Miller ‘Focus’-es on Macy Film

GOOD MORNING: “To have a legend stop by — and for five hours,” Oscar nominee David Paymer exclaimed. “And just as I was doing my big scene!” Arthur Miller arrived on the Toronto set of “Focus,” the feature version of Miller’s 1945 novel. Paymer and fellow Oscar nominees William H. Macy and Laura Dern star in this based-on-reality novel by Miller, who experienced anti-Semitism first-hand when he worked in the N.Y. shipyards during WWII. Paymer emotionally told me, “The story is relevant today and it’s so powerful I couldn’t say no.” He plays Finkelstein, a Jewish candy store owner in N.Y. Macy, who is not Jewish , is forced to take a stand when he is also victimized by anti-Semitic thugs. There’s also a Father Coughlin-like character. “To have read this book written by Miller 55 years ago and then see the man on the set was awesome.” What did Miller think of Paymer’s performance? “He gave me an approving smile,” said the modest thesp. Miller then winged to London, where his “All My Sons” is at the National and for the casting talks on “Mr. Peters’ Connections,” in which Peter Falk starred successfully on B’way. Miller’s son Robert A. is producer of “Focus ,” Michael Bloomberg is exec producer and total financial backer of the project directed by Neal Slavin from a script by Kendrew Lascelles. Paymer and Macy will also be seen this Fall in David Mamet’s “State and Main,” which Paymer says “is a scathing indictment of Hollywood.”

He plays a director, Macy a producer. Sarah Jessica Parker plays a thesp who refuses to show her breasts in a pic whereupon Paymer threatens to ruin her career. Alec Baldwin costars in the Fine Line feature.

TALKING ABOUT SCATHING indictments: Joe Eszterhas’ “American Rhapsody” (Knopf) was given a sendoff last night at the Mondrian on the Sunset Strip by Tina Brown and Talk magazine, which publishes hefty excerpts in its next issue. Asked howcum he wrote the book instead of another script, Eszterhas told me, “I thought I saw a lot of parallels between Hollywood and Washington. Politics has become entertainment and entertainment has become politics. I had no idea I’d be writing a 900-page book, but as I was writing it, I found I was having more fun than anything I’d had in a long time.” He chooses no favorites, dissects Hollywood and Washington characters equally. The White House is a favorite target but he insists he is “a registered Independent.” He also attacks the “right-wing cabal — how it was born and how it tried to ruin the President.” As for the Hollywood victims, he leaves no stone (Sharon or otherwise) unturned. But it’s only the beginning of his “Rhapsody.” Several chapters that Knopf would not print — either for content or space — are included in the 12-tape, 24 -side New Millennium Audio, parts of which I was the first to hear. And my ears are still burning — for those he’s skewered. The tapes, produced by Michael Viner, Deborah Raffin and Jessica Kaye, are celeb vocalized (as previously enumerated here) with Raffin also on vocals — as Hillary Clinton. David Dukes is thevoice of Eszterhas, the author. On a more personal note, Eszterhas and wife Naomi are expecting their fourth son, Aug. 26.

IT WAS TRIBUTE NIGHT all around town. At the Museum of Television & Radio it was “An Evening with Larry Gelbart.” Museum prez Robert M. Batscha, as usual, hosted and led the Q&A with Larry in the John Mitchell Theater, with priceless clips of Gelbart’s works alternating between the hilarious to the super-serious. They included the Bob Hope initial TV show, “Caesar’s Hour,” “MASH,” “Mastergate ,” “Barbarians at the Gate,” “Weapons of Mass Distraction,” etc. During dinner, friends added their tributes. Carl Reiner called Gelbart “the Jonathan Swift of today,” and Larry in turn praised Carl as being able to speak “without a net.” Sid Caesar could not attend: He broke a hip. Steve Lawrence sang Gelbart’s song (written with Sheldon Keller), “Hello, Stage Deli, Send Up an Order of Love”! Dick Martin said Gelbart didn’t write any of the “Rowan & Martin’s” Laugh-Ins” — ‘”But we stole from him!” George Schlatter said, “Larry has great fun conceiving, creating and constructing humor where the joke is in the behind of the beholder.” It was a warm evening of love and talent — and not a four-letter word was spoken Steve Lawrence told me he and Eydie play the final date at Caesars Palace, Sept. 3, after which the showroom closes Over at the Sony Studios, the Burt Lancaster Theater was inaugurated with a screening of the restored 1966 classic Lancaster starrer, “The Professionals.” On hand were Burt’s three daughters, Joanna, Susan and Sighle and his widow, Susie Lancaster. Friends there included the Howard W. Kochs, Lucy Kibbee, Carlyn Benjamin, Max Whitehouse, Monty Hall and Grover Crips of Sony Restoration, Steve Zaillian, etc. Tonight at the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mavis (Mrs. Jay) Leno intro’s a program by the Islamic group of the Revolutionary Assn. of the Women of Afghanistan which seeks to reestablish basic human rights for the women of their homeland who suffer (horrendously!) under the Taliban regime. The program also will be broadcast next week on http://www.wiesenthal.com.