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‘Sign’ brings international crew to H’w’d

GOOD MORNING: What were Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli and Whoopi Goldberg doing at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (formerly Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery) Tuesday morning? Well, actually they were look-alikes for the three stars in a scene for “Hollywood Sign.” Meanwhile three very-much-themselves stars in the scene were Burt Reynolds, Tom Berenger and Rod Steiger — burying their agent. Of course this is a comedy and the entirely made-in-Hollywood movie is being made by the most international group yours truly has ever seen on a set. The director is Germany’s Sonke Wortmann, who quickly told me that working with the above-named trio of stars plus Garry Marshall (who plays a director) “is like going to film school.” Wortmann even graciously invited Reynolds to sit in at a compilation of rushes later this week. Reynolds, of course, has a long record of directing — the most recent, “The Last Producer,” also set in Hollywood. In “Sign,” Reynolds plays a down-and-out, alcoholic actor. “I’m not that down and out,” Reynolds laughed. And as for the “alcoholic,” he noted there is plenty of technical advice available! Wortmann said he took the job, his first American pic, because of the script, by Holland’s Leon De Winter. Berenger says it’s so funny the three of ’em broke up even during the readings pre-filming. De Winter, also a producer of the pic, was standing on the sidelines (near scores of the cemetery’s famous occupants). He told me he didn’t object to the fact Wortmann allows his veteran costars to ad lib when the occasion warranted it. When Steiger said, “This film (in the movie) will rain Oscars,” Reynolds interjected, “Save one for me.” Crew members include English, Czech and German below-the-liners as well as Americans. Among producers and their respective companies involved in this production are Gerhard Meixner, Senator Film AG; Eric Pleskow and Hanno Huth of Senator Film; London-based Amberion Pictures, plus Blue Rider Pictures’ Jeff Geoffray and Walter Josten. And the pic is budgeted for $10 million! Everyone’s paid in U.S. dollars; it’s all deposited in escrow, I was assured … Wortmann has a 34-day shooting sked. “And,” Berenger said, “he shoots so fast, we often leave the set early.” “He knows what he wants,” said Reynolds. He recalled some of the enormous number of takes by William Wyler. “Bette Davis told me she never started to act until take No. 48 (of 50)” … Before “Hollywood Sign,” Reynolds segued from directing “Last Producer” to costar with Richard Dreyfuss in another comedy, “The Crew,” filmed in Reynolds’ native Florida. He next cameos in the Harry Thomason-directed “Crossing the Bar” with Billy Bob Thornton … While standing at the cemetery, I asked the clean-shaven, short-coiffed, very trim Reynolds if he’d given any thought to where he’d like to be buried. “Someone suggested that I have my ashes strewn on the football field of Florida State (his alma mater). And I might as well,” laughed Reynolds. “I had my face stomped into that dirt more times than I can remember.” As I drove off the lush cemetery grounds, which were saved from extinction two years ago by its new owners, I saw a sign for a complete burial for $998, including casket — but not the plot. Plots range from $2,000 to $8,000. That’s real estate and, with real estate, it’s location, location, location.

BILLY CRYSTAL SAYS THE OSCARS whetted his appetite to appear live on stage again and he’s serious about doing his one-man show on B’way. But he’d also like to return to the bigscreen; he and Robert DeNiro are talking new projects well as a possible sequel to “Analyze This.” Right now, he’s concentrating on the May start of “61,” the story of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, which Billy will direct for HBO. At first he was only going to produce but as the script developed in his confabs with writer Hank Steinberg, Billy decided he wanted to direct the very personal story. Billy wrote (along with Bob Costas) the eulogy to Mantle and started his friendship with the great baseball player in 1977; they met on Dinah Shore’s talkshow. The former Tiger Stadium in Detroit will double for Yankee Stadium, but who will double for Maris and Mantle? Ah, that is the problem Crystal has to solve: actors who can play great baseball. “And hopefully not like Tony Perkins in ‘Fear Strikes Out,’ ” he added … In case you wondered, as I did, about the great Oscar opening, he said they shot it in three days, 17 hours a day. That included the three-hour makeup as Sammy Davis Jr., hour and a half as Anne Bancroft, and film sets to double in “The Gold Rush,” “Deliverance,” ‘Taxi Driver,” “Spartacus,” “The Godfather,” “French Connection,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “E.T.,” “West Side Story” and “Psycho” (for which he says Kevin Spacey was “a great sport to do the shower with me”). Billy credits this great writing staff: Billy Martin, Ed Driscoll, Dave Boone, Marc Shaiman, Jeffrey Ross, Jon Macks, David Steinberg and Dakota Films’ director Troy Miller. He also had a group of writers off-stage in a little office, working with 1,100 prepared gags during the show, and many were spontaneous … Despite all his showbiziness, Crystal’s main joy is the fact daughter Jenny Crystal (“Once and Again”) will wed screenwriter Mike Foley Sept. 9 and daughter Lindsay bows her 28-minute short “Snooze,” at the NYU film fest. It’s about a narcoleptic comedian. Billy wings to N.Y. today to applaud her.

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