Oscars plan to ‘Make ’em Laugh’

GOOD MORNING: The 67th Academy Awards will open with the “Make ’em Laugh” number performed on screen by Donald O’Connor in MGM’s 1952 classic “Singin’ in the Rain”– plus “live” onstage at the Shrine — Tim Curry, Kathy Najimy and young star Mara Wilson. The multimedia tricks of today will be employed by Chuck Workman in a montage of film, tape and f/x to get everyone laughing at lines by stars ranging from W.C. Fields to Woody Allen, Groucho Marx to Marilyn Monroe (“Real diamonds! They must be worth their weight in gold!”). That should get the Oscars off to a good start for David Letterman to follow. O’Connor, in the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen-directed “Rain,” filmed the entire spectacular “Make ’em Laugh” number (written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed) in one day! “That was great,” said Kelly to O’Connor. “But can we do it again?” Someone left the aperture open on the camera! Donald, bruised and battered, told me he did it again the next day. O’Connor, who lives in Sedona, Ariz., since his San Fernando Valley home was destroyed in the earthquake, flew into L.A. for a day to film a pratfall for the Oscar opening number. The Oscar taping took two days! O’Connor’s been invited to attend the Oscars — seated in the audience — from which he will no doubt get a standing ovation … This may be Workman’s last Oscar show: He segues into features with a Miami-set model murder story (untitled), which he’s written and will direct for producers Paul Cohen and Richard Abramovitz … And the talented Workman also is readying a docufeature, “The Source,” about the Beat Generation from 1945-95.

HERE’S WHAT MEMBERS OF CONGRESS were scheduled to hear this morning about support for the NEA from Christopher Reeve, keynote speaker at Advocacy Day for Arts & Culture Congressional Breakfast in the Dirksen Senate building: “Under the distinguished leadership of Jane Alexander, the agency is doing its job properly. Merit is the guiding principle more than ever before. Reforms have been instituted that make sure the money goes to worthy projects. Obscenity is no longer a legitimate issue. The NEA is not in the business of funding obscenity or pornography, as some critics charge. Art can be disturbing, art can be challenging. Most art sponsored by the NEA has no political content at all. People who think the NEA is causing the moral decline of America are in the minority. The serious problems society has — violence, racism, welfare, education — are not caused by artists and the American public knows it. There is no leading nation in the world that does not support the arts, usually two, three, 10 times as much as we do. As you make your rounds on the Hill today, I would suggest that there is real reason for optimism. Many of the new members are beginning to really look at the issue instead of just reacting to emotional buttons like Mapplethorpe and Serrano. It is still going to be a tough fight because the Republican party is going to have to accommodate the religious right as they run up to the ’96 election and the religious right is permanently pitted against the NEA. We’re going to have political survival vs. the best interests of the country. But I don’t think we should be intimidated by it. We must convince our representatives that they will have helped the U.S. take its place among other nations that do not fear the arts but employ their governments to put them in service to the future.” And much more from the thesp. Bravo, Christopher … At tonight’s D.C. Radio & TV Correspondents’ dinner at the Washington Hilton, “Politically Incorrect” star Bill Maher will ask President Clinton (who’ll be attending) to guest on his show. It may be difficult after some of his (Maher’s) jokes tonight! Among the more politically charged: “I’m not one of those people who say his (Clinton’s) State of the Union speech was too long — but next time, could he lose the drum solo?” Or, “The Democrats got killed in the last election. I have no idea why their platform of higher taxes and more lesbians in government wasn’t a big hit.” But Maher doesn’t just pick on the Dems, noting “Poor Dan Quayle, he’s got all the medical problems of an elder statesman — but no respect.”

STRAIGHT TO CHASEN’S Sunday night after taping the lead as a physical therapist in the pilot “Kinks”– that was Norm Crosby. He’s National Ambassador of Goodwill for the City of Hope and the medical center was holding its “Last Great Hollywood Party — Part XV,” appropriately at Chasen’s. The Diamond Circle of the City of Hope’s president Israel Freeman, and chairman David Marmel awarded Chasen’s Ronnie Clint for his and the restaurant’s charities. Clint told stories of the eatery’s history. So did Gene Barry, who recalled his progress from a table in the back room to the front booth as his career progressed at Paramount … Brian Grazer proposed to writer Gigi Levangie at Chasen’s. Her “Stepmom” is being readied at TriStar by Wendy Finerman … Max Casella joins Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd in “Sergeant Bilko,” playing Private Dino Paparelli — Billy Sands was the original in the TV’er starring Phil Silvers.