Close to leave ‘Sunset’ far behind

GOOD MORNING from New York: “Norma Desmond will be with me always,” Glenn Close told me as she started her final week in “Sunset Boulevard.” She was in her dressing room at the Minskoff, where Betty Buckley takes over July 4. Close does not know whether she’ll be on hand for Buckley — uppermost on her mind is getting away to spend more time with her family. And that includes fiance Steven Beers, who’s in Toronto working on the “Sunset” company there to star Diahann Carroll. Close told me she didn’t see the first London production with Patti LuPone before bowing in L.A. “I didn’t want to have any pre-set notions about the role,” she admitted. Although she is free of the nightly call, Glenn says she and Beers have not yet set a date for the wedding. She also did not know whether Andrew Lloyd Webber would be on hand for her closing Sunday. “He’s trying to,” she said, “but he is busy working on the workshop of ‘Whistle Down the Wind,’ ” the musical film he’s prepping. As for Norma Desmond, Close said, “It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend — an intimate friend with whom I’ve been together 18 months.” She proudly said she hadn’t missed a show since March 25. “I feel good,” she said, despite the nightly workout. “And I’ll continue to work on my singing,” she promised. “However, I’ll not do theater for a long while. I’m like a zombie when I’m in this role.” Anyone who knows Close knows she is totally into whatever part she plays, as she was as Margarethe Cammermeyer in NBC’s “Serving in Silence.” Close said, “Every night when I’d come out of the theater, there were those who would comment on how much they appreciated the (TV) movie.” Close said she has also received many “profound” letters about the telepic (and her performance). And yes, she has heard from Margarethe as well — she invited Glenn to her son’s graduation … As for the future, Close has her choice of several roles but does admit she is meeting this week with John Hughes to talk about “101 Dalmatians.” She says, “It is very intriguing.” But she reminds, “I’m always interested in who I’ll be working with, the best possible people.” She still has upcoming her “cameo” role in “Mary Reilly.” She said she only worked a week and a half, playing the head of a brothel “where Mr. Hyde does his horrible deeds” (the film’s a retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you’ll recall). She is again working with some of her confreres from “Dangerous Liaisons.” Plus, Julia Roberts, who, says Close, “comes to deliver a letter — I play a very wicked woman and I taunt her!” Close wanted to keep the rest of their movie relationship secret — not to spoil the story for us, she laughed.

“RED BUTTONS ON BROADWAY” WAS SRO Saturday night when we caught him. And he begged off with the audience applauding so heartily he could have gone on for another act — but Red left ’em wanting more. He gave us more when we caught up with him for supper at Elaine’s, relating other priceless memories. This week, he shoots a layout at his old apartment on the Lower East Side — what’s left of it, that is. When he told us about his apartment in the East Bronx, I recalled my childhood on the West Bronx to him. “The West Bronx?” he exclaimed. “We went there on vacation!”… Red says his experience on Broadway — in the same theater, the Ambassador, where he last played burlesque, and was raided — is equaled only by the night he won his Oscar for “Sayonara.””To come out of this theater every night after that applause,” said Red, “and to see your name in lights SO big — there’s nothing else in the world like it.” However, after four weeks in New York, he admits he is homesick for L.A. He hasn’t been away from home this long since the days when he toured. How long could he play Broadway? “Till 2006!” he laughed. He has become a true homebody, he admits, and misses his six dogs and cats. Buttons is putting all his reminiscences down on paper as well as on B’way and has already written more than 1,000 pages — and that’s only up to winning his Oscar. And talking about that, he remembers Lana Turner presenting him with the Oscar. And he remembers Lana saying when she got home that night after the awards, Johnny Stompanato beat her up. Why? “Because she didn’t let him (a thug) escort her to the Oscars.”

WHATTA NIGHT! The concert was called “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: The Music of Johnny Mercer.” It was the true combination of words and music and words: the lyrics of Mercer and the music he inspired, plus John Berendt’s bestseller set in Mercer House in Savannah. Berendt read passages from the book, as did Marion Seldes and Carrie Nye, between performances by top jazz musicians and vocalists including Emma Kelly, “The Lady of 6,000 Songs” from Savannah and a character in the book — and “Lady Chablis,” also of Berendt’s book. They received thunderous applause from both the literary and music crowd that packed Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center Sunday night. The other performers included Margaret Whiting, whose husband, Jack Wrangler, directed the show and made it seamless between performers who wove in and out of the stage sans effort. George Wein produced as part of the JVC Jazz Festival. The evening benefited the Johnny Mercer Foundation as well as two Savannah charities. Fittingly, on hand were Shirley and Jay Livingston: Jay and partner Ray Evans got their start thanks to Mercer at Paramount — and went on to win three Oscars and wrote countless hits following Mercer’s lead-in for them at the studio. Others who received shouts of approval and applause included Bobby Short, Harold Nicholas, Ann Hampton Callaway, John Pizzarelli, Nancy Lamott, Welia Whitfield, Gerry Mulligan, Al Grey, Warren Vache, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bill Charlap, Jay Leonhart and Danny Gottlieb. Berendt and screenwriter John Lee Hancock wing to Savannah next week to talk the WB screenplay. Meanwhile, the book (Random House) remains on the NYT bestseller list for the 69th week.