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'TO WONG FOO,' TOO : Sure He Can Wear a Dress, but Can He Look Cute in It?

July 17, 1994|CLAUDIA ELLER

Robin Williams made such a convincing woman playing the divorcee who goes undercover as an elderly British nanny in last year's $218-million-grossing comedy "Mrs. Doubtfire" that it's not surprising he would consider playing a drag queen as his next major screen role.

Apparently, that's exactly what the actor thought after reading Douglas Carter Beane's comedy "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar." The hot script is about three New York City transvestites who get stranded in a Midwestern town, where they spice up the otherwise quiet lives of the locals.

But after doing his own make-up test for the role of Vida Boheme--winner of the Drag Queen of the Year contest--sources say Williams called up his close pal Steven Spielberg, whose Amblin Productions is producing the movie for Universal Pictures, and conceded that he wasn't pretty enough to pull it off.

The role in the movie--which began filming Monday in New York under the direction of Beeban Kidron ("Used People")--ultimately went to Patrick Swayze after being coveted by dozens of established Hollywood actors including Robert Downey Jr., Billy Baldwin, Gary Oldman, Matthew Broderick, James Spader and John Cusack, among many others.

Wesley Snipes also stars in the ensemble piece as drag queen Noxeema Jackson, and John Leguizamo portrays Chi Chi Rodriguez.

But audiences shouldn't fret. Though Williams won't be seen in a dress this time out, the star will have an unbilled cameo in the movie. His character, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, is described as an eccentric "jack of all trades" or "a walking pawn shop who buys and sells things," who hangs out at a kitschy New York restaurant called the China Bowl.

Williams is reportedly in just one scene, in which he brokers a deal for Swayze and Snipes, who want to cash in their winning beauty contest airline tickets to buy a car.

According to screenwriter Beane's agent, Mary Meagher of the William Morris Agency in New York, Williams is one of the first actors Spielberg showed the "To Wong Foo" script. "He thought it would amuse him," she said.

Williams could not be reached for comment and Amblin officials declined comment.

Because his is an uncredited, minor role, Williams has reportedly instructed the movie company and Universal not to use his name to publicize their film. Surely they won't. This, after all, is the guy who still refuses to work again at Disney (where he made the hits "Good Morning, Vietnam" and "Dead Poets Society") because he's still angry over the studio's use of his voice as the wisecracking Genie in "Aladdin" to promote the animated blockbuster.

As for other cameos, Williams also had an unbilled quickie in Kenneth Branagh's 1991 movie "Dead Again," a past-lives thriller in which he played the sinister Dr. Cozy Carlisle.

Universal plans an early 1995 release for "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," whose title refers to the autograph inscription on a celebrity photo of the real-life B-movie actress, which the drag queens carry with them as a good-luck charm.

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