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JACK MATHEWS

Leo Lives On Under Ladd The Lion Tamer

November 20, 1986|JACK MATHEWS

Leo the Lion lives! Alan Ladd, Jr. talks! Greta Garbo announces comeback!

Well, two out of three miracles ain't bad. Garbo is still holding out, but the reticent Ladd, who is MGM chairman and chief executive officer, made a rare appearance at a press conference at MGM's new home in the Filmland Corporate Center Wednesday. There, on videotape, reporters were given a tour of the facilities by a spritely lion named Leo whose death was said to have to have been greatly exaggerated.

At the end of the press conference, called by Ladd to announce some of the films that MGM will be making, reporters were handed Leo the Lion dolls to take with them. You don't often see reporters carrying dolls in the daylight, but it was a forgivable corny gesture considering the abuse Hollywood's most famous mascot has undergone in recent years.

Leo has been presumed missing or dead since Ted Turner rolled through Culver City like a Kansas tornado, taking the library with him and selling off everything else. And MGM executives, propped up by assurances from the parent MGM/UA Communications Co. that they will be operating independently, were making the point that the name lives on.

As Ladd and the others spoke, workmen at their old studio across the street continued removing vestiges of Leo and MGM (it's now owned by Lorimar Telepictures), but the signs will soon reappear on their new corporate headquarters.

Ladd, speaking softly and with apparent discomfort, said MGM will be making or acquiring from eight to 12 films a year, with budgets in the same range as those at the other major studios. Although MGM's films will be meshed with United Artists' films for distribution, Ladd said the sister companies would operate as two studios with their own personalities and tastes.

Ladd would not discuss his production budget, but Lee Rich, chairman and chief executive officer of MGM/UA, said the films from both companies will average between $10 million and $12 million in production costs.

Many of the projects announced Wednesday are in development, and Ladd acknowledged that not all of them would end up being made. Two pictures that surely will be made are the sequels "Poltergeist III" and "Running Scared II." "Spaceballs," Mel Brooks' first film in five years, is in production and set for release next summer. "Dead of Winter," a suspense thriller being directed by Arthur Penn, will be released in February.

"Moonstruck," a romantic comedy starring Cher, goes into production next month in New York with Norman Jewison directing. The other "go projects" include an unnamed Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell comedy that will be directed by Mike Nichols, and "Whereabouts," a mystery starring Sigourney Weaver and Billy Crystal.

Among the other projects mentioned Wednesday were: "Tina," a drama adapted from a Chekhov short story, to star Meryl Streep; "Bobo," a Howie Mandel comedy; "The Most Powerful Man in the World," starring Steve Martin; "Stand-Up Detective," an action comedy with Bette Midler; "Wanted Woman," a drama to star Mia Farrow; and a Robert De Niro project, set to be directed by Quincy Jones, with the current untitle "Contemporary Dramatic Love Story With Music."

WESTWARD HO: "What's going on out there, anyway?" Author Warren Adler, writing and living in Washington, D.C., asked himself that question many times during the last 15 years, as the purchased movie rights to most of his 14 novels lapsed without a single movie being made from them.

Lord Lew Grade bought the rights to "Trans-Siberian Express" eight years ago and nothing happened. "The War of the Roses" was optioned by Zanuck-Brown, who let Adler write the first-draft screenplay, and nothing happened. "Random Hearts" was a CBS Theatrical project earmarked for Dustin Hoffman. Nothing happened.

"I met with Dustin because I wanted a chance at writing that screenplay," Adler says. "They were fabulous meetings. He was interesting, he had a firm grasp of the material, he said he really wanted to do it. After two meetings, I never heard from him again."

Adler says he figured that if he was ever going to see one of his books on the screen, he would have to push it through himself. So he sold his home in Washington and relocated to Beverly Hills.

"It's possible to get into the (movie) game," says Adler. "It's not like the old system where the studios monopolized everything. There are a lot of characters who probably don't belong. I'm not sure I do, but I'm going to try."

Adler, a former newsman who operated radio and television stations in the East before getting his first novel published at the age of 44, says he doesn't believe he is being naive about slipping into the Hollywood mainstream. After 35 years in Washington, a fragment of which he spent working in the Pentagon, he doesn't expect to be easily deceived.

"They (politicians) are the main hustlers," he says. "They make Hollywood and movie people look like amateur night."

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