New Noriega controversy focuses on film

GOOD MORNING: Who has the nod to put the real Noriega story on screen, Oliver Stone or George Englund? While New Regency has already announced “Noriega” to be directed by Stone from a script by the New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright (Daily Variety, April 12), Englund, who is Noriega’s agent and producer, says, “We have the real story.” Al Pacino is to star in Stone’s project released by WB, financed by Arnon Milchan, who produces with Clayton Townsend and Nancy Hardin. Englund believes Robert Davi’s the man to play his Noriega from a book being written by Peter Eisner for Random House. Eisner covered the trial and has since been in constant confabs with Noriega and his daughter as has Englund. “He knows the ‘Operation Negocias’ and all the CIA and DEA deals,” Englund says. Noriega told him, “I never ran drugs — or laundered money.” He didn’t have to — he had the treasury of Panama! Englund claims Stone had only a half-hour talk with Noriega. Oliver tells me he has spoken with the general “and I have full cooperation.” Does that mean Stone has the rights to Noriega’s life story? “I don’t need them,” Oliver says. “He sent me many documents.” Englund argues the rights are a real issue. “And I represent them. He (Stone) has a way to do stories the way he wants to do them — like ‘JFK.’ Meanwhile, we have all the stories — Noriega’s relations with (President) Bush, the DEA and CIA”… Stone also continues plotting his other Latin biopic, “Evita,” for Disney, from his own script. And he still claims he’s investigating the possibility of a Latina lead.

IT ALMOST WENT THE TV ROUTE –“That’s Entertainment-III!,” that is. But its creators won out for the feature treatment it deserves. The MGM bigscreen collection of classic musicals clips got its lofty launching with rave reviews and an emotional preem here Thursday and it makes its big splash Tuesday at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Before the benefit screening at Mann’s National — which raised $ 150,000 for the AFI — Frank Mancuso paid tribute to those who persevered over seven years to see it through: George Feltenstein, Peter Fitzgerald, Bud Friedgen and Michael Sheridan — plus Roger Mayer and Turner Entertainment. The pic’s also a part of the MGM 70th anni parade and Mancuso promised an enthusiastic MGM future as well. Among those on hand for the preem and the post-screening Armand Hammer Museum celebration was J.J. Cohn who joined MGM when it started 70 years ago, in 1924! The movie’s hosts on hand included Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse with husband Tony Martin, Ann Miller, Esther Williams, plus MGM musical cast members, Gloria de Haven, Dolores Grey, Rita Moreno, Fayard Nicholas, Janis Paige, Ginger Rogers, Ann Rutherford, Virginia O’Brien, Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor, director George Sidney, Bill Tuttle (who supervised the makeup dept.), Sidney Guilaroff (head of the hairdressing dept.), editor Margaret Booth, Marc Shaiman (who created special musical arrangements and the overture) and Robyn Astaire. Also applauding, the Bridges family, Lloyd and Jeff , the Hestons, Charlton and Fraser, the Tillys, Meg and Jennifer, the Reiners, Estelle and Carl, Michele Lee, Rita Rudner, Dennis Hopper, Audrey Meadows, Art Linkletter, Barkley the dog in MGM’s “Clean Slate” and “It Runs in the Family.” Tony Danza was expected, but was hospitalized for knee surgery, a remnant of his Dec. 28 Deer Valley ski accident … Tuesday in N.Y. at MoMA, the hosts will be Lena Horne, Liza Minnelli, Ann Miller and Martin Scorsese. The preems are a last hurrah for Ronni Chasen, who is departing as MGM’s senior VP worldwide publicity.

ADD EMOTIONAL NIGHTS: The tribute to Sandy Meisner at the sold-out Century Plaza fundraiser ($ 200,000) for the HOPE Foundation and L.A. Free Net. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Jimmy Carville finale’d singing “Danny Boy” and Meisner, on a walker, made it over to host Gregory Peck, said simply to the roomful of well-wishers, “Thank you very much.” The evening was co-chaired by Peck, Gordon Davidson and Sydney Pollack. Among Sandy’s other ex-students on hand, Mort Sahl, Conrad Janis, Lainie Kazan (all of whom performed), Peter Falk, Kathleen Nolan, Mary Steenburgen with Ted Danson (they later made it over to the MGM party!), Patricia Barry, Jayne Meadows, Steve Allen, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, Earl Holliman, Joyce Van Patten, Arthur Allan Seidelman, Joel Grey, Doris Roberts, Faye Nuell Mayo, Betty Garrett, William Allyn, Lee Phillips, Mark Rydell, Piper Laurie, Jon Voight, Shari Lewis … Bob Banner, who presents Cloris Leachman in “Joy Ride: The True Story of Grandma Mosses” at the Westwood Playhouse bowing May 11, tells me plans are afoot for the multimedia show to head to N.Y. — TV and/or bigscreen and then to cassette.