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SUNDAY BRUNCH | out & about

Kids Learn the Darndest Things

September 20, 1998|IRENE LACHER

Now that we hear he might be sending out his resume, we're pondering those recent rumors that President Clinton might seek an even higher office in the pantheon of popular culture--studio exec.

Just kidding, DreamWorks. Calm down, already.

Look, everyone knows that politicians and Hollywoodians are siblings under the skin. So why not a swap? Let Clinton come to town and fill the void left by some good ole L.A. boy like, say, the late George Burns, and then those uber grown-ups in Washington can swear in Rob Reiner as our 43rd president.

"Yeah, right. That's all I want to do is have the world check into my private life."

Why, Rob, is there something we ought to know?

"No, there's nothing you need to know."

Au contraire. We insist on investigating the identity of the very small person bobbling up and down next to Reiner, the one who bears a suspicious resemblance to him. Could that be his son or a precocious sycophant trying to get a leg up on the competition?

Tush up, actually. Nick Reiner is tumbling under the table at the Maple Drive restaurant, where we are deconstructing his first day of developmental kindergarten.

"He's floppy," observes the jumbo Reiner. "He's always moving around. He was born like that. When he came out, the doctor said 'this is a squirmy one.' "

We put away our catcher's mitt because Nick's photographer mom, Michele, has arrived to scoop him up so he can take his next meeting.

Since we're staring at Nick's dad over a hunk of cold salmon anyway, we figure we might as well find out what the director's been doing lately, which is: not directing. For two years now, Reiner has been working full time on Proposition 10, which would bankroll programs for early childhood development by slapping a 50-cent tax on cigarettes.

By the way, Reiner isn't just a spokesmodel for Proposition 10. He is Proposition 10, along with an army of early childhood advocates whose efforts are getting more ink these days.

"Celebrity is terrific to throw light on something. But then when you really want to move the agenda forward and impact things, then you want to make sure you are knowledgeable about the issue. And then you can really do some amazing things. Because the fact is that the media is the fourth branch of government."

Oh, we bet you say that to all the girls. Is there something you'd like to tell the folks?

"I was involved in the inception of this. My agenda is a national agenda. Even though it's only a ballot initiative, California's a bellwether state. And if we pass it here, it will have a tremendous ripple effect, I hope, on the rest of the country. So it has national implications. That's a very virtuous lunch you have there."

Why, thank you, President Reiner, sir. Carry on.

"Well, I'm kind of, by default, a spokesperson for early childhood development. Initially, I had an instinct about early childhood development and social outcomes. And it was borne out by the Carnegie Corp. report that came out in '94, which basically said that there was this direct correlation between the nurturing experiences the parent provides and the child's ability to function in school later on in life.

"One of the things that I did was a one-hour special for ABC hosted by Tom Hanks. We put two brains out there, brain scans. One was a perfectly formed brain with all the gray matter filled in. One was about two-thirds the size with a lot of black crevices. Neuroscientists would look at these things and just assume that that was a brain of someone with Alzheimer's disease.

"They were both brains of 3-year-olds. The normal brain was the child who had received a lot of love and attention, and the other was the product of extreme neglect or abuse. That brain will never grow."

Reiner is enough of a not-just-a-pretty-face celebrity that he is off to Palm Springs to address the California Medical Assn. He's been running up and down the state giving speeches, working the phones, hitting up supporters for money. Just a few weeks ago, he co-hosted a dinner in Los Angeles with Michael Huffington, Charlton Heston and Pat Boone, to put a few famous Republican faces on what has become a bipartisan effort.

After Election Day, the 53-year-old Reiner goes back to film work. In December, he'll start shooting his first picture since "Ghosts of Mississippi" came out in 1996--"The Story of Us," a romantic comedy with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Meanwhile, he is putting all that homework on early childhood development to good use with Reinerette No. 3: 9-month-old Romy.

"I see myself a little bit different with Romy than I was with the boys. I'm talking much more to her, interacting much more early on. Whenever I put her to bed, I sing her 'Mockingbird.' Then I segue into 'I've Been Working on the Railroad' and a George M. Cohan medley of 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and 'Over There.' I end with 'Keep Your Eye on That Grand Ole Flag.' By then, she's either sleeping or she's ready . . ."

To commit patricide?

"Yeah."

*

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