GOOD MORNING: With the pro and con passions rising daily about Mel Gibson’s “The Passion,” ABC is “looking at” an April airdate for its “Judas and Jesus,” which has been ready for two years, according to Quinn Taylor, ABC’s senior VP of Movies and Minis. Easter is April 11. Gibson has indicated he’d release his “Passion” on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 25). ABC’s “Judas and Jesus” is now titled simply “Judas.” The pic, a Paramount Network TV pic from Paulist Prods., completed filming in Morocco on June 14, 2001 and the web’s press release of that date stated, “it will air during the spring of 2002.” It was the final project of the late Father Ellwood ‘Bud” Kieser — founder of the Humanitas Prize and Paulist Prods. Father Frank Desiderio, who succeeded as president of Paulist Prods. and the Humanitas Prize, is also executive producer of the film. He told me he was awaiting an air date. But had shown the film last year to several religious leaders including Michael Downey, Cardinal Mahoney’s official theologian, the Society of Biblical Scholars as well as Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom for the Arts. The latter had been signed by Paramount TV as “non-writing” technical adviser for the film, which was written and produced by Tom Fontana (“Oz”), directed by Charles Robert Carner and stars Jonathan Scarfe as Jesus, Johnathon Schaech (“Houdini”) as Judas and Tim Matheson (“West Wing”) as Pontius Pilate. Ann Wingate is the producer. Unlike “The Passion,” which deals with the last days of Jesus, the Paulist-ABC film begins 50 years before the birth of Christ with an opening scene showing a road with more than 59 Jews being crucified. “This movie has context,” Rabbi Baron told me. “Crucifixion was a Roman invention of torture and Jesus of Nazareth was not the first or the last Judean murdered by Rome in this fashion.” Father Desiderio told me, “I don’t want our movies (‘The Passion’ and ‘Judas’) to be compared.” But he told me, ” It would be good for ABC to show our’s before and after their’s.” He also emphasized, “We didn’t want (our movie) to contribute to anti-Semitism. But we do have the classic scene where the mob is calling for the crucifixion. You can’t re-write the Bible. And it is clear the ones culpable for Jesus’ crucifixion is (were) the Romans.” Rabbi Baron points out this film is told in its proper context. “The context is missing from ‘The Passion.’ Mr. Gibson, whether or not with intent, fuels the flames of hatred by failing to give context.” It would seem so. The Anti-Defamation League stated Monday the film would “fuel hatred and bigotry and anti-Semitism.” After a viewing of the film, Rabbi Eugene Korn, ADL director of Interfaith Affairs, issued another statement Wednesday noting, “Following its Monday release, the ADL now reports it has received a slew of e-mails and phone calls referencing ‘The Passion’ while making hateful slurs about Jews and Judaism.” What hath Gibson wrought — unbridled passion caused by “The Passion,” a film that is fanning and fueling fires which should have long ago been extinguished.
WHILE WE’RE IN THE MOOD: Anne Douglas is converting to Judaism to marry Kirk Douglas in the faith on May 29 and also celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. She says, “He’s been married to two shiksas (herself and Diana D.), it’s time he married a Jewish girl.” In converting, Anne will also participate in the ritual mikvah bath. She’s only worried about her hair … Michael Douglas, wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and baby Carys (born April 20) make their first visit to L.A. next week since the baby’s birth (in N.Y.) … With Kevin Spacey readying the Oct. 6 start of the Bobby Darin biopic, “Beyond the Sea” in Berlin, Darin’s son Dodd, 41, is embarking on a filmmaking career with partner Daniel Arthur Simon. First feature is “The Mild One” penned by Simon. Dodd is also making his pro racing debut in the Star Mazda Series next year. The cast of “Beyond the Sea” includes Spacey as Bobby, Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee, John Goodman as Steve Blauner, Bob Hoskin, Vanessa Redgrave, Kathy Moriarty and Peter Cincotti … Carol Burnett will be at Brentano’s, Century City, at noon Aug. 22, signing the Random House reissue of her memoirs, “One More Time.” She’s written an afterward for the book telling about the conversion of the book into “Hollywood Arms” with (late) daughter Carrie Hamilton. The back page of the book is a photo of Carrie … Debbie Reynolds, Mitzi Gaynor, Cyd Charisse, Florence Henderson among others will be at the Friars Club Sept. 9, 5-8 p.m. to help Bob Sidney launch his book, “With Malice Toward Some, Tales from Dancing With Stars.” Jodi Berry is hosting the sendoff … Arnold, Maria and the kiddies joined the Kennedy clan at the Kennedy compound in Hyanisport for r&r. Wouldn’t you like to hear the Kennedy input on the latest politico in this family? … Eddie Kafafian, Daily Variety alumnus and former Marine, chairs the USMC Public Affairs Officers conclave in Las Vegas starting with seminars Aug. 22. Among those attending, Fox’s Greg Kelly, Charles Henry of WTOP, D.C., and Dr. Jack Pulwers. retired USMC Col. Fred Peck and Major Fran Picolli are putting together the event … And Daily Variety Web master Yaron Mendelovici and wife Navit welcomed son Eytan Yoseph Aug. 7. The bris is this ayem … Keys to Miami-Dade County will be presented to Mark Fleischer, grandson of Max Fleischer and president of Fleischer Studios, today at the historic Miami building Fleischer occupied in the ’30s and ’40s producing some of the world’s most beloved animation series — Popeye, Betty Boop, Superman. It created 500 jobs in the area. It’s now based in L.A. where director Dick Fleischer, son of Max, is chairman of the board.