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Lee, Schulberg taking on ‘Louis’

GOOD MORNING: Spike Lee starts “Save Us Joe Louis,” his long-planned Joe Louis feature, immediately after completing “Inside Man” with Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen for producer Brian Grazer at Universal. Lee and Budd Schulberg have been working (writing) the Joe Louis project for five years. It’s the story of the two Louis-Max Schmeling championship bouts (1936 and 1938) and the global ramifications. Lee says characters involved in the pic will include FDR, Hitler, Mussolini and Sugar Ray Robinson for starters, adding Schulberg was on hand for the 1938 fight. Lee tells me, “Budd (93) is going strong. This is a David Lean caliber film.” As for “Inside Man,” he said, “this is an intelligent bank heist film — no shooting. It’s about criminals who use their brains, not guns.” When I spoke with Lee last week, he was readying to take his “Inside Man” co-star Clive Owen to see Denzel Washington (whom Lee has directed three times previously) in “Julius Caesar” at the Belasco. Lee directs his 15 mins. seg for “All the Invisible Children” this week

BUENA VISTA Home Entertainment was so pleased with the results of their hefty participation in the second “Runway for Life” that launched their DVD of “Chicago,” they picked up the half-million-$ production costs for Sunday night’s third Runway for Life extravaganza at the BevHilton. The St. Jude Research Hospital benefited $1 million-plus. (The hospital has a $450 million annual budget!) The night also saluted Buena Vista’s DVD release of Disney’s “National Treasure.” And once again, Rosemary and Gilbert Chagoury picked up the dinner and wine tab of the SRO crowd … In addition to 20 performing celeb models, the room boasted many “names.” F’rinstance, at our table were Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. After four films in a row, Kutcher says he has time off and he plans to visit the St. Jude facility that he has supported for five years … Marlo Thomas, sister Terre and brother Tony co-chaired the event. Tony marries nurse Ann Souder Sept. 24 — they met in Memphis, when Tony was there for St. Jude bizness. Runway for Life co-exec producer Robert Ellis’ fashions filled the stage in a non-stop show by Dan Kough of Paradigm Shift Worldwide. In addition to celeb models, the show boasted 20 professional models, 20 dancers — and five dogs. Also special effects based on “National Treasure.” Cindy Crawford (whose brother died of leukemia) was honorary chairperson — and she, of course, was one of the glamour models. Marlo and husband Phil Donahue modeled the final threads … Ray Romano, one of the models, had greeted well-wishers of his own Thursday night in Hangar 8 at the Santa Monica Airport where his series’ “home” set was transported for the goodbye bash. He noted it has been three months since formally saying au revoir on the set — but he still cannot quite get used to leaving “a show that started out in 80th place!” That same night at the airport’s Barker hangar, the hard-workers of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Women’s Guild launched the L.A. Antiques show, another glittery affair for the community’s heath and welfare.

JANE FONDA continues her non-stop hegira for both her autobiog and “Monster-In-Law.” She looked sensaysh at the preem of “Monster-In-Law” at the Mann National in Westwood and the party that followed at the Hammer Museum. (Jane noted that pickets outside the theater were, for a change, not there because of her, but because of PETA’s objections to costar Jennifer Lopez). After the preem, Jane continued on to N.Y. and then D.C. White House Correspondents’ Assn. dinner for the bashing of President Bush. Fonda said she’ll delay her hip replacement surgery until after book and pic p.a.’s in London when she returns to her home in Atlanta. She said she has no plans to ever reside in L.A. again … At the preem party, Lopez and Mark Anthony told me they’re prepping “a small film,” together, “Who Killed Hector Lavoe?” She first heads south for “Border Town” with Antonio Banderas. Anthony told me he was uneasy about her filming close to the border, saying a “bodyguard” was killed on his recent film, “Man On Fire,” south of the border. Lopez said she’s also planning a Spanish-language album … Phyllis Diller is recuping at home — with six pins in her neck, fractured in a fall at home. A full recovery is anticipated.