Celebs rally to assist UNICEF in relief efforts

GOOD MORNING: $30 million had already been raised for the UNICEF emergency relief efforts for children in South Asia as the NBC special readied to air Wednesday night. Joining the stars-UNICEF ambassadors who appeared in New York, Tea Leoni rushed from the “Fun With Dick and Jane” set to NBC Burbank where she had asked Dustin Hoffman to join her in a seg. Dustin told me he and Tea have been talking for years about doing a film together. “And we’ll still do it — ‘After You’ — maybe next year.” Tea’s father, Anthony Pantleoni, is on the U.S. Fund for UNICEF board and her grandmother was a founder of the U.S. chapter of UNICEF. Today, Dustin, director Shawn Levy and costar Dax Shepherd go through a reading of the proposed comedy feature “Car Wars.” And Hoffman warmed up for the pic attending a preview of the L.A. Car Show Wednesday afternoon. This pic adds to Hoffman’s already hefty sked of the last year(s), “Meet The Fockers” (they’re already talking its sequel “Little Fockers,”), “Finding Neverland,” (director Marc Forster wants him for the Will Ferrell starrer, “Stranger than Fiction” promising him a role larger than the cameo in “Neverland”), “I Heart Huckabees,” “Lemony Snicket.” And “The Lost City” with Bill Murray as a favor (for scale) to director-producer-writer Andy Garcia in the Dominican Republic. He was also the voice of a Shetland pony in “Racing Stripes.” “Now, no one can say I’m not handsome,” he laughed. I’d seen Hoffman (excellent) on the London stage as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” and asked his comment on Al Pacino’s statement that he was glad he’d not done “Merchant” on stage prior to the film. Hoffman (he’s not yet seen Pacino’s filmed version but said he looked forward to it), agreed with Pacino’s comment, “On stage you have to play to the last row in the balcony. On film you can be more private.” Hoffman hopes one day to do (a play of) Shakespeare on film. His favorite Shakespearean performance on film was that by Marlon Brando as Mark Antony in “Julius Caesar.”

A MOST EXCITED Bill Haber called to thank “the entertainment” industry for its response for the Save the Children’s Silver Fund, which has taken a lead in re-uniting the children victims of the tsunami in Indonesia, Sri Lanka. They tell me it is a real priority to protect them from exploitation. When I talked to the Save the Children headquarters in Westport, Conn., phone staffers confirmed to me they were receiving personal calls (contributions) from members of this community — yes, “names.” who will remain anonymous. It has been noted that $500,000 of Steven Spielberg’s $1.5 million contribution goes to Save the Children. A TV spot was produced by Plowshares, which Carat distributed free nationally. Children 5- to 10-years-old appear on the appeal. Truckloads of tents, sheeting, medicine, food, etc. have already been received and Haber and an additional staff of seven are planning to head over as well. (Tom Murphy is chairman of the board of Save the Children.). A tragic reminder of the loss is in the fact 10 members of Save the Children’s midwife program are among the causalities. The great needs of hundreds of thousands of children are staggering.

ONE OF PEOPLE MAG’S Sexiest Men of 2004 (Nov. 29 issue), Eddie Steeples, was listed among those missing on an Internet list published by the New York Times on Tuesday. But I caught up with him in Bangkok where he’d finally arrived in a journey that started on Rally Beach near Phuket. Steeples, the Rubberband Man from the Office Max commercials, told me a harrowing tale starting with his race from his beachside bungalow to higher land on the first day the tsunami struck. After three days in the hills he returned to the site of his bungalow, was able to find his passport and other papers. He headed out on a boat to another site, Anan. He was then able to get a bus to the Rambutti Village and Bangkok where I spoke to him (clearly) on the phone. He said he next heads to Hong Kong today and four days, later, home to L.A. He was accompanied on the trip over there by his friend and assistant, Renee Heart. They had planned to shoot a documentary. And would you believe, they forgot to bring along their camera. But, he says he has enough material stored in his memory of the experiences. They were sick for three days following the initial strike of the tsunami. “We lived on rice and some packaged goods that were around.” But, he admits, they were “too sick” to care about eating. He says he will definitely go back to aid on the recovery program — “whatever I can do to assist the people who deserve all the credit helping those there who are sick” — and to eventually film his story. Once back in L.A., however, he’ll resume post-production on a feature he’d started, a comedy, “Robbers.”

SHERRY LANSING TELLS me she’s “delighted” that Brad Grey is heading to Paramount as she retires. “He’s a wonderful choice and is backed by a lot of good people already in place.” And she notes that he comes in at a good time as the Jim Carrey Par starrer, “Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events” is a hit and three biggies from Par are upcoming at summertime. “We’re riding a crest,” Lansing happily said … Dallas Raines is recuping following successful prostate surgery, Monday. The popular KABC-Channel 7 weather man has been deluged with warm wishes from fans … Jane Withers and Yvonne de Carlo are at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital…A memorial for Dixie (Mrs. Norman) Jewison will be held Saturday, 11 a.m. at the Malibu Presbyterian Church … Corky Hale bowed her Corky’s Jazz Room at Em Bistro Wednesday night with a swingin stand (through Saturday) joined by Tom Fowler and Don Allen … Kim Cernak (Mrs. Art) Garfunkel makes her nitery bow Jan. 17 at N.Y.’s Le Jazz Au Bar … Mary Gibbs, Boo of the feature “Monsters, Inc.,” femceed the bow of Disney/Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” on ice at Staples Center. Among those on hand for the preem, Roy Disney, Ray Romano’s family, Christine Estabrook of “Desperate Housewives,” Balthazar Getty, Casper Van Dien and Catherine Oxenberg … Barbara and Warren Cowan hosted their annual Sun Valley Premiere with a screening of Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries” at the Magic Lantern Theater. Preemgoers included Jamie Lee Curtis, the Scott Glenns, Bud Yorkin and Cynthia Sikes, the Richard Riordans, Saul Turteltaubs. Also up in Sun Valley for the extended holidays were Barbra Streisand and Jim Brolin, Arnold and Maria you-know-who, the Clint Eastwoods, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, John Kerrys.