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Roderick Mann : An Upbeat George Segal May Be Down, But Never Out

April 06, 1985|RODERICK MANN

George Segal waited a long time to get back to Broadway in a play. That's if you consider 22 years a long time. And when he finally managed it last month--guess what? The critics gave it the thumbs down and the play folded after three nights.

It's happened before and it'll happen again, but it was a blow to Segal. The play, Rod Serling's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (co-starring John Lithgow), had given him the chance to play "a bit of a rat" (Maish Rennick, the unscrupulous fight manager). He doesn't often get to play rats anymore.

But Segal refuses to be downhearted. The play had a good, though short, out-of-town run and Mike Nichols himself came backstage in New York to compliment him.

"Mike's been very important in my life," said Segal the other day. "He directed me on Broadway in 'The Knack' 22 years ago, and it was from that that I got the movie, 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' which he directed, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton."

Now another film maker who has been influential in Segal's life has reappeared--Mel Frank, who directed him in the classic "Touch of Class" with Glenda Jackson. Frank will now direct Segal in "Who's in the Closet?"--a comedy about a politician who learns on election eve that his son is gay.

And Frank is planning a sequel to "Touch of Class" to reunite Segal and Jackson.

"Mel says it's time," Segal said. "He says if you wait 10 years, you can do the same thing again and nobody minds. To prove it, he says he did 'Touch of Class' once before--it was called 'The Facts of Life' and starred Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. They even had some of the same jokes. 'Wait 10 years,' he says, 'put a new frame around the story and off you go again.' " (For the record, "The Facts of Life" was released in 1960, "Touch of Class" in 1973.)

So Segal--who has a film entitled "Stick," with Burt Reynolds, due out soon--is optimistic again. And he always has his music.

As a sideline, he's played the banjo with various groups for some years. It was when he played Carnegie Hall that he met Linda Rogoff, now his wife (his marriage to Marion, his wife of 26 years, ended in 1983). He credits Linda with helping him finally kick his drug habit.

Asked on "The Tonight Show" recently if he had any musical ambitions left after playing Carnegie Hall, Segal replied: "Yes. The White House."

"I didn't get an invitation next day from the President," Segal said, with a laugh, "but eventually I was invited to play for Mrs. Reagan at a charity affair on the South Lawn. And some time later I was asked to do a reading from Arthur Miller in the White House itself."

But not to play the banjo?

"I have to admit it," Segal said, making a face: "I have not yet been allowed to play the banjo for the President of the United States. . . . "

COMPENSATION: Joe Sargent directed six of the 13 hours of the new CBS series, "Space," beginning April 14. Some of the series, which is based on James Michener's book, was shot at the Houston Space Center and real-life ground controllers were used (they got paid).

"What I found intriguing," Sargent said the other day, "was that whereas we were all in awe of them, they were in awe of us. They just loved watching us work."

Sargent says he has high hopes for "Space." Since he has turned out some fine TV drama in the past ("The Marcus-Nelson Murders," "Playing for Time"), let's hope he's right.

He was all set to follow "Space" with a series for NBC called "Mona Lisa," about the Italian Renaissance. To be produced by Alex Ponti, it would have been filmed in Florence and Siena. But NBC canceled the project.

Now Ponti has come up with another idea. He's asked Sargent to direct Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in their first American TV movie this year.

"They play a couple who haven't seen each other for seven years," Sargent said. "Marcello lives in America. Sophia comes here from Italy to promote a book. And when they meet, those rich Neapolitan tempers flare. It's a dream come true to direct those two. Marcello and Sophia--I can hardly wait. . . . "

OVERSIGHT: In all the critics' quotes being used by Universal to promote Peter Bogdanovich's well-received movie "Mask" (which has been the subject of dispute by the director because of scenes being deleted and the change of music), not one of them mentions Peter Bogdanovich.

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