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City of Angles

A Change in the Script

November 20, 2001|GINA PICCALO and LOUISE ROUG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Police believe that Robert De Niro's onetime double Joseph Manuella did far more with the actor's likeness than secure a few hotel rooms. In fact, police allege, the 51-year-old New Jersey man persuaded a group of veterans to build an elaborate "base camp" film set, complete with barracks, underground tunnels, tanks and barbed wire and then abandoned the project abruptly when police caught on to the scheme.

Julius "Reb" Leonard, 68, owner of a veterans museum in the tiny farm community of Goddffroy, N.Y., worked for six months building what he thought was the movie set for De Niro's next film--a Vietnam War picture about two brothers from the South. "I got suckered," Leonard told us.

Leonard told us that he lives modestly on a veterans pension but that he didn't ask Manuella for any money up front. The film project became a labor of love--as is his Corp. David W. Leonard KIA War Memorial Museum. Leonard, who named the museum for his brother, who was killed in action in Vietnam, displays about $200,000 worth of Vietnam War memorabilia and military equipment. He is often approached by small film production companies to supply props but rarely asks for payment. "I do it out of my heart more than anything else," he said.

In March, Manuella and his crew of "directors and producers" hired Leonard to build the base camp on an open field near Leonard's museum. They promised to include scenes documenting the death of Leonard's brother.

He believed "De Niro" when he promised Leonard a big payoff after the film was shot. "I never put a monetary value on it," Leonard said. "He just told me to keep bills for everything. But I have a bad habit. I don't keep bills."

Meanwhile, Manuella visited with Leonard's veteran friends to hear the war stories that many of them thought would be used in his film, said Rich DiSabatino, De Niro's private investigator. "There were several people with the VFW who took him to dinner to tell him stories, all because they thought he was the real guy," he said.

Leonard said he got suspicious when Manuella used $300 of his own money to buy supplies and then "he griped about that. This was at the end after I built all this."

Filming lasted a few weeks, and then in early September, the crew abruptly "wrapped up and ran out here," Leonard said. Manuella was arrested Wednesday on two misdemeanor counts of suspicion of criminal impersonation. Released on bail, he is scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 29

Mick's Party

Music moguls, models and movie stars crowded outside the El Rey Theatre on Thursday for a private party, celebrating Mick Jagger's new solo album, "Goddess in the Doorway," released today.

As the show was about to start, Kate Hudson and husband Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes made their way through the crowd, holding hands and dodging reporters. Shortly thereafter came Sean Penn and David Spade, who also were there to listen, rather than talk.

Jagger had arrived earlier, in a yellow leather jacket and tight black jeans, but for the show changed into a white T-shirt and a red tank top featuring the Statue of Liberty. The Rolling Stone took the stage around 9:30 p.m., performing 20 minutes of songs from the new album, as well as a couple of Stones classics, such as "Miss You." The performance doubled as a recording for the documentary "Being Mick," which airs Thursday on ABC.

On the balcony, Jeff Goldblum curled up into a ball on his chair when asked to sit down by someone whose view the tall actor was blocking. Goldblum, an accomplished musician, listened intently to the rest of seven-song set without standing up.

If anyone in the crowd doubted this was an exclusive event, Jagger let them know: "This is the world tour for this album," he shouted from stage. "So you can say you were at every gig."

Spacek Comes Undone

Sissy Spacek told us she was "shaken to the bone" by the character she played in "In the Bedroom." The movie, which opens Friday, was directed by Todd Field and won a Special Jury Prize for best acting (Spacek and her co-star Tom Wilkinson) at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Too much detail could ruin the plot. But we can tell you that Spacek portrays a mother struggling to cope with the fact that her college-age son (Nick Stahl), becomes involved with a woman (Marisa Tomei) separated from an abusive husband. The relationship ends tragically, and Spacek said her character "comes undone." She said the part reminded her of Lady Macbeth. The film, she said, "seems a very masculine idea told in a very sensitive way."

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