GOOD MORNING: The five-day Alabama location for “George Wallace,” Turner Network Television’s three-hour biopic, has been canceled by director-producer John Frankenheimer, exec producer Mark Carliner and co-producer Ethel Winant. I found them all in the governor’s mansion Thursday morning — it was an L.A. mansion doubling for the Montgomery, Ala., governor’s residence. The scene was the inaugural party of Gov. Big Jim Folsom (played by Joe Don Baker), attended by George Wallace (Gary Sinise), Folsom’s 1955 campaign manager. Also at the inaugural party, Wallace’s wife, Lurleen (played by Mare Winningham), and Clarence Williams III (Wallace’s aide, Archie). The current Alabama governor, Fob James Jr., already has announced, “I wish the scoundrels who are producing this fanciful work of fiction would stay out of this state. They are not fit to trod on Alabama soil.” Well, he doesn’t have to worry. The moviemakers will do it all here and for $11.8 million, thanks to the original go-ahead from Ted Turner after Frankenheimer won his third Emmy last year. And thanks also to the dough go-ahead from TNT’s Julie Weitz. (TNT budgeted Frankenheimer $18 million for his award-winning “Andersonville.”) As for the Alabama brouhaha, Frankenheimer said, “They want us to whitewash George Wallace. We’re showing a part of Alabama history. It has our respect but we’re not a documentary, we’re a drama. It’s a drama based on real events (as written by Paul Monash and Marshall Frady). I think people of Alabama will love this movie. It’s important. Racism is still a strong issue in this country. That’s why this picture is so important. There’s a whole generation that doesn’t even know about George Wallace there are people working on this picture who don’t even know George Wallace.” Next, Frankenheimer has a solid commitment for a feature for New Line as part of the deal for having done “The Island of Dr. Moreau” “After four days on (‘Moreau’), I realized I could never be paid enough!” He also has “The Long Rains” in preparation for Brian Grazer and Universal, which also will star Sinise. “Working with a guy like Gary Sinise,” Frankenheimer said, “makes you realize why you got into this business.” Frankenheimer puts him in the same class with Fredric March, Michael Caine, Angela Lansbury, Roy Scheider and Raul Julia. Frankenheimer also is planning a Daniel Boone epic for producer Barry Spikings with script by Gavin Stuart.
IT WAS EASIER TO SHOOT ‘Stalin’ in the Kremlin than it would have been to shoot ‘Wallace’ in Alabama,” admitted exec producer Carliner, who revealed when he discussed his upcoming Wallace biopic in Russia, they told him they saw in Wallace the potential of a Hitler! Carliner promised the Wallace pic would be “true and as accurate as ‘Stalin.’ And, if audiences don’t have a tear in their eyes at the conclusion we’ve failed.” He follows Wallace with a six-hour version of “The Shining” for ABC and “The Stick Wife,” starring Jessica Lange playing the wife of a KKK leader in 1967 Sinise told me it was Frankenheimer who convinced him to play Wallace even though he’d done the biopic of Harry Truman. On completion of the biopic, he heads to the Steppenwolf Theater in Chi (which he started with Jeff Perry and Terry Kinney) to star in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” May 4, with Kinney also directing Winningham, playing Wallace’s first wife, admitted she feels “a tug” playing another real person. After portraying Helen Keller she said she’d gotten a letter from a relative of Keller’s complaining about an untrue scene. I assured her the “Wallace” producers promised truth. Winningham next hopes to direct the film of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Prozac Nation” When I left the inaugural party scene, complete with roast pig and country music strummin,’ a huge banner beckoned, “Y’all Come.” Y’all hear that down in Alabama?
ALL OF SHOWBIZ IS SHOCKED and saddened by the tragic death of young Ennis Cosby, son of Camille and Bill Cosby. Among the hundreds of condolence callers were President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Bill Cosby had been with son Ennis at the L.A. family home Sunday when the entertainer winged out to receive his two People’s Choice awards. When William Morris agent Tom Illius saw Ennis at the Cosby home Sunday he was in fine spirits, “Gave me a hug,” said Illius, adding his praises of the youngster to all those in the biz who knew the Columbia post-grad education major who was planning to be a teacher. Wednesday, his mother, Camille, was on the phone with the Morris men as I was on the phones with them she was happily discussing her pic-producing plans. Hours later, she was hysterical with grief when the agents and longtime family friends confirmed the tragedy to her the next morning Niels Blach, husband of publicist Lisa Kasteler, died of a heart attack Monday. Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, with donations to the Christopher Reeve Foundation requested in lieu of flowers. … Sorry to learn that Flo Haley, 94, widow of Jack Haley, died Dec. 30. She was a Ziegfeld Girl and B’way actress. She also is survived by two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A memorial Mass is planned for 3 p.m. Feb. 1 at St. Victor’s on Holloway Drive.