Extravaganza slated for Tony opener

GOOD MORNING: Wanna know the opening number of the Tonys, June 3? Producers of the four nominated revival musicals met all day Tuesday with exec producer Gary Smith and with — New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority. Howcum the MTA? To set aside a dedicated subway train and station track for this Tony show launcher: The cast of “42nd Street” will exit Ford theater on 42nd St. and enter the subway station, where it will board a train joined with the cast of “Rocky Horror Show” and “Bells Are Ringing” (also nominees). All three groups then exit the 50th St. station, head onto the stage of the Radio City Music Hall, join the other nominee, “Follies,” and all four companies perform a giant tap number to open the show, directed by Glen Weiss. Although Equity only allows performers to appear on the Tonys in portions of their own show, they’ve given waivers for all four casts to join in the doings (pre-taped) on the subway and the tap extravaganza for the opener. It’s very expensive, and all shows help defray the costs for the Tony appearances (a great public relations outing, of course). And how do you follow that opening number? “And now — ladies and gentlemen, your hosts for the 55th Annual Tony Awards, (nominees) Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane!” That’s showbiz!

LONG LIVE “THE EMPEROR” — he turned 75 Tuesday. He is, of course, Don Rickles, who, many thought, might have been assassinated long ago because of his bravado barbs from coast-to-coast boites. It was back in 1957 when he thundered onto a Hollywood Blvd. stage for the first time at Zardi’s. I had already been writing the “Just for Variety” column for four years and occasionally did nitery reviews when the paper was short-handed because of the plethora of saloon acts in those days. I was at Zardi’s that fateful opening night but, luckily, I didn’t review Rickles. I didn’t dig him. Fortunately, Mike Kaplan did, and he noted of Rickles’ act, “It defies formal description.” It still does — and he still remains inimitable and everyone loves him for it … The love poured forth at the plush, new St. Regis Hotel Century City, where Don’s wife, Barbara, gathered family and close friends to royally toast the roaster-uber-alles. Son Larry created a reel of Rickles’ life and career with scenes from L.A.’s Slate Bros. club on La Cienega, where celebs packed the joint just to have Rickles ridicule ’em. They varied from Frank Sinatra to Louella O. Parsons. Yeah, even yours truly was flattered to be flattened. Rickles’ daughter Mindy was on hand with husband Ed — they are expecting the second Rickles grandchild. Also there, Rickles’ longtime manager Eliott Weisman (he also managed Frank Sinatra for whom Rickles often opened) and Jerry Brownstein, Don’s business manager for over 40 years. Best pals, the Bob Newharts, were there. Nancy O’Connor on hand sans Carroll (hospitalized for treatment of an infected toe — you recall diabetes cost him a toe last year). Carroll is undergoing treatment at home today. And Dolly Martin was there solo, sans Dick, who was hospitalized with a heart problem, fixed with medication. He too is home today. Martin is celebrating the purchase of all four years of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” by Bill Haber’s Trio cable web (airs twice a day, five days a week starting June 10). George Schlatter, at Rickles’ party, is busy editing two minutes out of each to comply with the 49 mins. cable format. The show sold for $25,000 a seg, and there are 141 of ’em. “Laugh-In” was also bought by Rhino for the homevideo market … Tony Danza even got Rickles and Jerry Perenchio to sing (“Our Love Is Here to Stay”). And when Jerry Vale complimented Danza, the latter was non-plussed: “Jerry Vale complimenting MY singing!” Danza exclaimed. Meanwhile Danza has a three-week gig at Feinstein’s in the Regency in N.Y., June 12-30. He’s winding the “Family Law” season and Monday’s seg deals with the death penalty — two days before the McVeigh execution. On Monday’s episode, Danza opposes the death penalty. Pals at the party were also concerned about the absent Dick Van Patten, but I spoke to him Tuesday and he’s OK after surgery removed a stone from his bladder. He and Frank Gorshin head out on a three-month tour with “The Sunshine Boys” this summer. Son Jimmy Van Patten plays Dick’s nephew in the Neil Simon classic … Although 75, Rickles isn’t slowing down one bit — he’s busier than ever. He plays the Stardust May 17-20 in Vegas, part of a two-year deal; June 1 at Caesars Coliseum in Omaha; June 2 at the Chicago Comedy Fest, and dates through the summer including a July 15 date with Regis Philbin at the New Jersey Performing arts Center in Newark.

HARRISON FORD, WHO HAS HAD PLENTY of (movie) thrills and chills — hosts the AFI’s “100 Years … 100 Thrills” on CBS, airing June 12. He taped his seg in New York. Talking birthdays, George Clooney celebrated his 40th with a party at his house, with most of the cast of “Ocean’s Eleven” on hand. Clooney’s date was Lisa Snowden. “Ocean’s” producer Jerry Weintraub presented Clooney with a completely restored 1974 Cadillac station wagon … Billy Wilder is home after a brief hospital stay for pneumonia. “Sunset Boulevard” screened at the El Capitan’s 75th anni Tuesday night with guests including Nancy Olson and Ray Evans who, with partner Jay Livingston, had written — on Wilder’s request — this song for the pic, “I’ve Got the Paramount-Don’t-Want-Me Blues.” It was cut after the (unfavorable) Chicago sneak.