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'Lions' Redford and Streep Not Fond of 'Lamb' Cruise?

Box Office 'Lambs' | 'Lions for Lambs' | Warner Music Stock Collapse | Mel Brooks | Michael Jackson | Meg Ryan

'Lions' Are 'Lambs' at Box Office

Robert Redford's noble try for political discourse on film actually didn't do too badly last night. "Lions for Lambs," on a pretty wide release schedule of 2,200 theaters, took in $2.1 million.

I say not bad because given the reviews and the reality of the situation, things could have been much worse. That scenario won't play out until Saturday night and Sunday as word of mouth confirms the reviews. A total weekend take of $5.5 million would be heaven if it's reached.

Yes, this is Tom Cruise's lowest-grossing movie of all time. We knew that going in. But what's more terrifying is that whatever it cost — even if none of the three leads took more than minimal fees up front — it will be lost money in the end.

For Cruise and Paula Wagner, partners in United Artists, this may affect their credit line from Merrill Lynch. The investment bank is in the middle of the same credit crisis as every other bank.

With Wachovia writing down nearly $2 billion on Friday, United Artists may have some difficulty getting financing for more films.

UA's next movie for the summer is Cruise playing a Nazi who attempts to assassinate Hitler. Mel Brooks is not involved.

'Lions' Redford, Streep: Not Fond of 'Lamb' Cruise?

No, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep did not attend Tom Cruise’s big dinner the other night honoring him by the American Museum of the Moving Image.

When I noted that the "Lions for Lambs" stars were absent, an insider very close to the scene told me, "Meryl and Bob can’t stand Tom. In London, Tom kept trying to push himself into interviews. Bob said, 'No.' Tom wouldn’t listen. Meryl has done almost nothing for the movie. She wants nothing to do with him."

On the other hand, a supporter of the film said, "That’s mean. They’re great friends. Just look at their interview on 'Good Morning America.'"

Well, I did. It was pre-taped and not live. It was also highly edited. Cruise says nary a word. Streep sits between the two men. Of course, Redford and Cruise have no scenes together in the movie. But Redford directed him. They do not look like great friends now. Look, no one’s surprised.

Redford certainly would not have felt comfortable on Tuesday night. Cruise not only had big-shot Scientologist Sky Dayton at his table, but also Dan Snyder, Republican and owner of the Washington Redskins. That was not Redford’s scene.

A spokesman said Redford had always had a Sundance Institute dinner scheduled for that night. But usually in those cases, the absentees send video testimonials. Neither Streep nor Redford were involved in that kind of gesture.

"Lions for Lambs" is going to be problematic no matter who likes whom. Conversations take place in it that I would like everyone to hear. But few people will. The odds are "LfL" is a huge money loser. It should have been made for HBO or Showtime.

On the small screen, its sentiments would be much easier to digest. In a big theater, I don’t think so. Anthony Lane wrote in the New Yorker this week that "Lions for Lambs" is "most charitably described as Ibsen with helicopters." Cindy Adams said Cruise could have been replaced by a paper bag. And those are the good reviews.

Cruise and his very smart partner Paula Wagner follow "LfL" with "Valkyrie," the movie no one thinks they want to see about the attempted assassination of Hitler. It’s scheduled for Aug. 8. You know, in the summer, people love to see the star of "Mission: Impossible" high-stepping around the Fuhrer.

The tag line is: "You had me at achtung." Neither of these films is destined to be a moneymaker. And that leaves a lot of questions for Merrill Lynch, financiers of the United Artists slate.

Warner Music Stock Collapse

As of 10:30 Friday morning, Edgar Bronfman Jr's. Warner Music Group stock has collapsed. It's currently selling at around $7.50. The stock reached its 52 week low earlier Friday morning at $7.26. A year ago, WMG was at $27.

Even if WMG manages to finish a little higher by the end of Friday, the fact remains that nearly every day of this bear market notches them a little lower. If and when the stock price drops below $7, one wonders how much more primary financiers Thomas Lee and company can take it.

What's wrong with Warner Music Group? It's not downloading. It's lack of music, no artists, no signings, no development of new artists, as well as wildly overpaid executives and bad business deals.

For example, a $30 million investment in Sean "Diddy" Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment has turned up nothing of value. And another multimillion dollar investment, in a private luxury concert business this summer in the Hamptons, was a bust.

At the same time, WMG has been hit by defections. Madonna has left for Live Nation after 25 years with WMG. The company could no longer afford her. The Eagles, whose entire career was spent with the old Warner Music, now have their own label with Wal-Mart. They sold 711,000 copies of their new album this year.

Warner also passed on the "Hairspray" soundtrack, which turned out to be a hit for New Line Cinema. And those are just the big public embarrassments. The smaller ones, the ones we don't know about, are probably even more alarming.

Mel Brooks' Next Musical Is ... Not 'Blazing Saddles'

We’re very worried. At the end of every Mel Brooks movie there’s a mention of a sequel that never happens. At the end of the Broadway musical version of "Young Frankenstein," which opened Thursday night to hoots and hollers of approval and many ovations, there’s a little song that includes a line about "next year, maybe 'Blazing Saddles.'"

Alas, it won’t happen. Brooks told me at the after-party at the Empire State Building that his next show is "Marco Polo and the History of Noodles." OK? In reality I am also told that too many people own the rights to "Blazing Saddles" to make it financially feasible.

Mel owned "YF" outright. The result is that Thursday night, producer Bob Sillerman was handing out first distribution checks to the eight main investors.

This was a first. But "YF" also took in, I am told, $1.8 million last week during previews, either setting a record or coming in second for a preview week. ("Wicked" may hold that honor.) "YF" is a monster hit, starring a monster.

And what a star-studded crowd: Rosie and Kelli O'Donnell; Paul Simon; Mike Nichols with Natalie Portman; Martin Short with his wife, Nancy; and Goldie Hawn, Joy Behar, Liz Smith, Mike Wallace — and those were just the people in our section.

Gene Wilder came out with Brooks and writer Tom Meehan at the end of the show to take a bow with genius director/choreographer Susan Stroman. We ran into our old friend Peter Kaczorowski, Tony-winning lighting designer, and his wife Diana. He will get another Tony next June for his work on "YF." It’s phenomenal.

Did you know that Martin Short and "YF" star Andrea Martin are related by marriage? That’s what brought him, and also that Short appeared in "The Producers" in Los Angeles. He easily could lay Roger Bart’s role of Dr. Franken-"steen." He’d be perfect.

And Bart is perfect here, even with a bad back. The whole cast is superb from Megan Mullally to Chris Fitzgerald to Sutton Foster. But for my money, Andrea Martin as Frau Blucher is the key to the whole thing. You must see this show if just for her rendition of "He Vas My Boyfriend."

There may be more to say about "Young Frankenstein" in days to come. "Theyater" critics are clearly out to get this show because it’s coming from outside their world. The New York Times on Friday is particularly harsh, and I think it's wrong. You will leave this show humming "Putting on the Ritz" and many of the numbers. It’s a crowd-pleaser, and you will be mighty pleased to be part of the crowd.

Michael Jackson: Lies, Lies, Lies

Michael Jackson’s publicist, Raymone Bain, issued a lie on Thursday in lieu of a press release. On her letterhead, she wrote: "Contrary to published reports, Mr. Jackson was never in default of the loan. Mr. Jackson is in the final stages of refinance and will not lose Neverland Valley Ranch."

Bain not only is incorrect, but she is actually lying. The state of California, Santa Barbara County will be happy to show her default notice docketed #2007-0074509. Maybe she hasn’t been truthful with her client, Jackson. He defaulted on a $23 million loan on Oct. 19.

This column reported it first on Oct. 26, then Oct. 31. A slew of news sources including the Associated Press, TMZ.com and Agence France Presse reported it again on Nov. 7 without our credit.

Jackson had better wake up. Thursday night, he set foot in California for the first time in two-and-half years to attend Jesse Jackson’s birthday party. While he’s there, he’d better go up to Neverland and start boxing up his stuff. If Bain doesn’t figure out how to refinance that $23 million loan, Neverland will go up for auction in January.

Meanwhile, Ebony magazine should be ashamed of itself. They traded exclusive photos of Jackson for a white-washed story about his life and music.

I feel sorry for the poor writer assigned to this task. Ebony even ran a sidebar using Bain’s innumerable lies as answers to questions about Jackson’s life. There is no reporting. Whitewash is a good way to put it, since Jackson is white as a ghost in the pictures.

Meg Ryan Punts; Cookin' Cuomos; Writers Not on Strike

Meg Ryan is someone we don’t see too often. But she stopped by the Stone Rose restaurant in the Time Warner Center the other night for Rich Eisen’s book party.

Eisen, an ESPN staple, just published "Total Access: A Journey to the Center of NFL Universe." Which is his favorite football team, this Giants fan asked? "All 22," he said, diplomatically.

Meanwhile, Bob Costas was busy chatting up two young ladies in a corner. Why was Meg there? She’s friends with Mrs. Eisen, someone said.

Meg just finished filming and producing "The Women," but she didn’t have much to say about it. Is it catty? I wondered. "A little bit," she said without smiling. …

Over at Le Cirque, same night, Sandra Lee was feted for her memoir, "Made From Scratch." Lee is the next Martha Stewart. She’s also the girlfriend of New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Does she cook Italian, I asked? Andrew’s answer sounded like an indictment. "Leave the Italian cooking to the Italians," he said.

Meanwhile, his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, told me the entire Iraq situation is best summarized in a short book called "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now" by George McGovern and William R. Polk. Who knows? Let’s read it over the weekend and see if he’s right. …

Writers not on strike are Broadway playwrights. Four of them convened for a panel Wednesday night at Sardi’s presented by the Outer Critics Circle. Tracy Letts, Theresa Rebeck, Sara Ruhl and Thomas Bradshaw were grilled by OCC’s Mario Fratti, author of the musical "Nine," and my very own mother, Rosalind Friedman, the recording secretary. (Yes, my mom, and I’m damn proud of her!) Samuel French publishers helped sponsor the event. For the record, my mom got in some good questions. The tree doesn’t fall far from the apple.