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Gibson’s ‘Passion’ gets votes of confidence

GOOD MORNING: Jack Valenti said “You can quote me — Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion’ is not anti-Semitic. I did not see any anti-Semitism in it. The villains are the Roman soldiers.” Valenti says Gibson “asked me to show it in my theater (at the MPAA in D.C.). He showed it to about 20-30 people.” Valenti said he viewed the (in-final editing) two-hours-plus film with subtitles and “not a lot of dialogue. I found it genuinely moving, serious, a compelling tale of the last days of Christ. I thought it was a good movie,” said Valenti, a Catholic. In a July 30 editorial in Daily Variety, editor-in-chief Peter Bart wrote, “Those who know Gibson well describe him as a quirky, tormented soul with deep Catholic beliefs who is devoid of anti-Semitism. Upon viewing, his film is also without anti-Semitic overtones.” Gibson said he plans a spring release. He did not specify Easter time … As for Valenti’s own plans next year, while he hasn’t made a timetable on retirement. he’s taking an(other) piece of advice from LBJ: “Always leave at the height of a party.” But Valenti promises of his future, “I’m not leaving the industry.”

EVERY OTHER CHARITY has adopted the ‘goodwill ambassador’ name using celebrities for their programs,” Roger Moore said. “But it was 50 years ago when Danny Kaye was seated in a plane next to Maurice Pate, the first executive director of UNICEF, that he learned of the program and truly became the first celebrity ‘goodwill ambassador’.” And on Dec. 3 at the BevHilton, Celebrity Goodwill Ambassadors of UNICEF will gather for “UNICEF Goodwill Gala: 50 Years of Celebrity Advocacy,” Whoopi Goldberg hosts. The names of ambassadors have included Audrey Hepburn, Harry Belafonte, Susan Sarandon, Richard Attenborough, Sarah Jessica Parker. I spoke to two of them, Roger Moore, reached in St. Paul de Vence, France, and Mia Farrow at her farm in Connecticut. Moore, who receives his KBE Oct. 9 from Queen Elizabeth, has traveled to Asia, South America and Europe for 13 years on behalf of UNICEF, and next heads to Vietnam, Cambodia and Sweden — for a doctors’ convention. “That’s good for me as a hypochondriac,” he laughed. “And its lucky what happened to me in N.Y.” He was onstage in “The Play What I Wrote” when stricken and, during his hospitalization, received a pacemaker … Farrow, who says she is a “relative newcomer” as an ambassador, worked with Peter Ustinov, who had been an ambassador for UNICEF for 35 years. Farrow has traveled to Angola and Nigeria on behalf of UNICEF. “And I’m hoping to go back to Africa and raise awareness each time I return.” Farrow returns to the stage (at Long Wharf) in James Lapine’s new play, “Fran’s Bed.” And at Tuesday’s night’s N.Y. preem of “Le Divorce,” Ismail Merchant talked to her about costarring with Vanessa Redgrave in M-I’s “Untitled Project 47 ” which he tells me is about “two friends from two different worlds.”

I CAUGHT UP (BY PHONE, THAT IS) with “The Sopranos,” company Wednesday filming in Paramus, N.J. The seg is being directed by Peter Bogdanovich. He returns to L.A. in mid-month to complete editing of his ABC-Natalie Wood mini. It’s still undecided whether it will be four or three hours; it’s definitely four overseas. He’ll also continue meetings with Tab Hunter and Neil Koenigsberg and Allan Glaser to direct “Blues in the Night” — based on Evelyn Keyes’ story of her teenage years in Hollywood. Bogdanovich says Keyes is “fabulous.” “I spoke with her and she continues to write more books, scripts.” And Bogdanovich will also continue meetings in L.A. with Britt Allcroft (the “Thomas Train” series) on a feature version of “Sinatra-Land.” Chris Trumbo is scripting.

AS TIPPED HERE JULY 31, Joe Roth will produce the 76th Academy Awards — on Feb. 29 at the Kodak … During her L.A. stop to do the Jay Leno show, Hillary Clinton was applauded at a reception given her by Ruth and Joe Sinay at their home where past guests have included other femme leaders: Golda Meir, Jackie Kennedy and Barbara Boxer. Sen. Clinton was introduced by Sinay’s granddaughter Joanna Spilker, who worked in her N.Y. office before seuguing to USC Law School … Also whizzing through town was former senator and Defense secretary under Clinton, William Cohen, who now heads the Cohen Group of strategic consulting global companies and next bows its own investment banking division. He spoke before two industry-heavy Policy Israel Forum groups in L.A. before heading to Aspen to talk on terrorism. He then heads back to D.C., N.Y. and Bangkok. Yes, he’s outta politics … Anna Lee, 90, is home from the UCLA Medical Center recuping from a broken hip, but happy to report she expects to return to her longtime gig on ABC’s “General Hospital” within a coupla weeks … Kennedy Center honoree Carl Burnett recalled to me she’s been a participant on shows honoring Jimmy Stewart, Beverly Sills, Comden and Green and Julie Andrews. You can imagine the great list of those who’ll want to honor her on this year’s show. Carol’s readying “Once Upon a Mattress” for ABC in which she’ll play the evil queen. It’s her third go-round for the property. The first was a run in Phoenix in 1959. There’s also cable talk for “Hollywood Arms,” the play by Carol and her (late) daughter Carrie Hamilton … Katharine Ross makes her N.Y. stage bow in “The Exonerated” Aug. 19. She bowed on the boards in SanFran and L.A. Manny Fox brings to London’s West End the all Puerto Rican musical comedy “Murderous Instincts” with its Spanish title, “Instinctas de Matar.” Cinda Firestone-Fox, who wrote the script and lyrics, is the granddaughter of Harvey Firestone. And the play’s based on the famous Firestone tire family — in Spanish.