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Coppola: Kennedys inspired ‘Godfather’ themes

GOOD MORNING: The deaths of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law brought to the surface a quote from Francis Coppola. When I visited him Nov. 7, 1989, at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, where he was readying to start filming “The Godfather 3,” I asked if it was true the Corleone family was based on the Coppolas. “Yes,” he said, “and also on the Kennedys and the Rockefellers.” The film-family story was about “power and the violence it breeds.” He could have added, “and the tragedies.” As we talked about his quote and the Kennedys on Wednesday, Francis reminded that “the great royal families in history have always affected all of us.” Francis was certainly affected by the watery death of JFK’s son: On May 26, 1986, Coppola’s 23-year-old son, Gian Carlo Coppola, died in a freak boating accident near the filming location of Francis’ “Gardens of Stone.” As the media in the past few days have recalled scenes of JFK with his then-small son, Francis couldn’t help but be reminded of his own memories of tender moments with young Gian Carlo. “Both were beautiful young men,” he said sadly to me. “Looking at those pictures was heartbreaking.” Coppola is again burying himself in writing, this time on his “opus magnus,” as he smilingly refers to the project. It is again about family and power, set in contemporary New York. But this one is about “many different families,” he says. Of course, one is Italian. While immersed in this serious tome, he also finds time and energy to continue working on the proposed musical version of “Gidget and the Big Kahuna.”

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NEIL SIMON AND ELAINE JOYCE are now “probably” going to be married, he said happily on their return from a family vacation in Italy, Paris and N.Y. Now in L.A., he’s busily re-working (as always) his next play, “The Dinner Party.” What’s it about? In his upcoming “memoir,” “The Play Goes On,” he says the subject of the new play is divorce. “No surprise there,” he admits, ” but it’s not anything about Diane (Lander, ex-wife) and myself, or even about Marsha (Mason, ex-wife) and me.” It’s about three couples: a cast of six. (So far set are John Ritter, Henry Winkler and Veanne Cox.) “Party” world preems at the Mark Taper Dec. 2, with John Rando directing. Rando helmed the current “Merton of the Movies” at the Geffen Playhouse, which Simon will catch this weekend. Before going into rehearsals of “Dinner,” Simon hits the bookselling trail Sept. 25. He enjoys it … Jeff Sagansky, prexy-CEO for family programming’s Pax TV, told me the White House had called ’em for a seg aired on the “Entertainment That Counts” series. It told about kids getting in to see R-rated pictures. Sagansky, the father of 10- and 5-year-old daughters, said the time has come for TV “to exercise better judgment.” He points out the success of “Seventh Heaven,” “Touched by an Angel” and “Providence” on their respective networks as examples that “Audiences are telling us in strong terms what they want to see. Someone’s got to listen!” He adds that “political and sociological events are causing people to say, ‘Are we putting on the right programming?'” But, he acknowledged that the short-term focus on ratings is putting tremendous pressure on the webs. Pax will have seven original series bowing this fall on its 71 stations — with O&O’s on tap, too. Ad sales tripled from last year. So someone out there is listening — and watching … Three of Alfred Hitchcock’s leading ladies, Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren and Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, along with U studio prexy Bob Brisco, will help unveil a bronze statue of the filmmaker at Universal Studios Hollywood, just inside the park, July 27.

I’M TRYING NOT TO get up to $70 million,” said “The Hollow Man” director Paul Verhoeven. He tells me the pic, shuttered while Elisabeth Shue recovers from a torn Achilles tendon, will resume filming in D.C., with exteriors of the White House and, it is hoped, an OK to film inside the Pentagon. The “hollow” man, is of course, the invisible man. While he’s no relative of the Claude Rains-Gloria Stuart “Invisible Man” starrer of 1933 or “Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man” of 1951, Verhoeven laughingly told me he enjoyed seeing the Abbott and Costello pic when he was a kid in Holland. Verhoeven, winner as producer and director of the best Dutch films of the century (“Turkish Delight” and “Soldier of Orange”), admitted he’d like to get back to films of the non-f/x genre, for which he became famous pre-“RoboCop.” Thus, he’s prepping the 19th century, non-fantasy Victoria Woodhull story based on Barbara Goldsmith’s “Other Powers.” Meanwhile, “Hollow Man” goes into new “invisible” ventures as Kevin Bacon goes the disappearing route — in stages. Verhoeven says it really tests technology to the utmost as Bacon erases before our eyes from outer skin to muscle tissue to bones and into vital organs — all displayed. He says, sure, special effects can show a dinosaur moving and no one questions the motion, “But when it comes to showing a human hand (or any other part) disappearing, the motions better be accurate, or else it gets silly.” And silly they don’t want to be at (almost) $70 million! Sony Image Works is being given the task of making the disappearance realistic. The studio’s also building a four-story elevator shaft for one sequence and to accommodate the scene, part of the TriStar Parking structure is being knocked down. And the studio’s giant Stage 15 is converted into an underground facility for another sequence. It’s movie-making of the millennium, folks.