Jodie Foster, Russell CroweKevin Kline | Michael Jackson | Eating Crowe

Jodie Foster Film Back Without Crowe

Reported in a few places on Wednesday, Jodie Foster's movie Flora Plum is back in business. But there's one big difference between this version and the one that was supposed to shoot more than two years ago. This time, no Russell Crowe.

Back in September 2000, Flora Plum got shelved when Crowe, who had gotten a good deal of publicity by "dating" Foster earlier in the year, claimed he'd hurt his shoulder and couldn't film the circus picture. With the then-looming Screen Actors Guild strike (set for June 2001, but which didn't happen), it made going ahead with Flora Plum impossible.

Foster was crushed. But Crowe picked himself up and moved on to A Beautiful Mind, for which he received a Golden Globe award and Oscar nomination.

The situation also completely screwed up the schedule of the movie's female star, Claire Danes, who took a semester off from Yale to make the movie. She subsequently went back and graduated.

Now Flora Plum is back, announced on Wednesday, with Danes in the lead role. But no Crowe. This time, Ewan McGregor is scheduled to perform the acrobatics needed.

So why no Crowe, now that his shoulder is healed and the rest of the production is proceeding as planned? There was speculation at the time that a cold shoulder wasn't the only cause of the production's suspension. The Orlando Sun-Sentinel, in the city where Flora Plum was in pre-production, questioned whether an unfinished script and ballooning costs had made the movie cost-prohibitive.

But there was another problem. When Crowe signed on to Flora Plum, he hadn't won the Oscar yet for Gladiator. His fee, as negotiated, was a low one. By the time he got to Florida in the late summer of 2000, he'd won the Oscar and his new worth was more than twice what he was supposed to receive for Flora Plum. Insiders say he wasn't eager to go ahead at the reduced rate.

Crowe also may have been tired after touring through the month of August 2000 with his rock group, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts. The band got into a fracas in Austin, Texas, launching months of bad publicity. A documentary about the band, by the way, was shown at Sundance last January, but the film has since disappeared from mention.

But what's kind of interesting -- and everyone should remember these things -- is how these Hollywood "friendships" flare up in the press and then die. Crowe said at the time of the 2000 Golden Globes that he called Foster up and said he needed a date for the awards.

Untrue.

They were negotiating Flora Plum and it seemed like good publicity at the time. All through the spring, the tabloids went wild with Foster/Crowe stories, all undenied by publicists who anticipated the pair would make Plum in the fall. When the movie was cancelled, the stories ended abruptly.

Hmmm ... does that sound familiar?

Kevin Kline's Club Sandwich

I think The Emperor's Club opens today somewhere, but who knows, really? Very little has been made of this Dead Poets Society meets Mr. Holland's Opus for 2002 by Warner Bros.

I saw the film the other day at a mass screening for miscellaneous press people. Kevin Kline is good -- he always is -- but the rest of the movie was torture.

Kline, who is very funny in real life, told me a couple of months ago he calls the film "The Emperor's Club Sandwich." The reason? "Ethan Canin, who wrote the novella, called his book The Palace Thief," Kline said. "Warner Brothers changed the name, making it all the more confusing because Canin has another book called Emperor of the Air."

I swear, I sat through this thing the other night and I can't remember anyone referring to anything as "the Emperor's Club" in the movie. It must be a reference to Kline's history class in the story, but they could have also called it "Toga, Toga, Toga" and gotten away with it if that was the reasoning.

As for the film's script: Why would anyone in a development office read this screenplay and want to produce it? Poor Mr. Hundert, the beloved teacher played by Kline, seems like a sexless dullard who has little personality and almost no connection to the world.

Also, the film supposedly takes place in the 1970s, but unlike another Kline film, The Ice Storm, which precisely recounts every iota of detail from that decade, Club could be taking place in any time or no time.

Jacko Baby Dangle Has Precedent

A source close to the Jackson family and familiar with R&B history pointed something interesting out to me yesterday.

"Michael's dangling of the baby reminds me of the famous story about Jackie Wilson and his infamous manager Nat Tarnopol. Tarnopol had his goons hold Wilson by his ankles out a hotel window until he agreed to do certain things Nat wanted."

Both Tarnopol and Wilson are long dead, but the story is widely chronicled. "Michael's father, Joe Jackson, knew this kind of behavior. I'm not surprised it's surfaced in Michael's world. God only knows what he was put through as a child."

In fact, we wrote in this space the other day that Joe Jackson used to lock Michael in a closet when the Jackson 5 was on tour to keep him "focused," says our source.

The question now is will Santa Barbara authorities -- seeing this episode played out by Michael in Berlin -- investigate him as a fit parent when he returns to his home in their county.

Eating Crowe

Back on Nov. 22 this column managed to get the dates wrong for Russell Crowe's Gladiator Oscar nomination and award. The dates should have been Feb. 13 and March 25, 2001. Also, somewhere in the transmission I didn't make it clear that the enormous success of Gladiator drove Crowe's price higher in Hollywood at the time Flora Plum was going into production.. Just so that no one is confused.