Crystal king on B’way

IT’S A GOOD MORNING back in Hollywood after ogling showbiz everywhere from the White House to B’way. First stop was the Kennedy Center Honors and a chat with President Bush and wife Laura just before the Honors presentation in the Kennedy Center. When I mentioned to him my amazement that Bill Clinton’s health problem had not been discovered during his eight years in the White House, Bush told me, “I’m going to get a scan next week” — and indeed he did, last Saturday. But the president admitted he no longer was taking chances by running and had shifted to a mountain bike for exercise. Last Thursday the First Family had another reception at the White House — a Chanukah party for 350, including Lionel Chetwynd and Rabbi Eli Herscher of L.A.’s Stephen Wise Temple. President Bush lighted one of the candles in the giant menorah in the White House Great Hall.

IT WAS OFF TO NEW YORK where the action never stops: First, a screening of “The Aviator,” a cinch to take many more bows following the six nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press. Certainly nods for Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese … Latenight, of course, at Elaine’s and Bobby Zarem … Next night, on to Broadway and the Broadhurst Theater where Billy Crystal is king in “700 Sundays” — and he can perform this show forever. Yet another side of his talents is exposed — liberally — by Billy, who has the audience in the palm of his hand with his ability to relate his life to the foibles of the audience. I thought I knew Billy from the many times we’ve spoken, the dozens of performances I’ve watched on the small and large screens, but he revealed himself and his talents in yet a higher plane with this show — a great showman . He says he “is having the time of my life,” and it shows. He doesn’t know if he’ll continue past the May date. Judging by the record-breaking box office, he could continue as long as he wants. He’s in great shape and when not onstage is also readying a movie, “Have a Great Day” for New Line, in which he’d star and direct. He’s also readying three series. He is offstage Sundays (and Mondays), so he’ll be sure to watch the Oscars and says Chris Rock is a wonderful choice “and a bold one. He’ll be great — he’s a good writer as well” … Another treat from another showman, Kevin Spacey. We’d seen his remarkable film “Beyond the Sea” earlier this year, so we caught up with him in concert as he and his full orch performed at the Waldorf Starlight Room. If you thought he was remarkable as Bobby Darin in the movie — you ain’t seen nothing yet till you see him — as Darin — singing (and dancing!) to “Sitting on Top of the World,” ‘Beyond the Sea,” “”Just One of Those Things,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Splish Splash” and a heavily emotional “Simple Song of Freedom” — as in the movie. Peter Cincotti, who plays his accompanist in the film, ditto’d onstage. At our table was Ahmet Ertegun, who said he’d discovered Darin and put him on his Atlantic label. He loved the movie, but allowed not all of it was true: “If it was,” he logic’d, “it would have been only a documentary.” Spacey told me he was going on the road with the act, “to bring the spotlight back to Bobby Darin.” One date is at the Stardust in Las Vegas, Dec. 26-27. … On hand was Monica Mancini, who’d just received two Grammy nominations. Her husband, Gregg Field, is Spacey’s drummer on the tour. And at the Starlight Room concert, Lauren Bacall. We talked “Aviator” — and Howard Hughes — with her: She said she met him on her first time in Hollywood at a fancy party for agent Charles Feldman. She recalled seeing a young man, alone out on the patio, his feet up on a railing. He was wearing tennis shoes. He was Howard Hughes.

ON TO THE MARQUIS THEATER for the preem of “La Cage aux Folles” and a giant celebration that followed upstairs. Everyone was in a great mood — and rightfully so, as the show is a multiple delight thanks to talented leads Gary Beach and Daniel Davis plus the extraordinary “Les Cagelles,” show “girls” who kick higher than the Rockettes and in costumes reminiscent of Ziegfeld’s most glamorous shows. Among those celebrating was producer Martin Richards, who told me he is now planning to do the movie as he’d done with “Chicago.” No, this won’t be “The Bird Cage” film version of the original “Cage” of 21 years ago, but this totally musical version. Jerry Herman, whose music and lyrics again spark the show, told me he’s now hoping to bring back to B’way two more of his evergreen hits, “Mame” and “Hello Dolly.” Herman admitted the current “Cage” “is better than the one 21 years ago. And I wanted to be alive for it!” As you can tell, everyone is counting on theater and movie audiences looking for trouble-free fare. “Cage” co-star Gary Beach will reprise his Tony-winning role of Roger De Bris in the film version of “The Producers.” He said he didn’t know he’d gotten the film job “until I read it in your column!” Beach says the movie script by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan enlarged his role … How’s he gonna do the pic and the lead in the B’way show — they’ll adjust his shooting sked to work days only in the pic — and in time for him to get to the Marquis from the nearby studio… Well, let’s pray it doesn’t snow one of those days.

BACK IN HOLLYWOOD in time for the preem of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” at the Dome and the party for 1,200 under a 20,000-square-foot tent on Vine Street, decorated with pieces from the film’s sets. Producer Walter Parkes reminded the pic was made “the old-fashioned way,” right on the stages. Writer Daniel Handler allowed Parkes was right in all decisions he made about translation of his book to the film. When I asked about the possibility of a sequel, they both pleaded “no comment — yet.” … Parkes and wife Laurie MacDonald are in post producing “The Ring 2,” winding “Zorro 2,” starting “The Island,” “If Only It Were True” and “The Lookout” in the spring … Monday night, Gordon Davidson was treated to a night of congrats, performances, good food, wine and friendship to toast his departure as artistic director/producer of the Center Theater Group. A show produced by Walter Mirisch boasted Angela Bassett, Carol Burnett, Tony Kushner, Sharon Lawrence, John Lithgow, Edward James Olmos, Brock Peters, Sidney Poitier, Carl Reiner, John Rubinstein and 14 members of UCLA’s Ray Bolger Musical Theater Group performing “Pachuco Boogie” from “Zoot Suit” with Olmos … Fess Parker and family will be on hand Wednesday at Disneyland, where a Frontierland store will be a tribute to Fess on the 50th anni of his debut as “King of the Wild Frontier,” Davy Crockett. Amazingly, Fess tells me he’s received no royalties from all the products sold with his Crockett imprint. But he’s never complained (nor sued), even though, he says, “Walt promised me 10% of all the merchandise. I was so lucky to have that association (with Disney). It was worth more than money.” Parker’s next venture, another hotel (150-room) with the Sultan of Dubai in Santa Barbara environs, is being discussed. Parker, 80, allows, “Life is good — I’ve had three cancers — but none of them terminal.” One of the things he credits is red wine. He has his own label.