‘Last Letters’ hit home

GOOD MORNING: As the numbers of the casualties — American and Iraqui — were being counted Monday after the first day of Operation Phantom Fury in the battle for Fallujah, I called HBO’s Sheila Nevins. Nevins, president of HBO Documentaries, exec produced with John Hoffman the powerful “Last Letters Home: Voice From American Troops From the Battlefields of Iraq.” The producers insist they didn’t want the film to be “political.” “A lot of the families of those who wrote those final letters are strong Bush supporters — and the parents believe their children died in the name of democracy,” Nevins said. “People understand the consequences of it like never before. The purpose (of this docu) is to humanize the numbers (of the casualties). You see the pain of one ‘number’?” Nevins and Hoffman remind that director Bill Couturie conveys the same message as he did with his “Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam.” “The words of the soldiers help us understand what young people think — the motives of the young people. And they’re posing a lot of questions to us.” Nevins believes many joined (the National Guard) “seeking adventure, looking for a job that didn’t exist any more at home, hoping to eventually get that education through the G.I. Bill, an education they weren’t afforded at home. They are the heartland of America,” she reminded. “They now understand the consequences of war– like never before.” … Airing of the no holds-or tears-barred special was held until after the election. It makes its bow Nov. 11, Veterans’ Day, on HBO. It screens this afternoon in D.C. at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. with Sen. John McCain making the opening remarks. McCain also writes the forward in Life Books version of the HBO’er from which a donation will be made to the Intrepeid Fallen Heroes Fund. McCain told of the value of the letters from home he received — and then heard no more after his capture in the Vietnam War. Veterans of any war — including mine of WWII with the welcomed V-mail — add our own evidence … A screening-dinner was also held Monday night for VIPs and press at HBO’s N.Y. Theater with the N.Y. Times’ Arthur Sulzzberger Jr. and HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht hosting. Both companies produced the film.

‘THE PRODUCERS’ opens tonight in London and Mel Brooks reports previews have been getting royal receptions at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane, for the starring duo of Nathan Lane (who replaced Richard Dreyfuss) and Lee Evans. “The audiences stand and cheer,” he enthused. The play continues with a replacement (to be set) for Lane when he returns to N.Y. Jan. 8 to start the film version. Brooks said he and Thomas Meehan have not yet completed the script of the film version, but that it will have to be cut down from the play’s 3½ hours. “But,” he promised, “we will add new nuances, new schticks” for the pic. He returns to L.A. to resume that work Sunday … “Marvin Worth Productions still lives,” Joan Worth proudly told me as she and Alan Sacks, teamed with Bill Silva, are readying “An Evening With Lenny Bruce” starring Barry Miller, Tony winner for “Biloxi Blues.” Every word of the show is Lenny’s. It is being work-shopped at the L.A. Connection with plans to bow in lower Manhattan. Joan also reminds that Marvin (who died in 1998) had completed work on six full CDs of Lenny Bruce (just released on Shout Factory) — with an 80-page book … “La Cages Aux Folles” goes into previews Thursday at the Marquis with a special performance Nov. 30 benefiting the Mary Lee Johnson Richards Organ Transplant Institute at N.Y. University Medical Center. Party will follow upstairs at the Astor Ballroom. It opens officially Dec.9 and Martin Richards is as enthusiastic ahout this as he was with “Chicago” — and we all know what happened with that one.

FROM CAPE TOWN and the Hallmark Entertaiment location of “The Poseidon Adventure,” Steve Guttenberg reports in on the contemporary version of the 1972 classic Irwin Allen blockbuster of Paul Gallico’s novel directed by Ronald Neame. This one’s helmed by John Putch. The original yarn of the ship’s disaster had a giant underwater earthquake and monumental wave which followed as the cause of the giant liner’s demise. This time it’s a suicide bomber who causes the 2,500-passenger oceanliner to capsize — with but a handful surviving. I visited the original “Poseidon” as she was awash (and how!) on the stages at 20th Century Fox. The cast boasted Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Jack Albertson, Shelley Winters and Leslie Nielsen… The sets were magnificent — some built upside down to simulate the sinking disaster. Guttenberg reports the sets that are built in South Africa for the mini are built on huge mechanical devices to convert them for capsizing effects. “The machine is as big as a carnival ride,” he notes, “and the sets able to be tilted 180-360 degrees.” Stuntmen and women make the action convincing — along with the leading actors who include Bryan Brown, Rutger Hauer, Peter Weller, Adam Baldwin, C. Thomas Howell and Sylvia Sims. But there are also exterior scenes in the Atantic Ocean and Guttenberg confirms it is plenty rough — “And cold!” The miniseries is produced by Mary Church and exec produced by Robert Halmi Jr…. Meanwhile Robert Halmi Sr. bows his “Christmas Carol” Nov.28 on NBC: “Five People You Meet In Heaven,” Dec.1 on ABC and “Earth & Sea” Dec.13 on Sci Fi channel and winds photography on the four-hour “Hercules’ for ABC next week… The Screen Smart Set of the Motion Picture and TV Fund holds its luncheon Nov.10 at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in Burbank — where guest speaker will be — Beverly Garland — accompanied by an edited video of her 41 features and 700-plus TV roles.

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