Hanks has lofty aspirations

GOOD MORNING: Tom Hanks says he’d “take a couple (at least) of years off” (showbiz) if he could become an astronaut. He just wound NASA scenes in Houston for U’s “Apollo XIII” with director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he says. Hanks admits it’s tough to follow “Philadelphia,””Forrest Gump” and now “Apollo,” but he has a couple of “quirky, off-the-cuff projects” that he’s interested in doing. One of ’em is by “Apollo” co-scripter William Broyles Jr., and is about a guy who works for Federal Express. Another is based on the book, “Lonelyhearts of the Cosmos.” Hanks says he likes pix in the style of “Hard Day’s Night” and cosmology. He states, “I have no great desire to be a producer,” although he has his own development banner. He is off to Japan for p.a.’s with “Forrest Gump” but can only stay three days … I caught up with the “Congo” company deep in the jungle of Costa Rica, which was hoping to film the Arenal volcano erupting. They got lucky: During their stay, it went off several times a day, with steam, red lava pouring out and boulders tumbling down. To reach the location, the company had to drive two hours on tight roads, and finally had to carry movie equipment in via sling from a helicopter. The Kennedy-Marshall troupe also brought their own “gorillas” into this rain forest, which boasts its own fill of flora and fauna — but nothing like the Hollywood-created African apes … Dove follows its Faye Resnick’s “Nicole Brown Simpson: Private Diary of a Life Interrupted” and “The Lyle Menendez Story,” as told to Norma Norelli, with “Iron Rose,” the Rose Kennedy story — inside the Kennedy compound — by Cindy Adams and Susan Crimp; and a fourth book, “You’ll Never Make Love in This Town Again,” written by a group of would-be starlets who became hookers. This book, like Heidi Fleiss’ little black book, has “the” names. But, Dove turned down an offer to publish a book about spousal abuse focusing on defense attorney Johnnie Cochran’s first wife.

ROSEANNE’S SETS are converted today for Oprah Winfrey to interview Rosie’s entire cast. Cameras are added to shoot the audience as usual on an Oprah show. The “Roseanne” cast returns today after taping a regular seg Thursday night. The workload on the seg was lessened for Roseanne, who is expecting. John Goodman has extended his contract with the series for another year — his eighth. He’ll also be bicycling to the stages of CBS’ “Streetcar Named Desire” in March … And Garry Shandling will be back in production of his hilarious “Larry Sanders Show” for HBO in May, when he’ll also be preparing a fall start of an untitled Columbia feature he’s written and will star in. It’s about how people relate to him — he’s from another planet … Among characters joining “Liz: The Elizabeth Taylor Story”: Hedda Hopper, played by Katherine Helmond; Montgomery Clift, played by William McNamara. Also, a young Kevin McCarthy is played by Patrick Robert Smith, while McCarthy plays producer Pandro Berman (“National Velvet”). Lester Persky tells me producer and director George Stevens (“Giant”) is also portrayed. The youngster who plays Taylor as a tot is Casey Ahern … Peter Bogdanovich guests in the “Cybill” seg shooting this week. He plays a director. And for today’s scene in an actors’ retirement home, this group: Jack Carter, Morey Amsterdam, Charlie Callas, Slappy White … Vanessa Brown’s writing “The Media and the Presidency” based on days of Edward R. Murrow and Adlai Stevenson — when Brown was an alternate delegate to the ’56 convention. The thesp was later hired by Murrow to be the “Voice of America” bureau chief in L.A. … Michael Jackson took African Monarch King Nana Aon Ndoufou IV to Universal Studios, Disneyland — and Jackson’ Never Land. Jackson is working to complete his Epic two-CD package of “HisStory,’ including his past hits and new tunes.

THE VELVET FOG sips into Mountain Dew. Mel Torme stars in a national TV, radio, ad campaign for the soft drink, warbling a re-written “I Get a Kick Out of You.” Y’know –“I get no kick from champagne, etc.” Torme films the blurbs in Vegas this weekend … Perry King plays a high-powered exec, a la Donald Trump, a recurring character in “Melrose Place’s” last five segs of the season and returning for a guaranteed seven in “Melrose’s” new season — which is already guaranteed … Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind and the Shubert Org producers of Stephen Sondheim’s latest, “Passion,” have jumped on board as hefty investors of the hit L.A. production of Sondheim’s dark musical “Assassins,” a sellout since Nov., which moves to a larger LATC venue March 10 … Helen Mirren, a three-time BAFTA winner (and possible Oscar nominee for “The Madness of King George”), presents BAFTA’s award to Anthony Hopkins, Wednesday at the Beverly Wilshire.