Sondheim fire nothing to sing about

GOOD MORNING: “It’s a nightmare,” Katharine Hepburn told me when I phoned Monday to ask about the fire next door at Stephen Sondheim’s house. Luckily, she and her housekeeper were away at her Connecticut home when the fire broke out Friday night. I had visited her home in the exclusive Turtle Bay section of east Manhattan, and on a tour of her garden it was easy to see that these expensive, historic homes are practically attached to one another and an addition to Sondheim’s home extends alongside Kate’s garden. But she said everything was OK. Hepburn’s voice was strong on the phone — and her conversation brief as usual — but she recently narrated eight pages of the “Musicians of Bremen” fairy tale for a charity “Words of Hope” cassette … Johnny Carson, rarely out in the Hollywood swim, was at Chasen’s Sunday night with wife Alex, Edie and Lew Wasserman and Barbara Walters. Any plans, Johnny? Only where his next vacation will take him. Walters was out here to shoot the opening of her Oscar night show — at Chasen’s. The au revoir reservations for Chasen’s April 2 closing have the “sold out” sign up … The price for the second O.J. Simpson book by his “biographer,” Larry Schiller, is now rumored to be $ 4.5 million. Schiller was busy talking to Rosa Lopez over the weekend … The Grammy group’s disappointed that Elton John will not be appearing — he’s too exhausted, they were told … The biz owes a tip of the fedora to Jack Valenti, whose untiring efforts to protect copyrights of this creative community plus his work with U.S. Trade Rep. Mickey Kantor achieved the pact with China. When I was in China, I reported that piracy of films was so rampant, movies were taped in theaters even when a patron’s head was in front of the thieving cameraman! Gives you an idea of some of the quality stuff being peddled … At NEA chairman Jane Alexander’s Q&A session at the DGA sponsored by William Morris, producer Jay Weston suggested the MPAA sponsor a star-studded PSA to be shown in theaters urging audiences to write their budget-cutting congressmen … Among items auctioned at the Frank Sinatra Palm Springs celeb golf tourney — lunch for two in the congressional dining room with Rep. Sonny Bono. It went for $ 500 . A Gerald Ford-autographed golf ball — which did not hit anyone — went for $ 325. But a Sinatra-autographed serigraph sold for $ 3,100. The event raised $ 900,000 for the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center and Palm Springs’ Desert Hospital.

“THREE WISHES” WOUND, AND co-stars Patrick Swayze and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio told me they wished all pix went as happily. The Rysher pic is directed by Martha Coolidge. An exuberant Swayze told me, “The passion is back,” having happily also completed “To Wong Foo, With Love, Julie Newmar” in drag and having played the legendary Pecos Bill in “Tall Tales” following the tough “City of Joy” shoot. He is now also “doing a lot of music — possibly writing the closing theme to ‘Wong Foo.’ ” Before bounding into these pix, Swayze admitted, “I kinda hid out for a while — with normal, real people. Now I’m having fun in my career with the characters I’m getting to do.” That includes the drag queen role, says dancer-actor Swayze, who reminds, “I had a lot of friends who were drag queens. But I didn’t realize it would be such a challenging thing to do — waking up a woman! It’s the most dramatic thing I’ve ever done. It’s fun being challenged and it’s only tough if you’re looking for hits. I want to do things that give something back. Leading men roles get so boring. But,” he admits, “I’m a sucker for an action picture!”… Mastrantonio, back to work after the birth of her second child, said working with a woman director “makes the work more personalized.” Elizabeth’s husband, director Pat O’Connor, previewed his movie “Circle of Friends” Monday night and Mastrantonio said she’d happily work for him — again — they did two together.

THE DUTCH GOVERNMENT TODAY ISSUES a postage stamp commemorating the 20th anni of the release of Paul Verhoeven’s movie “Keetje Tippel”– the stamp features a “hot” love scene between Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven. Verhoeven feels it’s ironic, given the fact there is so much agitation about the sex scenes in “Showgirls.” Maybe the U.S. will issue a stamp of “Showgirls”– in 20 years? … Rosemary Harris, in rehearsals in London at the Olivier theater for “Trojan Women,” winged into N.Y. for 28 hours to receive her award from the National Board of Review for “Tom & Viv.” She’s also up for a supporting actress Oscar, of course. When she first met Harvey Weinstein, “He told me, ‘You’ll get a nomination for this role.’ ‘What did I tell you?’ he said when the nominations were announced.” Harris will get time off from London boards (she’s in rep) to attend the Oscars — her first. She was houseguesting here in 1967 with Rachel Roberts and Rex Harrison and watching the awards when Paul Scofield won for “A Man for All Seasons,” and “we all called him to congratulate him.” Now, Scofield is again nominated, for “Quiz Show.”