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South African welcomes Attenborough — this time

GOOD MORNING: Richard Attenborough’s car was buzzed and bumped as he drove to the airport to leave South Africa. “I was literally thrown out of the country,” he said. “Someone at South African Broadcasting overheard one of our group saying, ‘We’ll start shooting in July,’ and they took it to mean shooting — as in guns. And they said, ‘Get the revolutionary foreigners out of our country!’ So we shot it in Zimbabwe.” But, that was 10 years ago when he was there scouting “Cry Freedom.” He’s now in N.Y., having completed a four-week visit to South Africa, Swaziland and Kenya in his capacity as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. He says he was greeted everywhere with open arms and hearts. “Now the change is fabulous. You cannot believe it. Everywhere, people — black, white — grabbed us to shake hands.” He met with Nelson Mandela (whom he’d earlier confabbed with in London). And Attenborough says he could be “tempted” to do a film in South Africa. He’s in N.Y. for tonight’s Radio City Music Hall preem of “Miracle on 34th Street” and party following at Rockefeller Center. Today, before the preem, he reports to James Grant, director general of UNICEF … Attenborough is excited about seeing “Miracle” in the giant RCMH. He has not as yet seen the movie — except for snippets in London looping sessions. He was last at Radio City in ’85 for “A Chorus Line.””That evening was great,” he recalls, “but — the next day’s reviews — were not!” No such worries this time, reviews are already touting him for an Oscar nomination. As for acting again, he admits turning down several offers, but he will return to reprise his role for Steven Spielberg in the sequel to “Jurassic Park, ” which he says will be in 1996. Of course, he’d like to direct next — although his directing salary is far less than his acting (he also has a piece of “Miracle”) … En route from Africa to N.Y., Attenborough stopped in London for a day, long enough to learn of the anti-Semitic Hollywood article by William Cash in the Spectator. Attenborough volunteered, “It’s obscene. They (Jews) are the geniuses of the movie industry. We should raise our hats to them.”

WITH THE AHMANSON newly restructured, Neil Simon tells me he may be coming back there. His national company of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” will play the Doolittle …”I don’t think I’ll ever take (time) off again,” said Shecky Greene to thunderous applause at the Wilshire Ebell last weekend about his return to performing (after seven years). He jokingly said, “I was in Alcoholics Anonymous , Gamblers Anonymous and Weight Watchers, so I had no time to work.” Not so funny, however, were the illnesses that sidelined this great talent. Red Buttons , among the pals and peers there, said, “Shecky is a true genius.” His timing was again razor-sharp, his voice like that of a man half his age, his impressions better than their originators. And his jokes, well, ask me to tell you a couple of them. Even I will make you laugh. Among the “fraternity” there to wish him well and congratulate him after each of the two shows: Carl Reiner, Morey Amsterdam (whose psychiatrist son-in-law helped in Shecky’s recovery), Paul Reiser, David Steinberg, Sid Caesar, Richard Lewis, Jerry Vale, Jan Murray, Jack Carter, Ed O’Neill, Jesse White, John Byner, Shirley Jones, Jack Riley, Mike Connors, Frankie Avalon and Mayor Riordan with Nancy Daly. Ernie Chambers and Gary Nardino ogled Shecky for a TV series. The SRO audience also heavily applauded Julie Budd, who opened for Shecky.

BENITO MUSSOLINI’S YOUNGEST SON, Romano M., Rome’s favorite jazz pianist, has been set by legend Lionel Hampton to join 33 top stars at his 10th Jazz Fest in Moscow — Idaho, that is — in February … Phyllis Diller is tributed by the Pacific Pioneer B’casters Friday at the Sportsmen’s Lodge with a dais including the rarely seen Rod McKuen … Ilya Salkind and Jane Chaplin, through attorney Steve Chrystie, won a California Appellate Court ruling that Alexander Salkind (Ilya’s father) must appear in L.A. for trial in the matter of monies Ilya and Jane claim were advanced him for “Christopher Columbus” that Salkind pere has failed to return … KNBC Weatherman Fritz Coleman hosts the Nov. 22 “Comics for Kids” Improv benefit for the ERAS Center, with auction prizes including TV series walk-ons … Shirley (Mrs. Jay) Livingston was birthday-partied by her husband at Trader Vic’s, with guests including the Bob Stacks and Red Buttonses … Also at Trader Vic’s, Ricardo Montalban, painfully on a walker post year-old back surgery. He will, however, host a book signing for “Hispanics in Hollywood: An Encyclopedia of Films and TV” (Garland) by vet Hollywood praiser Luis Reyes and Peter Rubie, at the DGA Dec. 14 … We’re off for a week.