Anniversary Party Is Early Retirement Party for Phoebe Cates

 Phoebe Cates | Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep  | Jennifer Jason Leigh | Robert Altman | And Another Thing | | Thursday Bites

 Anniversary Party Is Early Retirement Party for Phoebe Cates

Phoebe Cates stars in The Anniversary Party, which opens tomorrow in selected cities. But she is not coming out of retirement.

The almost 38-year-old actress — who looks like she's 28, with flawless skin and big, warm, round eyes — last starred in Princess Caraboo (1994). Before that she was probably best known from Gremlins, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the very campy TV mini-series Lace (in which she got to deliver the line, "Which one of you bitches is my mother?").

But Cates told me at the elite little reception for The Anniversary Party on Monday night that she's happy to be wife to Oscar-winning actor Kevin Kline and mother to Owen, 9, and Greta, 7.

"Some people have trouble with that," Cates said. "But I love it. I do it all. We have no help whatsoever except for a housekeeper who comes in and cleans because, let's face it, I hate doing that. But I cook dinner every night, and we're all there together."

Kevin Kline on Meryl Streep's Talent: 'We'll See'

Kline, who stood nearby during this conversation, seems to be basking in the glow of domesticity. Late next month he will appear in Chekhov's The Seagull with Meryl Streep at the Shakespeare Festival in Central Park, directed by Mike Nichols and adapted by Tom Stoppard. How is Streep as an actress? Kline — who starred with Streep in the movie Sophie's Choice — replied, archly: "We'll see now, won't we? I've heard she's very good in movies, but a play! A play will tell us."

(The Seagull, by the way, also stars John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Allison Janney, Debra Monk, Larry Pine, Natalie Portman, Stephen Spinella, and Christopher Walken).

What's interesting about The Anniversary Party, written and directed together by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, is that Cates was lured back to work by Leigh, her friend since Ridgemont High. "I would only have done it for Jennifer," Phoebe told me.

As well as their parents, Owen and Greta are also prominently featured in the movie.

"I think it was a matter of 'Phoebe doesn't leave her kids, so if you want Phoebe, the kids have to be there too.' They would have been on the set, so you might as well have them in the movie," said Kline.

Owen and Greta now each have their "SAG" cards — they are now members of the Screen Actor's Guild — but Cates said: "That's it. Except for Jennifer's next movie, they're done in show biz for now."

 A Non-Sequel Sequel for Jennifer Jason Leigh

Leigh is busy writing a new screenplay that will feature all the cast members from The Anniversary Party. But it's not a sequel, I am warned.

Leigh's sister, Mina Badie, who does a knock out job in AP as Monica, an unhappy wife and neighbor to Leigh and Cummings in the Hollywood Hills, said Jennifer calls her frequently trying out new ideas. "She'll say, 'You're married to Kevin and having an affair with John Hickey.' Or, 'Kevin's married to Parker [Posey] and you're having an affair with Kevin.' She's still working it out."

 Robert Altman Casts a Shadow

Anniversary Party revolves around the title event, the sixth wedding anniversary of Cumming, a Hollywood director, and Leigh, an actress. I hesitate to put the words neurotic or insecure in front of all any one of these, because everyone in the movie fits that description.

Very much a Robert Altman-type ensemble enterprise, Anniversary Party also features Gwyneth Paltrow as the star of Cumming's movie, Jennifer Beals (yes, from Flashdance), Jane Adams, John C. Reilly, and newcomers Denis O'Hare and Michael Panes — the latter eerily resembling Peter Sellers.

The Altman connection is more deliberate than I'd originally thought. Of course, Jennifer Jason Leigh (real name Jennifer Morrow) has appeared in two Altman-directed films, Short Cuts and Kansas City, and starred in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.

Here's where it gets interesting, though: Leigh's mother, Barbara Turner, is married to Reza Badiyi, the famous TV director who's also Altman's lifelong friend and who worked with him back in Altman's TV days on shows like Bonanza. Turner and Badiyi are the parents of Mina Badie, Leigh's half-sister who now almost steals the show from all these seasoned actors in AP.

 And Another Thing

Quipped one very sharp-tongued journalist on the scene at the Leigh-Cumming party, apropos of Cates' seven-year absence from the screen: "She's so refreshing to see in a film. I think every Hollywood actor should take a seven-year break, don't you?" Picks Up Our Story, Four Weeks Later

From the May 4 Fox 411: "ABC TV Honcho Is Dead Man in New HBO Series"

It's an ugly, uncomfortable scene. In HBO's new series, Six Feet Under, Mr. Bloomberg is on the table in a funeral parlor. He is quite dead, and bloated. A worker from the home is busy draining the fluids from his body and embalming him. Yeeccchh. 

Only one problem: Mr. Bloomberg is Jewish, which means, generally, that he would not be embalmed. He is also in a non-Jewish funeral home. Is it a mistake? Seems hard to believe. Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning writer of American Beauty, wrote and directed Six Feet Under. Certainly, he knows what he's doing, yes?


Indeed, it turns out that Mr. Bloomberg is Alan Ball's revenge on a real person: Stu Bloomberg, the ABC TV entertainment chief who cancelled Mr. Ball's show, Oh Grow Up, last year. Mr. Ball is not ready to confirm this, but privately production people agree that is why the terribly disfigured character is so named.

At last, a writer gets his revenge.

Six Feet Under, which begins a run in June, is often gruesome. But let's remember, it's about a family-run funeral parlor. In the premiere episode, the father of the family is killed, hit by a bus while driving his new hearse. His eldest son meets a stranger on an airplane and has sex with her in an airport broom closet. His second son is secretly gay and sleeping with a local cop.  His daughter is on crystal meth when she gets the news about the hearse crash. Before the episode is over, the widow — the mother of all these kids — admits to having had an affair.

Peter Krause, who starred in the ill-fated Sports Night, and Rachel Griffiths, the Australian actress who played musician Jacqueline du Pré's sister in Hilary and Jackie, are absolute standouts in Six Feet Under. You may have trouble getting through that first hour, but I am told that the funeral parlor antics are considerably toned down in the dozen episodes that follow.

As for Alan Ball, he will not be lampooning HBO executives in future shows as he has done with Mr. Bloomberg. As he said several times during the post-screening dinner at Le Cirque, "Thank God for HBO."

Fox 411 Thursday Bites

First Janis Joplin, then Billy Joel. Now someone somewhere is trying to mount a John Denver tribute-type Broadway show with songs by the late soft rocker called Almost Heaven. ... John Hartford, the great bluegrass musician and author of the wonderful Glen Campbell song, "Gentle on My Mind," died Monday after a long battle with cancer. He was 63. Hartford is featured in the D.A. Pennebaker/Coen Bros. documentary Down From the Mountain, which starts a limited release on June 15. ... And I was sorry to hear of the death of songwriter Michael Hazlewood at age 59. With Albert Hammond he wrote two of the very best pop songs of the 1970s or any other era, "The Air That I Breathe" (for the Hollies), and "It Never Rains in Southern California" with Hammond. On the upside, he died in Florence, Italy, the most beautiful place on Earth.