GOOD MORNING: The battle has been described as “criminally stupid” and one of the worst military disasters of WWII — but Army historians who have seen an early cut of HBO’s “When Trumpets Fade,” have been complimentary to director John Irvin and the pic. It’s the story of the men who fought in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest in which we suffered 24,000 casualties. Why film it now, 50 years later? And why are other WWII pix coming to the fore — Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line”? Irvin, who also directed the Vietnam War-set “Hamburger Hill” in 1987, said there was a “glut” of films about Vietnam, and people are now asking, “What really happened in World War II?” Unlike ’60s WWII films like “The Longest Day,” with an all-star cast (John Wayne, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery, Red Buttons, etc.) Irvin’s “Trumpets” is cast with newcomers, but he’s confident their careers are assured — as were the little-known cast of his “Hamburger” who have moved on to even meatier roles. “Trumpet” will be seen starting June 27 on HBO and will get a Pentagon preem to launch. But next week, Irvin’s off to Australia to direct Robert Halmi’s “Noah’s Ark,” starring Jon Voight. Today, Irvin looks at John Huston’s “The Bible,” which boasts the flood as one of its major sequences. Huston played Noah and was also the voice of God. (Who better?) Noah’s wife was played by Ava Gardner. Mary Steenburgen is set for that role in the NBC version. F. Murray Abraham will play Lot. The ark will float in a giant tank Halmi had built for “Moby Dick” in a studio 20 miles south of Melbourne. Huston’s ark for “The Bible” was built on a stage at Cinecitta in 1965. I visited Huston (as director, Noah and God!) and his live menagerie on that set — it was a sight not to be forgotten. Halmi and Irvin will have 800 animals — arriving two by two, natch, in their version. But many will be created by CGI. “We will also have several animals which are now extinct. And, the way we are destroying our environment, there may be even more extinct creatures.” He says their film will point out how God’s rage with man brought on the deluge — a lesson he hopes will be learned from this “Noah’s Ark.”
THE SHRINE AUDITORIUM is booked again for 1999 and the year 2000 — when 2,000 performers will be on that stage. The stars: the California Jr. Philharmonic, which packed the Shrine on Wednesday night for its 61st anniversary concert. Dr. Ernst Katz, the orch’s ageless founder-conductor who has been on the podium since its debut Jan. 22, 1937, talks about the future with the same enthusiasm as he batoned the 133 youngsters — plus a few alumni Wednesday night. Katz was again joined by concertmaster Gary S. Greene and the gala’s coordinator Lori Gordon to present the program at which Andrew Lloyd Webber was announced as accepting honorary membership. The finale featured the great Shrine Moller organ played by Francis Atkinson on a medley of music from “The Phantom of the Opera.” The applause went on for a full five minutes with cheers begging for more. It was a memorable moment — and night. Terry Murphy femceed the program which included Emmy-winner Joseph Campanella narrating to Mendelssohn’s Nocturne. Another feature of the annual concert is the celebrity “Battle of the Batons ” which yours truly m.c.’d. Competing this year with their (eccentric) batoning were Monty Hall, “Sister Sister’s” Rolonda, “Saved by the Bell’s” Dustin Diamond, the one-and-only Billy Barty, and fresh from her tour on “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” Barbara Eden. The celebs went all out to entertain the appreciative crowd. The loudest applause went to Diamond, who was awarded the “Golden Baton.” Past winners Gale Storm and Jack Carter also entertained the crowd. It was a warm night, again combining good citizenship with entertainment for families of today — and tomorrow.
WARREN BEATTY was speaking Russian with ballerina Nina Ananiashvili at Elaine’s following the American Ballet Theatre’s performance of “The Merry Widow” at the Metropolitan Opera House, natch . She was taken to Elaine’s by Nancy Ellison and Bill Rollnick. Nancy took all the photos in the ABT’s souvenir book. Beatty was with “Bulworth” co-star Paul Sorvino. P.S.: Elaine missed the action — she’s at Pritikin in Miami. … Whetting his taste for N.Y. where he’ll soon be living: Jerry Seinfeld was lunching Thursday at Barney Greengrass’ deli in Barney’s BevHills. His appetite was apparently still great as he lunched on: Nova, sturgeon, egg whites and onions. … Chasen’s (the original on Beverly Blvd.) parking lot was the site for Pamela Anderson’s trailer while she was shooting “VIP’s” nearb. … Robert Evans is making rapid progress toward complete recovery and should be released from the hospital soon. … Phil Leeds guestars Monday (18) night on “Ally McBeal,” Murphy Brown” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Obviously, everyone in the biz loves Phil — who is 82!