Mel Gibson Elaine Stritch Oscars

Mel Gibson: $5 Mil to Fringe Church

Mel Gibson's put his money where his mouth is. By now everyone in the world knows he's spent $25 million to make "The Passion of the Christ" and promised nearly $25M more to market it.

But what you may not know is that Gibson has also put up $5.1 million so far to run his own personal church near Malibu.

Last year, Christopher Noxon wrote in The New York Times that Gibson had donated $2.3 million to make Holy Family Catholic Church in Agoura Hills, California a reality. Holy Family rejects the universally accepted teachings of the Second Vatican Conference and chooses to stick with antiquated Catholic ideology.

But it turns out that Gibson has donated a little more than twice that amount to Holy Family since 1999, according to federal tax filings. And that's not counting 2003, since the most recent report has not yet been filed.

Gibson and his wife Robyn are listed in federal tax records as directors of the Holy Family Catholic Church. The church is run out of Gibson's Icon Production company offices, with an Icon employee responsible for keeping the church's books.

The Gibsons' tax-free donations to Holy Family are made possible by a charity they established called the AP Reilly Foundation, which is named for Mel's late mother. The foundation was created on October 29, 1999 for the sole purpose of creating the church.

The church, by the way, has an unlisted phone number, keeps its address a secret and has asked those who have the information not to release it.

Gibson is no stranger to controversy when it comes to voicing his opinion about his religious beliefs. In a 1992 interview with the Spanish magazine El Pais, his comments about homosexuals — which cannot be printed here — caused an international stir.

In the same interview, Gibson talked about the fact that his brand of Traditionalist Catholicism did not subscribe to the Second Vatican Council's 1965 rulings on various subjects including who was responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.

According to published descriptions, this tiny wing of Traditionalist Catholics view the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council as a conspiracy between Jews and Masons to take over the church.

"For 1,950 years [the church] does one thing and then in the '60s, all of a sudden they turn everything inside out and begin to do strange things that go against the rules," he told El Pais.

"Everything that had been heresy is no longer heresy, according to the [new] rules. We [Catholics] are being cheated... The church has stopped being critical. It has relaxed. I don't believe them, and I have no intention of following their trends.

"It's the church that has abandoned me, not me who has abandoned it," he said.

Gibson, meantime, is trying to distance himself from comments made by his father, Hutton Gibson, about the Holocaust.

Mel's dad, has been the source of much of the passionate arguing about the movie "The Passion of the Christ." In a radio interview this week, Gibson senior reiterated statements that appeared in Noxon's article, including his denial of the Holocaust.

"It's all — maybe not all fiction — but most of it is," he said. Then, to illustrate his point that the gas chambers and crematoria at camps like Auschwitz would not have been capable of exterminating so many people, Gibson senior added: "Do you know what it takes to get rid of a dead body? To cremate it?" he said. "It takes a litre of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million of them? They (the Germans) did not have the gas to do it. That's why they lost the war."

Mel recently told ABC's Diane Sawyer. "He's my father. Gotta leave it alone Diane. Gotta leave it alone."

And she did.

As for his own opinion of the Holocaust, Gibson told Sawyer: "Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion."

But Mel is still smarting from criticism of comments he made to conservative speechwriter and pundit Peggy Noonan in this month's Readers' Digest. Asked whether the Holocaust happened, Gibson answered: "Yes, of course," but elaborated ambiguously. "The Second World War killed tens of millions of people," he said. "Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives."

Elaine Stritch, on Film and In Person

You're going to be seeing a lot of Broadway legend Elaine Stritch soon. My pals, DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, have made a terrific film about her incorporating pieces of Stritch's one-woman show called "Elaine Stritch at Liberty." HBO is set to air it later this spring, and it will debut before that at the Full Frame Documentary Festival during the first week of April down in North Carolina.

But you don't have to wait that long to see the mighty Stritch live and in person, as they say. She's the big star of a huge benefit on March 8 to benefit ZazAngels. This is the group started by friends of the late Emmy-winning actor Michael Zaslow, who memorably played the villainous Roger Thorpe on "Guiding Light" on and off for 25 years. Yes, this is the same Zaslow who was fired by the lovely folks at Procter and Gamble for being sick. He later learned he had ALS, which eventually, and tragically, killed him.

The ZazAngels evening will feature a lot of stars, among them Broadway's biggest star, Brian Stokes Mitchell, plus Andrea McArdle (of "Annie" fame), soap stars like Ron Raines and Rebecca Budig, actress Dana Reeve (remarkably talented wife of Christopher) and the Tony winning statuesque beauty from "The Producers," Cady Huffman. (I will go and pay good money just to see her, frankly.) The tickets are tax deductible, too! Call 800-672-8857 for more information.

Oscar Mania: Charlize, Bill Murray, Barbarians

Oscar has just four more days of balloting, and probably many have mailed in their choices. But here are a few last thoughts as we head into the weekend.

The fact that Charlize Theron is the leading nominee for Best Actress is a double-edged sword. She happens to have given the most riveting performance by an actor of either sex in some time. No one would have guessed that gorgeous Charlize had it in her. But her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos is saturated with honesty. It's not an imitation or a piece of mimickry. Something about the character and the actor clicked, and the result is a movie, "Monster," that is unforgettable.

Of course, the double edge part is that Theron had almost no peer this season. Roles for actresses were in short supply in 2003. Let's hope things improve this year.

For Best Actor, Sean Penn has his fans and I know they are rooting for him. He had two excellent films out this year, "Mystic River" and "21 Grams." But the Bill Murray bandwagon is out of control. I just saw Murray in his next film, Jim Jarmusch's amusing set of vignettes called "Coffee and Cigarettes." As usual, he is extremely charming and very funny. I think his total record of work — going to back to his subtle turn in "Tootsie" two decades ago — will win him the day on February 29. Penn will be back again.

In the category of Foreign Film, I cannot stress how much I loved "The Barbarian Invasions." The Denys Arcand film was one of the great pleasures of 2003. If it had been in English it might have been a Best Picture nominee. Arcand has done an exceptional job, and his movie resonates for everyone who sees it. "Barbarian Invasions" accomplishes exactly what a Best Foreign Picture is supposed to do: cross language and social barriers. It certainly deserves the Academy Award.