Kushnick gives ‘Late Shift’ short shrift

GOOD MORNING: Although Jay Leno told me he didn’t plan to see “The Late Shift ,” I can tell him that his former manager Helen Kushnick saw it. Reached at her Park Avenue apartment, Kushnick, sounding and feeling OK these days, said first of all that Kathy Bates, who portrays her, “is quite good — but I don’t recognize the person.” In Daily Variety‘s review of the show, Brian Lowry says, “The movie’s showiest performance is undoubtedly Kathy Bates’ — depicted as a raving bully — whose foul-mouthed diatribes at NBC execs are undeniable highlights and the pic’s energy sags after her ouster.” As for Kushnick’s take on the HBO show as a whole, she says, “It’s very bad; the script’s bad (by the book’s author, Bill Carter). They never called me.” And as for Daniel Roebuck in the ridiculous prosthetic makeup, Kushnick says, “It was pretty awful — a cartoon.” She says there are many errors. For example, “It was the Democrats’ convention and not the Republicans that they showed. They couldn’t even get the convention right. But my only concern about this (the movie and the book) was Sara.” Sara is her 15-year-old daughter who, Helen told me, “was at the studio and saw what was happening and what I said — and what I did not say — and what they said I said! I just care that she’s OK.” Sara is OK, as readers of Daily Variety will see in the tribute to her mother in Monday’s paper. “I have learned,” added Helen, that “if you look behind you, you can always find someone in worse shape than you are.” But she admitted, ‘It got to the point where I felt like a leper.” Kushnick’s libel action against author Carter and publisher Hyperion was settled. As of now, it doesn’t look like a suit is planned by Helen against HBO and its version. But her attorney, Beth Dumas, allows, after having read the script, “It was not an accurate portrayal.” At Wednesday night’s screening at the Directors Guild, the biggest laughs occurred when Kathy Bates as Kushnick and Bob Balaban as Warren Littlefield used four-letter words in their car-phone conversation, and when Treat Williams made his entrance as Mike Ovitz. Kathy Bates was not on hand, but most of the cast and the filmmakers were there.

PRESIDENT CLINTON’S L.A. visit today includes a fundraiser at David Geffen’s after Clinton’s meeting with the prime minister of Japan, a round of golf at Brentwood Country Club, etc. …”Image of Ourselves: A Washington-Hollywood Dialogue,” all-day sessions at Par with creators and politicians, boasts a panel on “What Can Be Done” at 4 p.m. with this group, chaired by George Vradenburg III: Arianna Huffington, Republican Congressman David Dreier, Elayne Bennett, Iris Grossman, Jeff Cole and Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors exec director David Levy. Tom Selleck and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) are the evening’s honorees. Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Palm Springs) intros keynoter Bill Bennett … Next week in D.C., President Clinton talks about the V-chip and classification with web and cable toppers. But the Caucus’ Levy says, “None of those executives has ever created, produced, written or directed anything”… Sidney Sheldon has completed the screenplay based on his bestselling novel “The Doomsday Conspiracy” and, for the first time, Oscar- and Edgar-winning Sheldon is putting up a screenplay of his for studio auction by his ICM agents … Dominick Dunne, here for the windup of the Menendez trial, is wrapping up his O.J. Simpson-set “Another City, Not My Own” for Crown. It’s novelized, like his “Inconvenient Woman” bestseller. Dunne’s four-hour “A Season in Purgatory” gets May sweeps airing by CBS … Robert Young celebrated his 89th birthday at the Ojai Valley Inn on Thursday … Neil Friedman, chief operating officer of Edward S. Pressman Films, and his wife, Jan Eliasberg, writer-producer on NBC’s “Sisters,” welcomed daughter Sariel Hana at St. John’s Hospital Feb. 20 … Sally Marr is out of Cedars-Sinai and recuping at the Golden Crest Retirement Hotel. A comedy benefit’s being planned for Marr, plus a screening in her honor of the docu on her son Lenny Bruce.

THE DEATH PENALTY SHOULD BE TELEVISED, sez Sean Penn (“Dead Man Walking”) on David Frost’s PBS show tonight. He sez, “I guess part of the reason there’s still a death penalty in this country is because you can’t witness it. I would say that it should be televised — if they are going to say ‘it’s not a totally civilized thing to do,’ then they ought to see what it is they are doing”… Sam Elliott made a rare public appearance to emcee the Sherman Oaks Burn Center’s BevHilton dinner Thursday. They treated him last year when he was injured making “The Desperate Trail.” This is the charity of which McLean Stevenson was an ardent supporter … The news of Lucille Ball’s newly found autobiography brought out this discovery in my Daily Variety column of March 9, 1964, after I visited Lucy and Bob Hope when they taped her CBS special “Mr. & Mrs.” She told me she was “penning her autobiog. Most of it’s about Desi. Don’t worry — our kids will be able to read it.” But that was in ’64.