Linden returns to tuners with ‘Dodsworth’

GOOD MORNING: “I have never worked so hard in my life — and for $ 650 a week!” said Hal Linden on the eve of Tuesday’s bow of “Dodsworth, the Musical” at Fort Worth’s Casa Manana. “I don’t know how we’re going to do it!” And it’s all for a two-week run — but who knows, it may be the birth of a Broadway return for the Tony (and Emmy) winner, who hasn’t done a new musical, he says, in 25 years. Why is he doing it? For the proverbial “muscle-stretching” and “to get my creative juices cooking.” But the 62-years-young Linden says he’s also having the time of his life and praises the creative works of young writers Stephen Cole and Jeffrey Saver and director Bruce Lumpkin. He says reps from the Shuberts and Nederlanders will be on hand to look-see the project’s potential. This production is stylized, with minimal sets to represent a factory, trans-Atlantic luxury liner, nightclub, Paris, Naples, etc. “They’re clever, not grandiose,” says Linden, who sings seven solos: “Four new tunes were added in the final week of rehearsals!” The last original musical Linden did was “The Rothschilds”; since then he has returned to revivals like “The Pajama Game, “”Kismet,” “Man of La Mancha,” etc. In “Dodsworth,” Linden plays the role played by Walter Huston in the 1936 movie version of Sinclair Lewis’ novel. Dee Hoty and Beth McVey are in the Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor roles. Gregory Peck and Marty Richards had long been planning a contemporary bigscreen feature version of “Dodsworth.” “I sold my rights to Steve Ross at WB five years ago,” Peck told me. “We worked hard on it and it cost a lot of money.” The movie lives on at WB, where Richards is hoping to star Harrison Ford — after his next two pix. Milos Forman directs and Alfred Uhry (“Driving Miss Daisy”) is writing the script. Peck says, “I’m only involved in a peripheral way (in the movie). I think Harrison Ford is a great choice. Walter Huston was only 52 when he played the part.” As for Dee Hoty in the musical version in Fort Worth, Peck recalls she appeared in “Will Rogers Follies” (Peck was Flo Ziegfeld — audio only) and “I thought, ‘She’s gonna be a big star.’ ” Peck’s on his “conversation” tour. “I enjoy doing it — it’s great to see what life is like between L.A. and N.Y.”

THE CRYSTAL ROOM WAS appropriate for the Billy Crystal honors from the Tommy Lasorda Jr. Memorial Foundation. The Beverly Hills Hotel ballroom was the site where Lasorda (Sr.) and wife Jo presented Billy with a life-sized Steuben crystal baseball bat in thanks for his homeruns in the charity ballpark. Rob Reiner m.c.’d, and Alan King kicked off the show. Jay Leno made a surprise appearance and intro’d Tony Bennett, who got a standing ovation. Although Tommy Lasorda’s Dodgers season is (sadly) over, those who remained in town to show up included Mike Piazza and Eric Karros and the one and only Vin Scully, plus Dodger alumnus Steve Garvey. A reel of Crystal’s “SNL” characters, “Comic Relief” appearances and pic clips was unspooled. Close to a million bucks was raised for the foundation to help build a facility to keep kids off the streets after school … There were also plenty of laughs a little farther East, in Hollywood, where MGM preemed “Get Shorty” at Mann’s Chinese followed by an appropriately decked-and-themed Hollywood-meets-Vegas-meets-Miami party at the Colonnade. Parties Plus and Off the Wall set the menu and scene, which included a casino. Getting congrats for the fun-filled film were John Travolta, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, Barry Sonnenfeld, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Scott Frank and Elmore Leonard. (Rene Russo was on location with “Tin Cup.”) Among the loudest laughers: Arnold Schwarzenegger, DeVito’s pal and previous co-star, and laughmaker Jim Carrey … On hand at the Beverly Center WB Store unveiling of the new Senigraph star photos ($500-$600!) from frames of movie hits: the John Wayne family, Michael, Patrick, Aissa and Ethan, and Sid and son Joey Luft. Mark Sennet hosted — his system, with Israel Barons’ company , plus WB and the estates of Wayne and Judy Garland, participate in profits. Other photos planned for this unique presentation and to be sold at this store include those WB movies made by Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis Presley. How much money is there in movie star memorabilia? Michael Wayne told me they’ve sold $23 million in John Wayne souvenir plates!

WHAT’S COOKING WITH PIERRE COSSETTE? How about a 12-foot-across, 4-foot-deep chicken pot pie? (I have the recipe in case you’re interested!) It kicks off Kentucky Fried Chicken’s new line of Chunky Chicken Pot Pie. The enormous dish will be unveiled Wednesday at Bryant Park, 42nd Street and 6th Avenue, behind the N.Y.C. Public Library, complete with a chorus of beautiful dancing carrots, peas, potatoes and tomatoes, nothing corny, of course. It’s a venture of Lucky Pierre’s Events Division. He admits, “I’m having more fun than anything I’ve ever done.” (P.S. The needy will also benefit from the inaugural dish).