Caldwell comes home as Melbourne legit lineup firms

GOOD MORNING: Another President is coming to the screen: Lyndon Baines Johnson is the subject of “Path to War,” which exec producer Edgar Scherick is preparing for HBO. And there’ll be no insertions of the real Johnson into footage of the pic, says Scherick. “I’m a strong believer when you establish an actor, he plays the part.” And what actor wouldn’t like to portray LBJ? Scherick has asked Joe Sargent to direct; he is now helming Showtime’s “The Wall” with Scherick again exec producing. It’s about the Vietnam war memorial wall and stories attached to three of its names. Edward James Olmos stars along with Savion Glover (of “Bring in Da Noise”), Ruby Dee, Michael DeLorenzo and 11-year-old Canadian youngster Trevor Blomas. Vietnam war scenes involving ‘copters and swamps (complete with palm trees) are being reproduced — outside Toronto. Sargent last year directed the also politically based “Miss Evers’ Boys” and “Mandela and De Klerk,” which garnered 14 Emmy nominations — ironically, none of ’em for Sargent, director of both! He shrugs, “It’s just a crazy system” … And talking about computer-inserted characters, Steve McQueen, in “Bullitt,” is superimposed in new Ford commercials (for the Puma model) being shown in England. Peter Yates, who directed the classic 1968 film, viewed a copy sent him from Y&R. “I was quite amazed to see it this way — after 30 years,” he told me. McQueen’s estate (son Chad and daughter Terry) was cleared ($) for it — and Chad, a successful indie prod, tells me the commercial was “very nicely done.” What about a share for Yates and for other directors of scenes shown on star-regenerated commercials? Yates will take the question to the DGA. He just wound “The Trouble With Stevenson” starring Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and James Spader and next starts Somerset Maugham’s “Being Julia” reteaming with his “The Dresser” partner and screenwriter Ronald Harwood, for producer Mark Milne.

ALTHOUGH POLYGRAM’S taken away Bob Altman’s “The Gingerbread Man” from the vet director to edit on their own, Altman was able to screen his version for 100 (friends?) in N.Y. Tuesday night. He was heartened by their hefty applause. Although he’s not permitted to comment, Lee Grant, who viewed it, voluntarily called to say Altman’s version of the John Grisham screenplay, at 109 mins., is “linear-driven.” She said his version is “brilliant, a visual thriller! I don’t know where they (Polygram) can make cuts — it’s so linear.” (Grant had her own experience having a movie taken away from her: Bruce Willis’ “Broadway Brawler.”) “Gingerbread,” which stars Kenneth Branagh, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall, Darryl Hannah, Embeth Davidtz and Famke Janssen, reportedly cost under $25 million. Polygram’s last test screening — in a mall — was for an audience reportedly 50% under 29. But the movie is reportedly aimed “at those who read the New York Times and drink cappuccino.” Friends wonder what support the cast will give to the movie — if it’s edited below their expectations or what was seen Tuesday night. Many worked below their usual fees to be with Altman … “King Kong was horny, but Mighty Joe Young is friendly,” reports David Paymer, who co-stars as the pic’s zoologist. The versatile Paymer, Oscar-nominated for “Mr. Saturday Night,” previously worked for “Mighty Joe Young” director Ron Underwood in “City Slickers” and “Heart and Souls” and just recently for Steven Spielberg in “Amistad,” the dramatic story of slavery in the U.S. In “Amistad,” he plays Secretary of State John Forsyth, who, he reports, wanted to have the captured slaves executed! It was the third governmental acting job for Paymer, who previously co-starred in “The American President” and ‘”Nixon.” Now, after working with the Rick Baker-created 15-foot animatronic Joe Young, Paymer admits, “He (Joe) is a better actor than many I’ve worked with!”

ELLEN DEGENERES, back from visiting Anne Heche on the Hawaii locations of “Six Days, Seven Nights,” lunched at Drai’s Cafe in BevHills with ABC’s Stu Bloomberg. DeGeneres starts the new “Ellen” ABC season this week. And “Six Days,” starring Harrison Ford and Heche, directed by Ivan Reitman, will shoot scenes at Drai’s next month. Victor Drai opens his Las Vegas eatery at the Barbary Coast Sept. 12 with a party for Oscar de la Hoya on the eve of his big bout. What do you feed a fighter before he dons boxing trunks? … N.Y.’s “21” exec chef Erik Blauberg teamed with the BevWilshire’s chef Richard Leveckis to present a summer tasting here while the N.Y. eatery’s being renovated. After his L.A. stop, Blauberg winged to duet-cook at SanFran’s Clift hotel this week … E! Entertainment’s Kymberly Douglas and husband Jerry Douglas (“The Young and the Restless”) welcomed their first, son Hunter William D., Aug. 2 at Cedars-Sinai.

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