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Prez picks array of artists for tribute

GOOD MORNING: President Clinton and First Lady Hillary C. met with Jeff Margolis to discuss the President’s 50th birthday tribute, which Margolis will produce at Radio City Music Hall Aug. 18. It is Hillary Clinton’s idea, said the helmer, and the First Family is “very much involved” in the program — which boasts the President’s choices of music and stars representing the five decades of his life. “We tried to accommodate him as much as possible,” Margolis says. The choices: Tony Bennett, the ’40s; Jon Bon Jovi, the ’50s; Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson, the ’60s; Carly Simon, the ’70s; Kenny Rogers and Jennifer Holliday, the ’80s; and Shania Twain, the ’90s. James Earl Jones will narrate filmed montages, and each decade will be introduced by a presenter. Set so far are Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Nathan Lane, Maya Angelou and Leslie Nielsen. As I noted here earlier, Whoopi Goldberg is the host. Additional comedy will be furnished by Rosie O’Donnell and Tim Conway as “Dorf” on golf — the President’s favorite sport. Also appearing will be the City Kids (36). In addition, there will be filmed montages of the President’s life. The First Lady has given Margolis footage never seen before — from the time Clinton was a young boy up to today. There will also be “a number of surprises we don’t want the President to know about,” said Margolis. The TV director/producer is no stranger to the President: he’s met with him annually at the Ford’s Theater gala special. He says the President “is so sharp, he asks questions even network executives don’t ask about.” He is aware of so many things — in show business as well. I asked if the President will play the sax? “No, he will not perform. He is the guest of honor. It is a giant birthday gift to him.” In addition to the live show in N.Y., the gala will be fed on bigscreen to 100 cities (two in each state) as a dinner fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee. The party in L.A. will be at the House of Blues … Margolis next directs the “Miss America” pageant Sept. 14 in Atlantic City, with Regis Philbin as sole host. The theme: The Spirit of ’76 — it is the 76th “Miss America.”

ON THE HEELS OF NAZI Erich Priebke receiving a not guilty verdict in Italy comes word that Hollywood Pictures will film “Conspiracy of Silence,” about the Melmedi Massacre of 300 U.S. soldiers by Nazis on Dec. 17, 1944, with Wolfgang Petersen directing and Steve Shagan scripting (based, in part, on Howard Blum’s “Wanted”). Gail Katz produces for Radiant Films. Shagan says the story will tell of the non-stop determination of Anthony DeVito — U.S. Ranger WW II vet (Salerno, Battle of the Bulge, etc.) — to bring to justice SS Col. Joachim Peiper, who ordered the machine-gun murder of the 300 U.S. soldiers captured on the second day of the Battle of the Bulge. Peiper’s sentencing in April 1946 in a Dachau court was held in abeyance; he then got off with a sentence of only 10 years, thanks to the efforts of the likes of Sen. Joe McCarthy and, incredibly, other U.S. officials. DeVito tracked down Peiper and others despite efforts to deter him by U.S. agencies in this real-life thriller. Shagan next scripts a contemporary whodunit, “Butcher’s Moon,” based on the Donald Westlake novel, for Lumiere Films. Shagan’s “Gotti” starts airing on HBO Aug. 17, and is set for international theatrical release. HBO has been running trailers in 210 markets ( 5,176 screens) and will do ditto to promote its “Crime of the Century” (the untold story of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping) leading up to its fall airing … The Oct. 10 Sotheby’s auction of items from George Burns’ estate will include over 100 of his awards — from radio to TV, but not his Oscar (which his family retains). Yes, Burns’ cigar humidors are included. Burns, who left most of his estate (over $30 million) to charities, also decreed that this sale benefits Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (where George Burns and Gracie Allen streets lead to the hospital entrance), the United Jewish Fund, and the Motion Picture & TV Fund — to which he also gave generously during his lifetime.

HOW TO PROPOSE MARRIAGE — and get a public response. Daniel Benzali, en route to D.C. for “Murder at 1600,” left a note for Kim Cattrall: “I love you — marry me, Daniel.” When he checked in (surrounded by guests) at the Ritz-Carlton in D.C., the desk clerk announced he had a message for Benzali: “Yes, I will marry you, love, Kim.” Daniel returned to L.A. Sunday night to seal the proposal with you-know-what. They’ll wed in the spring … A memorial to Claudette Colbert will be held 10 a.m. Sept. 4 at N.Y.’s St. Vincent Ferrer Church at Lexington and 66th … Congrats to LeMond-Zetter Management, celebrating its 25 th anni … Norman Corwin’s new radio drama, “No Love Lost,” set in 1799 with Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton debating, tapes Tuesday 8-9: 30 p.m. at BevHills’ Museum of TV & Radio’s John Mitchell Theater, with Lloyd Bridges, Jack Lemmon and William Shatner, and Martin Landau as (fictional) moderator. NPR will rebroadcast the ever-timely subjects during the presidential elections.

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