John Travolta Won't Do 'Today' for 'Hairspray'

John Travolta | The Beatles | Kurt Vonnegut

John Travolta Won't Do 'Today' for 'Hairspray'

John Travolta won't be joining his cast mates when they publicize "Hairspray" on the "Today" show this July. That's because Travolta's respected publicist, Paul Bloch, says "Good Morning America" simply asked first.

But some insiders are grumbling that Travolta won't do "Today" because of Tom Cruise's infamous interview with Matt Lauer last year — the one in which Cruise boasted of knowing the history of psychiatry and called Lauer "glib."

"It's because of Scientology that Travolta won't come on 'Today,'" an insider insisted.

I ran this scenario by a couple of people yesterday, including two who didn't know each other but maintained they had heard that Cruise, in fact, had made up with "Today," didn't care about the Lauer interview and was set to do "Today" in the fall when his movie "Lions for Lambs" comes out. Alas, none of this was true.

"It's way too early to make such a decision; there's been no discussion of it at all," said Cruise rep Arnold Robinson, Bloch's associate at Rogers and Cowan. "The movie doesn't come out until November."

Hmmm. So, what's up? The "Today" show, I was told, desperately wants to put on a "Hairspray" concert on their plaza outside Rockefeller Center to promote the film. They have already lined up Queen Latifah and the rest of the cast, but Travolta held out. Somewhere along the line, Scientology was invoked as the excuse.

"John is not going to any concerts for 'Hairspray,'" Bloch told me.

In other words, he will not be appearing in his Edna Turnblad costume anywhere to promote the film, even if it means missing group activities with the cast. If you want to see him in drag, looking a little like Barney, you will have to go to a movie theater.

As for the morning show flap, Bloch explained: "We were at 'Good Morning America' for 'Wild Hogs,' and Diane Sawyer, John's good friend, asked if he'd come back for 'Hairspray.' He said yes. That was it."

So, the more highly rated "Today" show will likely go ahead with its plaza concert. Missing Travolta will be too bad, but it probably won't impinge on the activities. From the footage that's been seen, Latifah, James Marsden and Nikki Blonsky are the main musical draws of what looks like the summer's sleeper hit.

Beatles News: All You Need Is Cash

I told you in yesterday's column about the ouster of the Beatles' longtime chief executive, Neil Aspinall. This morning, the British papers report that the Beatles have settled their $60 million royalty suit against EMI Music.

The Beatles and their heirs are thought to have been the victors in this negotiation. It clears the way, as well, for the Fab Four's music to be put on downloading services.

None of this is a coincidence; Aspinall's firing and the settlement of the suit are intertwined, sources say. Aspinall held out against downloading and was quick to sue anyone he thought crossed the Beatles or underpaid them.

But Aspinall's entrenchment may have been his undoing, too. With the suit settled, he would have had to give in to downloading, which was something he didn't want to do.

At the same time, sources knowledgeable about Apple Records say that Paul McCartney's expensive divorce may have been a factor in Aspinall's exit.

McCartney, they suggest, is keen on making money to replace the $50 million or so he will have to give his gold-digging, network-dancing estranged wife, Heather Mills. If Aspinall wasn't going to find new revenue streams, they say, someone had to.

Rest in Peace, Kurt Vonnegut

It's a little startling to write about Kurt Vonnegut passing away. To most people who read his books when they were young in the early 1970s, he was an idol.

At first it was "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle" that drew us in. Vonnegut's fictional interpretations of his World War II experience in Dresden translated easily to the anti-war feelings of the Vietnam era. He was revered.

Vonnegut died last night at age 84. He was perhaps the last torchbearer of post-World War II literature that included his friends Joseph Heller, William Styron, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud and James Jones.

They were the literary lions, the greats, faces so well-known that they are reproduced on coffee mugs and bookmarks not because of commercial appeal, but because of their incredible influence on generations of readers.

But Vonnegut was more than just "Slaughterhouse-Five," his most famous novel. When you read "Mother Night," "Player Piano" or the short stories from "Welcome to the Monkey House," you realized there was so much more.

He was a humorist, memoirist and populist. His simplicity of language ("so it goes") spoke volumes. He was a satirist, of course, but the depth of it was so disarming. Vonnegut's work resonated on levels that took you by surprise time and time again.

I'm thinking about the characters — Kilgore Trout, Elliot Rosewater, Norman Mushari, the twins from "Slapstick," Harrison Bergeron — who populated his head. They are as lodged in the minds of readers from my generation and as important as Ethan Frome or Mr. Darcy. They are what makes literature: the conveyors of truth and wisdom and evil and greed.

Maybe that's why it was virtually impossible to make a decent movie out of a Vonnegut book. His genius lay in the circular, not in the linear. His characters didn't grow so much as burrow in.

I was lucky enough in later years to be friends with Kurt and his wife, the great photographer Jill Krementz. It wasn't easy. Vonnegut, to me, was a god of words. What did Vonnegut know that we didn't? Lots.

Click here to read Roger Friedman's interview with Kurt Vonnegut on his 80th birthday.

"All of the true things that I am about to tell you are shameless lies," Vonnegut wrote once.

But here's something that is no lie: The Kurt Vonnegut I knew was an amazing man. He wasn't perfect; no one is. But he raised three children and took in three that belonged to his sister. He and his wife adopted a beautiful daughter, Lily, who is grown now, too.

He excelled at kindness and generosity and was polite to a fault. He saw goodness in people where others might not. He was the kind of writer we will never see again: often imitated, but never equaled in any way.

Our culture is a far colder place without the man whose maxim was: "Everything was beautiful, nothing hurt."