Capshaw ‘Loves’ producing

GOOD MORNING: “We’re between special effects and movie stars — and we don’t have either,” laughed Kate Capshaw. But she is more than pleased with her first producing outing on “The Love Letter,” even though it opened between George Lucas’ “The Phantom Menace” and this weekend’s Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant starrer “Notting Hill.” And Capshaw says she’d produce a pic again — “But I have to fall in love again,” she added — with the material. She produced “The Love Letter” with Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Sanford, having fallen in love with the Cathleeen Schine novel when she first read it. Capshaw and the rest of the principal cast also worked for love (that means little money) — thus making it possible to bring it in at $8 million. Yes, husband Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks distributes and his wife says he did offer advice (when asked) on casting, etc. And, she emphasized, “DreamWorks is wonderful to work with — they give artists so much freedom of expression.” Despite the obvious relationship, Kate was a very hands-on producer. “I put on my producer’s hat from the very beginning. I prefer knowing what’s going on — before.” She even learned the ropes about distribution. “And Terry Press taught me what the numbers meant during the opening weekend,” she said, although reminding that Steven hates looking at opening night/weekend numbers. He left town when Kate’s pic bowed — he went on vacation with their kids along with George Lucas and his brood — “to build sand castles.” But Kate admits she and Steven are indeed talking about doing a film together. “A film noir — a mystery,” she says. Her daughter, Jessica Capshaw (22), who co-starred with her in “The Locusts,” next stars in the newly picked up ABC sitcom “Odd Man Out.”

FARAH FAWCETT IS BACK AT WORK. She stars in the CBS dramatic telepic “Silk Hope,” co-starring Brad Johnson, directed by Kevin Dowling and produced by Beth Polson. In “Hope,” Fawcett plays a Southern small-towner who takes a job in the steel mill to try and keep the family farm. Fawcett was repped by agents Harry Gold and Daryl Marshak and manager Mark Berg … Esther Williams brought down the house — Carnegie Hall, that is, Tuesday night at the MGM tribute boasting a hefty list of stars of the halcyon days. Among stories: Esther recalled discussing with Maureen O’Sullivan that Johnny Weismuller would lift up his leather thong! And she told of censors objecting to the line “I’d love to GET YOU on a slow boat to China” so, she instead sang “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in “Neptune’s Daughter.” Other MGM stars delighting the Carnegie crowd included Van Johnson, Cyd Charisse, Tony Martin, Betty Garrett, Marge Champion (who danced with Donald Sadler), June Allyson, Margaret O’Brien, Harold Nicholas and Gloria De Haven. Liza Minnelli was in the audience watching as many of her mother Judy Garland’s clips were screened. Williams, Margaret O’Brien, Charisse and Martin later told more Culver City tales as they celebrated at Elaine’s … And today is Fred Astaire Day in N.Y., by proclamation of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who notes, “Even in the midst of two painful chapters in our history — the Depression and WWII — Fred Astaire never failed to bring joy and hope to millions of Americans through his indisputable talent.” Tonight, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences toasts Astaire (his 100th birthday celebration) at N.Y.’s Museum of Modern Art. Participating there are Cyd Charisse, Leslie Caron, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Steve Buscemi, Arlene Dahl, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Celeste Holm, Kim Hunter, Sylvia Miles, Abe Vigoda, Andre Previn, Paul Morrisey, Irwin Winkler and Marni Nixon. Stanley Donen emcees … Add to the list of those honoring Liza Minnelli on behalf of R.A.D.D. (Recording Artists, Actors, and Athletes Against Drunk Driving): James Coburn, Jason Alexander, Burt Reynolds, Michael Feinstein, Gena Rowlands, Martin Landau, Linda Ronstadt, Ed Begley Jr., David Foster, Rod Stewart, Julian McMahon, David Hasselhoff and Brooks Burns. Howie Mandel and Jon Lovitz host — June 7 at the BevHilton.

THE LADIES ARE COMING: Sharon (Mrs. Gray) Davis, Women’s Event Honorary Chair of Gore 2000, Tipper Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton will head a fundraising brunch at the BevWilshire June 12 … Frankie Laine (85) and Marcia Kline (59) will wed June 5 at the Del Coronado Hotel … Paxton Whitehead joins Tim Conway and Betsy Palmer in Ron Clark’s new play, “A Bench in the Sun,” starting rehearsals June 14 at the Westport Country Playhouse. The run is two weeks only as Conway’s booked with Harvey Korman the rest of the year. Bill Haber, who produces with Jim McKenzie, wants to bring the play to B’way in early 2000 … Debra Kelman, the delightful PR director for Loews Hotels for the past nine years, has opened her own PR offices in N.Y. — repping Loews as well as other accounts … And Gotham’s David Salidor whose dis Co. praisery celebrated its 15th anni, is opening a Coast office on Sunset Blvd. next month … Larry Flynt and Buddy Hackett host a book party for their late pal Harold Robbins, on (paperback) publication of his “The Predators,” June 22 at Flynt’s Sunset Strip Hustlers’ Hollywood. Robbins’ daughter, Adreana, author of “Paris Never Leaves You” (Tor/Forge Books), will be among those on hand.