Pic ignites ‘Passion’

GOOD MORNING: “He’s an anti-Semite. He’s an anti-Semite. He’s an anti-Semite. He’s an anti-Semite.” Mel Gibson said on Monday’s “Today” show that this claim is being made repeatedly against him. Gibson sez he didn’t know about yesterday’s NBC airing — of an old interview he’d done with the Global Catholic Network. In that interview Gibson further exclaimed, “I don’t want to lynch any Jews. I mean, it’s not what I’m about. I love them. I pray for them.” Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center caught Gibson’s appearance and called me to say, “It’s a ploy to picture himself as a victim. No responsible Jew has made the accusation that Gibson is an anti-Semite.” However, Hier who has seen Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” vehemently assures the film “will engender worldwide anti-Semitism. There is no other conclusion that can be drawn from the film in which the only bad guys in the film are Jews — Jews who look like Rasputin-like characters. The good guys are even the Roman officers. The only bad Romans are the four guys who administer the whippings and (endless) torture.” And as for Gibson’s claim — “I don’t know if I will ever work again. You know, I’ve said that this is a career killer” — Hier insisted, “I am not calling for a boycott.” Meanwhile, the passion about the film continues, as further evident by this Thursday’s symposium “Exploring Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ'” at the University of Nebraska’s morning session in the Thompson Alumni Center and the afternoon session in Creighton U.’s Skutt Student Center Ballroom, both in Omaha. I spoke with Ron Simkins, head of the Center for the Study of Religion in Society at Creighton (a Jesuit school with 6,000 enrollment), who said they’d asked Gibson to appear and/or show a print; he declined multiple invitations for both. The issue of anti-Semitism will be among topics explored, Simkins said. Also to be explored is the effect on audiences of past “Passion” productions, both on stage and on film … In addition, Random House is readying an Anthology on anti-Semitism, which will include the columns of Peter Boyer in the New Yorker, those of Frank Rich in the New York Times and a complete transcript of the taped interview given by Mel Gibson’s father, Hutton, to Christopher Noxon for the New York Times Magazine in which Hutton pere and his wife made incredible claims (recorded) about the nonexistence of the Holocaust. Mel has disassociated himself from those remarks.

CONGRATS TO THE OSCAR NOMINEES … Michael Douglas, who received a lifetime achievement award Sunday night, will present the Screen Actors’ Guild’s Life Achievement Award to Karl Malden Feb. 22. The two-hour show (8-10 p.m.), airing on TNT from the Shrine, is exec produced by Jeff Margolis. Michael and Karl worked together on TV series “The Streets of San Francisco,” and the Maldens and Douglases are longtime family friends. Kirk will be part of a tribute film package that will include “On the Waterfront” co-star Eva Marie Saint — and hopefully Marlon Brando. Last year’s thesping winners, Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York”) and Renee Zellweger (“Chicago”), will be among the award presenters … Manager Allen Sviridoff tells me Rosemary Clooney’s family was touched by Bette Midler’s admission she might withdraw from the Grammy race — in which she’s nominated for “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook” against Clooney’s own nominated “The Last Concert.” However, I checked with Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy, who tells me voting closed Jan. 7. Rosie, you recall, was nominated eight times during her lifetime and never won. But if Midler, or any of the other nominees (Tony Bennett, k.d. lang, Rod Stewart or Barbra Streisand), should win, they can always pay tribute to Rosie at the Staples Center ceremony. Ironically, Clooney’s album was recorded from her final concert in Hawaii — Midler hails from the Islands … George Clooney winged to Scotland to look for locations on “The Jacket” for his Section 8 banner. He heads overseas again for the many locations of “Ocean’s Twelve” … Add award shows: The Animal Planet’s “50 Greatest Movie Animals,” airing Feb. 28. The participants range from Rin Tin Tin to Benji, Bugs Bunny to Mickey Mouse, King Kong to Kermit the Frog, Old Yeller to Toto and Woody Woodpecker to Stuart Little … Mickey Rooney, who has three stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, gets a fourth, this one for “live entertainment,” along with wife Jan; they’ve been together 35 years, wed 30 … Debbie Reynolds and John Saxon appeared together 46 years ago in Blake Edwards’ “This Happy Feeling” and they’ll reteam Feb.4-16 in “Love Letters” at the historic El Portal Theater in North Hollywood. Reynolds, who has been unable to bow her Hollywood museum in Hollywood, has a bona fide offer from Dolly Parton’s hometown, Pigeon Forge, Tenn., to set up her mammoth collection of sets, props, costumes, etc. In the latter category, as the latest acquisition, Ann Miller gave her dress from “Easter Parade” … Eva Marie Saint and Jeffrey Hayden play “Love Letters” Feb. 15 at the BevHills Hotel to benefit the Epilepsy Foundation … Robert De Niro wound his prostate treatments and is back in front of the cameras, first for “Hide and Seek,” then “Meet the Fockers” … Kevin Spacey winds “Beyond the Sea,’ his Bobby Darin biopic, bringing it in at $20 million! … Robert Halmi was toasted on his 80th birthday by his co-workers with this: “80 years, 200 movies, 135 Emmys, 100 trips to Cannes, 2 yachts, 150 Moroccan camels, 350 talking dinosaurs, 20,000 books read, 10 kingdoms, 4,000 calls to Army, one photo taken inside an exploding box — and you’re just getting started!” Happy birthday, Robert … Add presidential candidates: Jack Valenti was named Washington’s Alfalfa Club presidential candidate at the annual extravaganza at the Capitol Hilton Saturday night. The fun-only club boasts of its 91-year history 91 failed presidential candidates. On hand for the event: President George W., Vernon Jordan, John McCain, plus Dianne Feinstein, Donald Rumsfeld and Warren Beatty.