “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Connick Jr. winds his 2 1/2-year big band (17 men) tour with this stand, then cuts an album for Columbia with a smaller group for November release … The Universal Studios Hollywood P.R. department, headed by VP Joan Bullard, won Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. Ltd.’s 1991 Public Relations Contest Gold Award, tops among Matsushita’s 127 companies worldwide … Sony Music’s new 78,400-square-foot Santa Monica facility bowed with over 700 on hand led by chairman Michael Schulhof, Tommy Mottola, Norio Ohga, Don Ienner and David Glew … We were saddened to learn that publicist Katy Sweet’s husband, Harry Lear, died yesterday at their home. Lear, who had been ill a long while, previously worked for Burt Reynolds … Steve Allen is saluted by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Sept. 18 at the Sportsmen’s Lodge. Allen, who created “The Tonight Show,” has a new book out, “Hi-Ho Steverino: My Adventures in the Wonderful Wacky World of TV”… Beverly Sassoon’s off to Philly, where she’s joined infomercial giant National Media Corp. as their spokeswoman. They also are developing Sassoon’s new skin care and cosmetic line. Sassoon returns here Sept. 26 to chair the Friendly House women’s recovery program’s BevHilton lunch honoring Carrie Fisher and Linda Ellerbee with the Global Arts and Universal Humanitarian awards, respectively.