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Al Pacino, Diane Keaton in Backstage Soap Opera

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Al Pacino (AP)

Pacino, Keaton in Backstage Soap Opera | Tonys: Good Show, but Awards Goofed | Laurie Colwin Remembered; Brokaw to Return to Anchor Desk?

Pacino, Keaton in Backstage Soap Opera

How did Al Pacino and Diane Keaton even exist together for a minute backstage at the AFI Tribute to Warren Beatty in Hollywood on Thursday night? (See Friday’s column for my first report from this extraordinary event.)

The former lovers have not spoken to each other since right before they filmed the very terrible "Godfather III." Their relationship came to a crashing end when Keaton learned — a year after the fact — that Pacino had fathered a daughter in 1989 with his assistant, Jan Tarrant.

Keaton was devastated, friends told me at the time. The result was the complete chaos that resulted in "The Godfather III," Keaton’s subsequent relationship with director James Foley and her adoption of two children of her own a few years later.

Pacino, by the way, came out to introduce Beatty and give him the AFI Award. I don’t know if you’ll see this on the June 25 show, but he then stood off-camera to Beatty’s left while Warren spoke, instead of just vanishing. It was very respectful, and you could tell he was genuinely excited to hear his friend’s acceptance speech.

But emotions were running high, especially as Keaton and Pacino were preceded on the Kodak stage by Jack Nicholson. Beatty’s best friend had been absent from the AFI tribute all evening so he could watch the Lakers-Celtics game. Dustin Hoffman, in his speech for Beatty, had good fun with the missing pal, constantly reminding the honoree: "I’m here. Jack, are you here?"

When he finally arrived, Nicholson wore a long black Nehru jacket that looked like it had been designed by Yohji Yohamoto and his trademark sunglasses. The gist of his remarks, as you may see during the broadcast of this unusually star-studded and off-the-cuff night, was that he’d already given Beatty a few awards.

Nicholson looked like he hadn’t slept in a while, and his demeanor suggested that perhaps he’d drowned his sorrows over the Lakers before arrival at the Kodak. He said, "It was suggested I go somewhere and find my sense of humor," he said with a smirk. He also commented on having to follow Bill Clinton on stage.

Beatty, it should be noted, was incredibly amused by the whole thing. He especially liked Hoffman’s speech, in which we learned that the famous Hollywood lothario had worked during his early days in New York as a "sand man" helping to dig the Lincoln Tunnel. This would have been during the completion of the third tube in 1956-57.

That same year, Hoffman also revealed that Beatty tried out for but didn’t get a part on Broadway in Jerome Robbins’ "West Side Story."

"I’m going to ask you to come up and sing ‘Maria,'" Hoffman joked.

"It was Riff, not Tony!" Beatty shouted from the main table.

Hoffman said he got a lot of his facts from Wikipedia, and after Googling Beatty.

"I guess not everything there is right," he said, when Beatty corrected some other facts in his toast. The crowd of Hollywood types, many subjects of erroneous Internet info, roared with laughter.

Beatty and wife Annette Bening did love the evening. They not only went to the after-party upstairs, but stayed until the bitter end — at least past 1 a.m., when this jet-lagged reporter begged off to go to sleep. They shook hands and took pictures literally with every single one of the 600 guests, including dozens of total strangers.

One young man asked Beatty if, like John Reed in "Reds," he had trouble balancing politics and art in his life. Which, this nice guy asked, did he want more of now?

Beatty’s answer was surprising, considering how involved he’s been in politics during his career. "Art!" he announced. He told me he still has no definite plans for a film after his last one, "Town & Country," in 2001. He’s turned down at least two offers from Quentin Tarantino, in both "Kill Bill" films and in "Death Proof." His face was just — to use a pun of a word here — beatific: "I just want to be with my kids and my wife."

Just a PS: Also in the audience on Thursday night: Eva Mendes, stunning, very quiet, stayed just past Clinton’s speech, then exited. She was unaccompanied.

Also: Lainie Kazan, fresh from her "Zohan" triumph, Bob Daley and Carole Bayer Sager and the very strange actor Michael J. Pollard, who was a curious sensation in the late '60s from "Bonnie & Clyde" and other films. If he were a celebrity now, Pollard — who’s 68 but looks 10 years older after a tough, tough go — would get work in reality shows like "The Surreal Life." On the guest list it said he was seated with Fawn Hall, the girl from the Oliver North scandals of the 1980s. Was she there? It may have been Pollard’s little joke.

Tonys: Good Show, but Awards Goofed

The Tony Awards put on their best show in several seasons Sunday night, mostly thanks to Whoopi Goldberg as host and some clever producing that put older shows like "The Lion King" and "Rent" front and center after a mediocre year.

But the show could have been so much better if the Tony committee hadn’t shown vitriol to "Young Frankenstein." Instead of nominating this clever musical, the panel pretty much ignored it. As a replacement, they added the completely embarrassing "Xanadu." Seeing it on TV was to wince.

Whoopi made the show, injecting it with some life. It was the first time in two years that the Tonys even bothered to use a host. The difference was night and day. Doug Leeds, the co-president and unsung hero of the American Theater Wing, told me at the big after-party that he was more than pleased with the outcome. "CBS is very happy, too," he said.

At the big after-party in Rockefeller Center, most of the winners and participants turned up before heading to smaller gatherings. Lily Tomlin, Best Actor winner Mark Rylance, Stew from "Passing Strange," were all there.

Martha Plimpton, nominated for "Top Girls," came with dad Keith Carradine and mom Shelley Plimpton. I saw 90-year-old Arthur Laurents, who should have won Best Director for "Gypsy."

Tom Stoppard, whose "Rock 'n' Roll" was nominated for Best Play, headed straight to the bar. Jeremy Irons, accompanying nominated wife Sinead Cusack for the same play, made the rounds. Mary-Louise Parker hobbled by, saying, "Forgive me, I have a broken toe." S. Epatha Merkerson blew us off because she thought we mispronounced her name. Oh, well.

Gabriel Byrne took a quiet back table. Producer James Nederlander Jr. and Margo McNabb were toasted for their wedding later this month. Counting Crows’ rock star Adam Duritz told me that Stew is indeed one of his roommates in a loft in New York City's Union Square. "Check out his earlier albums," Duritz advised me. "They’re amazing."

I was happy to meet Laura Benanti, who won Best Featured Actress in a Play for "Gypsy." This beauty is going to be a big, big star now. She comes from good stock, don’t you know: her father is Broadway star Martin Vidnovic. Benanti is married to "Rescue Me" actor Steven Pasquale. That’s a lot of drama!

Meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein had his choice of parties, since his "August: Osage County," won Best Play and his "Boeing Boeing" won Best Revival, Play. Not a bad showing! The former group headed to the Red Eye Grill and the latter went to Hurley’s.

Here’s some advice for the Tony’s for next year: why not take a page from the Golden Globes and have all the different parties under one roof? It would be a lot easier for everyone involved.

Laurie Colwin Remembered; Brokaw to Return to Anchor Desk?

Tim Russert’s sudden and tragic death on Friday reminded me of a similar fate that befell my friend Laurie Colwin in 1992. The acclaimed New Yorker writer, novelist and essayist was just 48 when she died in her sleep from a heart attack. Saturday would have been her 64th birthday. All of Laurie’s books are still in print, including her "Home Cooking" essays, novels like "Happy All the Time" and "Family Happiness," and short story collections "The Lone Pilgrim" and "Another Marvelous Thing." Like Russert, she left one child. I am happy to report that Rosa Jurjevics, now 24, is doing just great, writing for the San Diego Reader and editing films. Laurie would be proud. ...

From everything we saw of NBC’s wall-to-wall coverage of Russert’s death, one thing is clear: Tom Brokaw is going to have to come back to work. Without Russert, NBC has no team captain to take them through the political conventions and election night in November.

Brokaw may be happy in his retirement, but he’s going to have to be there as Russert’s replacement. Not that Russert can be replaced by just one person. He was simply doing too much, which is what may have caused his death. But with Brokaw in charge, Brian Williams and David Gregory, among others, will be free to do their jobs. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to bring back Jane Pauley, too. ...