Eye readies Landon biopic

GOOD MORNING: The Michael Landon story is being readied for CBS, with Michael Landon Jr. to make his directorial bow on a script by Linda Bergman (“The Jessica Savitch Story” and “Barbara Mandrell Story”). No thoughts, yet, of who could play Landon. The Jim Green/Allen Epstein biopic hits on the father-son relationship in view of the very public breakup of Landon with his (second) wife Lynne; she’s the mother of Michael Jr., who was 13 and one of four children when they split. Landon, fils, says he does not have permission of Landon’s third wife, Cindy, for the biopic (she would be seen in the funeral scene, though Lynne held a service of her own). Landon Jr. says the movie is “about forgiveness, a father-son story of unfinished business.” Said writer Bergman, “We’re trying to show the legacy of love that Michael left for his son.” Although young Landon has not directed previously, he has eight years behind cameras, plus editing, acting and production experience, and is an AFI grad … A report on Antonio Banderas, making his directorial bow on TriStar’s “Crazy in Alabama” starring wife Melanie Griffith, comes to us from Rod Steiger. Oscar-winner Steiger, who has been directed by the likes of David Lean, Fred Zinnemann and Sidney Lumet, told me that working for Banderas was “one of the nicest experiences I’ve ever had.” Steiger plays the judge who sentences Griffith for murder. In an emotional summation scene, and passing sentence, Steiger received a standing ovation from the crew. As for Griffith, the actor said, “She reminds me of Judy Holliday — plus the earthiness that makes her attractive as a woman.” (Griffith starred in the remake of Holliday’s classic “Born Yesterday.”) Banderas would have been ahead of sked on his inaugural directing stint, but two film magazine cartridges were faulty, forcing retakes. He’ll be editing the film while also acting in a three-week role for Arne Glimcher’s “White River Kid” in Arkansas with Bob Hoskins and Ellen Barkin. Banderas doesn’t tune up for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s filmed “Phantom of the Opera” until March.

ROBERT DOWNEY JR. WILL PLAY a fast-talking movie studio chairman of the board in Imagine’s “Bofinger” for Universal. Steve Martin, who scripted, plays a groveling producer trying to set superstar Eddie Murphy for one of his pix. Downey completed a four-month jail sentence and was put on a recovery program, and producer Brian Grazer, who set Downey for the role, sez he’s confident of him, adding, “I think he’s a great actor” … “It’s all due to Variety,” says “Howdy Doody’s” Buffalo Bob Smith on the 50th anni of the show’s start. Smith (80) is up from his Flat Rock, N.C., home readying an appearance at QVC’s West Chester, Pa., studios for a unique two-day sellathon. Smith recalled he auditioned with NBC’s first “Howdy Doody” show Dec. 27, l947, with ensuing hosts to have been Paul Winchell and Ed Herlihy, but Variety’s review (by Ben Odec) in the Dec. 31, ’47, edition was such a rave for Smith (“a choice piece of casting”) that he became the regular. The rest, as they say, is history for “It’s Howdy Doody Time.” After Smith left the show, he found new success in the ’70s at autograph shows along with baseball greats — plus appearances at colleges! The nostalgia craze continues today and Friday on QVC as “Howdy Doody” dolls, “Howdy” cookie jars, clocks, T-shirts, etc., go on sale. In 1992, when a 17×14-inch print of “Howdy and Me” by Glen Banse went on sale at QVC at $78 a print, 1,000 were sold in 20 minutes! Now Smith gets an hour to sell the “Howdy Doody” wares … KCOP celebrates its 50th anni with a two-hour special Sept. 11 covering the history of the station — and of L.A. First, on June 24, the TV Acad celebrates the occasion with a panel of alumni from KCOP shows, including Betty White, Socorro Serrano, Lloyd Thaxton, Sally Baker, Al Burton, Rudy Behlmer, etc. UPN News 13 anchor Tawny Little hosts the evening.

B’WAY SCENE: Pierre Cossette, meeting Garth Drabinsky: “It’s a perfect time for us to merge.” Drabinsky: “What would we do?” Cossette: “Well, you’ve got Ovitz and I’ve got Haber, we could start an agency” … The revival of “Let It Ride” — “3 Men on a Horse” musicalized by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston — bows tonight at the Lambs theater in N.Y. for 15 performances (and hopefully more). Mel Miller is producing, with Norm Lewis in the Sam Levene role, Robin Baxter in the Barbara Nichols role, plus David Gurland and Gary Lynch … Kathy Bates is being paged to co-star with Madonna and Goldie Hawn in “Chicago,” to be directed by Nicholas Hytner from a script by Larry Gelbart … Elaine Stritch is set for a role in MGM’s “Ballbusted” opposite Norm MacDonald and Dave Chapelle. The writing team of Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski will direct their first feature. Merritt Blake repped Stritch … The L.A. Zoo’s Beastly Ball, Saturday — starting at 6 p.m. — again boasts a safari-themed bash complete with African dancers, stilt walkers and celeb supporters of the zoo, including Stefanie Powers, Tippi Hedren, Ron Masek, etc. Trainers will share their animals with anyone who wants to make a beastly new friend!