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Willis repays Perry’s ‘Friend’-ship

GOOD MORNING: Bruce Willis is a true friend — he will be guesting in three “Friends” segs. The reason: friendship with Matthew Perry, who asked him to do it. They became buddies during the filming of “The Whole Nine Yards” and Perry presented Willis with his People’s Choice Award Jan. 9 … The $20 million-a-pic Willis is working on “Friends” for free — he will donate his entire TV salary to charities. Willis starts the first seg tonight, after he completes work during the day on his untitled Disney feature for director Jon Turteltaub. In “Friends” he will play Paul Stevens, described as “an attractive widower and father of David Schwimmer’s new, 20-year-old girlfriend.” The first seg’s skedded to air April 27. Willis continues on his non-stop work routine, next starring in “Unbreakable” for his “Sixth Sense” director M. Night Shyamalan and costarring Samuel Jackson … Dancing, no — music, yes. There’ll be something to sing about besides the five nominated songs on this year’s Oscars. Burt Bacharach and Don Was are choosing from among past Oscar-winning and nominated songs for a medley to point up the fact so many hit records originated in movies — going back as far as the ’30s, before there ever was any dream of a VH-1. Garth Brooks will be singing at least one of those tunes: “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969). The Oscar-winning tune was originally sung/recorded by B.J. Thomas and became a multimillion-platter seller. It was written by Bacharach and Hal David (who reunited recently, to write two songs for Bette Midler in “Isn’t She Great”). Garth is happy to sing “Raindrops” because “Butch” screenwriter Bill Goldman is his good friend. Brooks is also happy to be on the Academy Awards, “to be part of the (Hollywood) community” which he and partner Lisa Sanderson (Red Strokes Entertainment) are entering in grand scale. They have two projects at Par: “The Lamb,” in which Garth plays the Chris Gaines character he launched last year, plus a one-hour dramatic series; they also have a sitcom at Imagine. Before warbling at the Oscars, Brooks sings at a UCLA Medical Center fundraiser to be held March 22 on the 20th Fox lot. Garth is now swinging, not singing, at the Mets’ Spring Training camp at Port St. Lucie, Fla.

WHO WAS MOST EXCITED to learn that “American Beauty” had won the five top awards from the London Critics’ Assn. last night — Billy Wilder, that’s who. Director Sam Mendes had asked me to forward the results to Billy. Mendes previously said that Wilder’s “The Apartment” was his (Mendes’) inspiration for the film. Billy was thrilled to hear the results, telling me, “It’s a great picture, it’s every bit as good as the best of the ‘golden years’ of Hollywood. It is delightful — and quality.” The two will meet on Mendes’ return from London. Calling me from the lobby of the Dorchester last night, immediately after the awards in the ballroom, Mendes said he really wanted to thank the British critics — their good words about the pic has made it a smash in England and Europe. It’s on its way to a global tally of $200 million ($87 million domestically) — at a cost of $15 million. Before doing another pic (for DreamWorks where he had a great relationship on “American Beauty”) Mendes says he’ll return to the theater. A pic in development, however, is “The Lookout,” also set in the U.S. — the outskirts of Kansas City.

OSCAR-NOMINEE RUSSELL CROWE is hanging from a helicopter during a snowstorm near Posnan, Poland, today. It’s for a scene in Castle Rock’s (WB) “Proof of Life” for director Taylor Hackford. He laughingly reported they needed snow and couldn’t get the elements to cooperate so they trucked in tons of it — then, it was rained all away. But Thursday, it finally started to snow, and Crowe is airborne. He says he loves working with Meg Ryan and the pic will take him to locations in Ecuador and interiors at Pinewood. He’ll get time to wing to L.A. for the Oscars March 26, as well as p.a. in the U.S. next week for “Gladiator.” In “Proof of Life,” Crowe is seen as his own handsome self (sans beard or the thinned gray hair he sported in “The Insider”). But he transforms again in his next pic, Jodie Foster’s “Flora Plum,” playing “a beast in a freak show” costarring Claire Danes. Crowe has seen a print of Ridley Scott’s 185 A.D.-set “Gladiator” and admits, “It was an overwhelming emotional experience watching it.” He admits he didn’t like watching himself in “The Insider”– “I was wracked with pain. I had never played a real man before. I had studied Jeffrey Wigand (on tapes) before playing him, and I believed him. And then, when I actually met him, it was emotional to see he still walks and talks! It was an impact you cannot get from watching a video!” Did the tobacco company whistle-blower Wigand approve of Crowe’s impersonation-performance? “He’s shaken my hand and looked me in the eye. I tried to honor him.” Crowe did … “Stuart Little” is making a special trip Sunday afternoon to entertain the residents and staff at the Motion Picture Country House. Artists from Imageworks will make a special behind the scenes presentation showing how the Oscar-nominated (best visual effects) “Little” was created — and whatta magnificent job it was! The event is part of the program of the Motion Picture Fund’s Next Generation Council. Join it.

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