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Poitier winds ‘Sir,’ takes on ‘Mandela’

GOOD MORNING: Sidney Poitier, who recently wound “To Sir With Love — Continued” for TriStar and CBS, now has a two-pic deal with Showtime. The first is “Mandela,” the second, “Free of Eden,” which he got back in turnaround from Columbia, and which offers another schoolteacher role close to Poitier’s heart. Poitier is particularly pleased with the important themes in each of these projects, and as he readies to head for Capetown, South Africa, for the former, “The important thing for me to do now is to erase Poitier and create Mandela,” he says. He’s studying Mandela films and tapes, but also reminds, “I played a South African in (the original) ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’ (1951), and again in ‘The Wilby Conspiracy’ (1975). I was able to capture the accent. I’ll give this my very best effort.” The two met years ago in L.A. with then-Mayor Tom Bradley. “I intend to be with him when I get to South Africa again.” The opening scene of the telepic will have Poitier (Mandela) on a rock pile in Robin Island prison. Director Joe Sargent (this year’s Western Heritage Award winner) met with Poitier last week; Sargent departs for South Africa Friday with producer Bernie Sofronski for an April 8 start on the $ 5 million TV’er. Sargent tells me the script by playwright Richard Wesley (also “Uptown Saturday Night”) includes the role of Winnie Mandela. Camille (Mrs. Bill) Cosby has long wanted to put Winnie’s story onscreen as well … Jay Leno admits, “Normally, I’m the kind of guy who likes to see everything — TV and movies — but I don’t seem to have any desire, or intent, to see ‘The Late Shift.’ If I don’t see it, I can’t comment on it,” he adds. Leno notes that he wouldn’t want to criticize the performance of any actor — especially Daniel Roebuck, who plays him. As for the “Shift” story, which deals with the beginnings of his tenure on ‘The Tonight Show,’ Leno sagely observes, “It would be kind of like watching the first six minutes of the Super Bowl game. What’s the point? Let’s face it — this isn’t ‘Braveheart.'” Leno also allows he’s a friend of exec producer Ivan Reitman. And, confirming that he likes to ‘watch everything,” Leno says that he watched David Letterman’s primetime special Monday night. “I thought Dave’s special was funny,” he says. As for doing a primetime special of his own, Leno says, “I think I’ll wait until next year.” Right now, he’s heading out seeking sites for location shows — mebbe San Fran, Chi, etc.

GEORGE BURNS SURPRISED PALS at Hillcrest when he showed up Monday for lunch. He was accompanied by son Ronnie, pal Barry Mirkin, and his majordomo, Daniel D’Hoore. George cracked a couple of jokes, and even talked about mebbe going into the office — when the rain stops. Once back home Monday, he also smoked his first cigar in a month. No martinis — yet … Make your plans now for a last look at Disneyland’s famous Main Street Electrical Parade. The lights go off Oct. 15 after a 23-year, billion-watt walk — which three generations of my family (that includes Selma, our children and grandchildren) have seen. But don’t worry — a lot is planned to follow. As Walt said, “As long as there’s imagination in the world, Disneyland will never be complete”… Val Kilmer is skedded to leave for Moscow and the start of “The Saint” the first week in March. As for “Batman,” WB has a fall start skedded, and Kilmer’s reported as being “willing”… Now that Joan Collins has won her Random House suit, she’s readying to p.a. her Dutton tome “Infamous” next month in the U.S. Collins’ Lifetime deal as hostess for summertime specials involves her doing wraparounds and, of course, some of her bon mots, about the best of TV’s miniseries. It’ll give non-sports fans something to watch during the Olympic Games.

THIS MAKES IT ALL WORTHWHILE. I noted here that Mel Torme would not be able to play his record 20th consecutive Hollywood Bowl stand because the date the Bowl gave him conflicted with one on his already-set tour. Reaction from Torme fans, as well as Ernest Fleischmann, outgoing exec VP and managing director of the L.A. Philharmonic, brought about a Bowl date change, and Torme now appears there on the mutually suitable Sept. 18 … Phyllis Diller got an SOS to replace ailing Tammy Wynette at the Riverside Hotel & Casino in Laughlin over the Presidents Day weekend. Diller had just taped a “Cybill” guestint playing herself (whoever she is) … Coolio stars in Patrice Jones’ “The Big Payback,” his first feature, in which he’ll also be on the soundtrack disc … Expected to bring in the highest bid at Butterfield & Butterfield’s Vintage Movie Poster Auction on Sunday is a first-time-on-the-auction-block poster of Bela Lugosi as “Dracula” (1931). Expected bids: $20,000-$30,000. And the next day’s top-priced item of entertainment memorabilia is the “Batmobile” from 1989’s “Batman,” value placed in the low- to mid-six figures … Longtime Paramount staffer Cara Gordon, now on “Sister, Sister,” and DGA member Stu Goldman will wed March 24. Father of the bride is publisher David Gordon.