Brooks: ‘Producers’ different, just as good

GOOD MORNING: “The Producers” bows at the Pantages in Hollywood tonight so I asked Mel Brooks how do the Coast co-stars, Martin Short and Jason Alexander, compare with the show’s original B’way stars, Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick? “I’m not smoking you,” the irrepressible Brooks volunteered. “I’m very excited because they are different and just as good. They are wonderful. They were born to do it.” And then he thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they (Alexander and Short) did it in New York down the line (after they wind here Jan. 4)? It would be exciting to show New York’ critics and savvy B’way how great they are.” Brooks says about the play’s run in Hollywood — “this is a showbiz town and the show’s gotten more publicity here than in New York!” Meanwhile the B’way production, which bowed April 19, 2001, at the St. James, with 860 performances to date, continues to be the champ at box office — last week was $1,653,620! After the New York opening, I wrote it was “the most fun I’ve ever had at the theater.” … Coincidentally, with tonight’s opening, Brooks makes a guest appearance on Comedy Central’s “Jiminy Glick” starring (the inflated) Martin Short. Bernie Brillstein sent Mel a tape of the hilarious interview.

“I WILL HAVE AN IDEA” — about the possibility of shooting “Alexander the Great” in Australia — “when I return at the end of June,” Dino De Laurentiis told me as he readies to leave in two weeks for meetings with Baz Luhrman. “I will explore the situation. Baz thinks it is very possible, but, of course, he is Australian,” laughed Dino. The production sites, the enormous cast requirements, the cost difference for the $150 million production are all under investigation. He insists, “Unless the situation in Morocco changes in the next three-five months, we cannot shoot there — nor can anyone with a major star. He would be a target for a terrorist attack.” He plans to start his digital production in November and principal photography in February-March. When asked how he’d be affected by Oliver Stone’s timetable for his “Alexander” production, Dino said “I don’t want to talk about the competition.” Dino said his star, Leonardo DiCaprio, is already deep into preparations to play Howard Hughes in “The Aviator” for Martin Scorsese. And producer Hilly Elkins is readying Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” also for DiCaprio’s Appian Way banner for a hoped-for 2004 start. Elkins has owned the novel for 35 years. The apocalyptic story has many offbeat roles and Leo is said to be very high on one of them. Elkins also has an option on Vonnegut’s “Sirens of Titan” and he’s negotiating with James Hart to script … Halle Berry continues under a doctor’s care for her right arm, broken in a very physical scene for “Gothika.” It’s a “day-to-day” decision as to her return to the Montreal location … Bill Haber, (retired) founder of CAA-turned B’way producer, is in Baghdad working for his true mission in life — Save The Children … Ben Vereen winds his stand in “The Exonerated” in the Bleeker Theater on Sunday, but says he wants to return to the play at summer’s end. He remains in New York for Charles Randolph Wright’s feature “Paradise on the One” and in December he heads to Paris to reprise “Fosse” for which he received raves originally on B’way. The multi-talented Vereen then heads home to Hollywood for the next pilot season.

I’VE WITNESSED EXCITEMENT in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese as stars laid down their hand and footprints, and at other occasions (like my own) when a Star was planted in the Walk of Fame just outside the hallowed Hollywood house — but I’ve never seen an audience inside the theater react and scream when the explosive scene filmed outside-inside the theater hit the screen in the preem of Par’s “The Italian Job” Tuesday night. Many literally jumped from their seats! The audience reaction was a tribute to the film — which didn’t roll until 8 p.m., everyone having been warned to be there “promptly” at 7. Exex including Jonathan Dolgen, Sherry Lansing and Rob Friedman nervously paced up and down the aisle waiting for the film to start. Seems one of the stars, Mark Wahlberg, resplendent in Armani, and his expectant girlfriend Rhea Durham were delayed. The cast all arrived down Hollywood Blvd. in the Mini Coopers that also star in the film, which boasts live stunts often by the stars themselves. At the post-preem party, Lansing announced the evening also helped Stop Cancer raise $300,000. It’s the ninth time a Paramount preem has benefitted the charity enabling it to establish 80 research grants … Dorothy Hecht, mother of Corky Hale (Mrs. Mike Stoller), died May 18. She was 94 and well-loved by all those who knew her as a true fan of her successful and talented daughter and son-in-law. You could always find her front row at any of their appearances … Frank Liberman, who was Bob Hope’s press agent for 41 years, is celebrating his birthday (86) at the Motion Picture Country House. He’s writing his book, “Greats and Ingrates” … Hey Bob, thanks for the memories. Happy 100th.

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