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‘Thomas’ pulls into Santa Monica station

GOOD MORNING: Britain’s Britt Allcroft, the power behind (creator!) “Thomas Train” videos, PBS shows and most recently the bigscreen feature “Thomas and The Magic Railroad” (the video’s out Oct. 31) has decided to “put my roots down here” — Santa Monica, that is. “And because the company is so big,” she says, “with offices all over the world, with 150 in staff (and approximately capitalized at $225 million on the London exchange), there’s a great deal of corporate responsibilities and I want to spread my wings in productions.” Thus she’s stepped down as deputy chairman of the board of Britt Allcroft Co. PLC and changed its name to Gullane Entertainment here to produce Gullane films. Allcroft will continue to shepherd “Thomas the Train,” “Mumphie” and “Shining Time Station” projects, including a potential second “Thomas” feature under the Gullane umbrella. The first has grossed $16 million — and that’s playing matinees only, she reminds. Barry London, whose Destination Films partnered on the first pic, is not involved with Allcroft’s new ventures, though she admits, “I loved working with Barry and Destination.” These ventures include films beyond kidpix but she insists that children’s fare remains of “major importance.”

IT COST THREE TIMES my first movie,” admits John Frankenheimer of a one-minute, million-$ commercial for 7-Up he just shot in Toronto for Aegis Entertainment. (His first feature was “The Young Stranger” in 1956. It was also the debut feature for James MacArthur.) The blurb is a takeoff of James Bond pix and Frankenheimer, an expert at mayhem movies, sez he loved doing it — and commercials in general. “And as soon as the strike is settled I’ll be doing more of them.” Although not bound to the actors’ pacts, DGA veep Frankenheimer is sympathetic to the thesps and said he only uses “high school kids” in his commercial, which has them involved in tank and car explosions. The f/x are “mechanical,” not digitized. He brought up members of his team who’ve worked on a half-dozen of his previous pix for the minute-long commercial, which will also be shown in a 30-second version — and a femme-less blurb for Saudi Arabia, he added. He heads to Paris next month for the joint SASAM authors’ collection society meet for the Franco-American Cultural Fund along with fellow DGA officers and board members Gil Cates and (DGA president) Jay Roth.

“DIETER” MAY BE DEAD but the Mike Myers’ Universal planned pic paid off those thesps who had signed pacts. Among ’em is Dick Van Patten who was to play Myers’ sidekick. While glad to be reimbursed, Van Patten is sorry the pic’s off: “I had a great role.” David Hasselhoff also regretted the pic’s KO, but he told Van Patten he’d received a million-$ settlement … On the happier side of the ledger is word his dog food label, Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance, is now to be sold nationally in Petco stores. Dick and partners Joey Herrick and Howard Rodriguez established the mom-and-pop company 11 years ago. Now they also supply food for lions and tigers in zoos! Bob Lorsch will include their Balance on his web site, pethealthclub.com, and will contribute his profits to animal charities … Bob Stack — who starred in “The Untouchables,” continues to seriously solve scripts in “Unsolved Mysteries,” and who demonstrated his comedic class in “Airplane” — now agreed to parody his stentorian tones as the voice of Stoat Muldoon, an alien hunter with his own TV talkshow in Justs Entertainment/Mike Young Prods.’ “Butt-Ugly Martians,” a new animated action-adventure-comedy series. Stack not only loved the character, “He has now made it his own,” says Mike Young, exec producer. The three ugly, zany Martians hunted by Stack are voiced by Charlie Schlatter, Rob Paulsen and Jess Harnell.

SHE’S GONNA HAVE A LONG HISTORY. She’s a brilliant joy,” volunteers Kirsten Dunst’s current film father, Oscar-nominated (“Longtime Companion”) and 30-year vet of screen, stage and TV Bruce Davison. Dunst, the toast of today’s hit “Bring It On,” showed her versatility by segueing to that cheerleader role from “Virgin Suicides”; she’s now in Disney’s “At Seventeen” in which the character’s “a mess,” says Davison. The role has her “on drugs and a complete trouble-maker.” So much so, Davison tries to keep her from ruining the life of her boyfriend who wants to go to Annapolis. But Dunst keeps it light off camera, he says, still exhibiting her cheerleader prowess from “Bring It On”! In the Disney pic, Davison play a Democrat state congressman and says he makes references to politicos Gloria Molina, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Tom Hayden and Martin Sheen, “who recommends a rehab center for my daughter. It’s a heartbreaking script.” Davison is also bicycling to “The Practice” in which his original two-seg pact is expanded to six. He’s a murderer convicted for life and appealing through the post-trial seg, the first of which opens the season. Davison also opened David Kelley’s “Chicago Hope” season last year. Although Davison’s character was liquified in “X-Men,” he’s been very much alive again since then.

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