Simon, Halmi plan long partnership

GOOD MORNING from London and Shepperton Studios, where Neil Simon is writing scenes for his next play “Proposals,” between scenes of his “London Suite.” Latter is being filmed here for Robert Halmi Sr.’s Hallmark banner and NBC; Halmi, on the set as usual, is proposing more projects with Simon, who is more than willing. “We (Halmi and I) have a contract: neither one of us will die, and we will keep working together!” In the past two years they’ve teamed on “The Sunshine Boys,” “Jake’s Women” and now, “London Suite.” In October, Halmi starts the vidversion of Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park,” then “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” and the all-femme “Odd Couple,” which could become a series. Halmi has big-screen plans as well: in London, he’s made deals with John Stevenson, of Henson’s Creature Shop, for bigscreeners starting with “Raptor Red,” followed by “Animal Farm” and for the small screen, “The Odyssey.” Looking further ahead than his recent brochure of projects, Halmi told me he wants to film “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Moby Dick,” “Brave New World” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” “Can you imagine what Cecil B. De Mille could do with today’s movie technology?” Halmi asked. With the ever-increasing number of Halmi films, the Hallmark Network looms larger on the international TV market. Robert Halmi Jr. said their network is now seen in 18 countries, with more upcoming (including the U.S.). He heads to Mip and Cannes with the list. Simon’s “Chapter Two” remains a hit on London’s boards with Tom Conti and Sharon Gless starring and getting raves — from Neil included. Upcoming on London’s legit scene are Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,””The Goodbye Girl” and the femme “Odd Couple.”

NEIL SIMON HAD A CLOSE CALL HERE when he gargled with disinfectant, which he had bought thinking it was mouthwash! A doctor was summoned before Simon had swallowed any of the poison: he had just rinsed with it when he noted its strange strength and taste. After a few days care, he was OK, but admits he was plenty scared. It’ll probably be a scene in an upcoming Simon play — just as his bad back experience in London a few years ago is now being enacted by Michael Richards in a segment of “London Suite.” Richards, along with the other cast members of this vidversion of Simon’s Off B’way play, never saw the play or a script of the TV’er. Halmi signed them strictly on the basis that it was to be written for the small screen by Simon. Neil told me he prefers it this way, since he can tailor the roles for these players. “You can’t do that for the stage, because the original actors change after their contracts expire so you have to write the parts for a nameless actor.” This cast includes Kelsey Grammer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Madeline Kahn, Jonathan Silverman, Richard Mulligan (who was in Halmi’s first and only bigscreen feature, “Visit to a Chief’s Son” in ’73 ), Patricia Clarkson, Julie Hagerty, Jane Carr, Paxton Whitehead, Kristen Johnston and Richards … Simon, who once said he would not return to B’way (because of the enormous costs, etc.) will bring “Proposals” there rather than to Off B’way “because it is a Broadway show.” It will probably be budgeted at $1.5 million and bows at the Ahmanson, working its way across the country in tryouts pre-B’way. Simon reminds he’s done 28 shows on B’way and only one Off, but still believes that B’way’s days are numbered because of costs. “And the Shuberts agree with me,” he added. He’s completed the first book — up to 1973 — of his “memoirs,” titled “Rewrites” (Simon & Schuster); this fall, he’ll tour on weekends because he’ll be busy filming “Barefoot in the Park”! Halmi’s also busy with Glenn Close upcoming in Simon’s “Only When I Laugh” and Candice Bergen in “Tim.” Halmi admits he tried to get Princess Di for a walk-on in “London Suite”– with payment to her favorite charity. “She said she would have done it if the divorce were over.” What about Fergie? She’s now divorced. Nope, thank you.

JAY SANDRICH, DIRECTING “London Suite,” did three years of “The Cosby Show,” but will not do the new Cosby series because he doesn’t want to commute to N.Y. anymore. He’s shooting “London” with two cameras. Producer Greg Smith, also a Halmi alumnus, isn’t perturbed by the London weather — which, of course, is subject to change without notice … The Grosvenor House Hotel, shown magnificently in the TV movie, will no doubt bring in business, as the hotels featured in “Plaza Suite” and “California Suite” did. Michael Richards, Kramer of “Seinfeld,” told me, “I hope fans will take me in a role without my hair going straight up.” He’ll have a different look in “Liberty Nevada,” which he also films before the TV season starts up again. It will definitely be the last “Seinfeld” season, he says, but he states, “I think there is life after ‘Seinfeld.’ ” He has a different coiffure for “Suite” and, he adds, “My tempo of speech is quite different.” As with “Seinfeld,” Richards told me, “We have a great team on this.”