Sylvester Stallone KOs Mel Gibson in One Round

Sylvester Stallone | Tom Cruise | L.A. Times | Jerry Berns

Stallone KOs Gibson in One Round

Sylvester Stallone has returned from the dead and knocked out Mel Gibson in one round, with one punch.

Stallone’s “Rocky Balboa” finished first on Wednesday, taking in over $6.2 million at the box office.

The effect was staggering. “Rocky”’s success knocked Mel Gibson’s "Apocalypto" from number 6 to number 9 in one fell swoop. Gibson’s bloody, violent, overhyped action movie took in just $830,143, bringing its total since Dec. 8 to $30.8 million.

Considering the $25 million or more that Disney committed to Gibson for promotion, and the $50 million Gibson spent making “Apocalypto,” things are starting to look pretty bleak for the movie to even break even.

With just $15 mil in the till (the other 15 went to theaters), "Apocalypto" is becoming more "Apocalypse Then" than "Apocalypse Now."

Meanwhile, Rocky Balboa could be the surprise hit of the Christmas season. With mixed reviews that suggest this long overdue sequel is “not as bad as you thought,” Stallone’s gamble could turn into a $50 million Christmas weekend.

Not only would he break even, but Stallone would actually have possibly the most profitable movie of the season.

The astounding part of this is that Stallone, careerwise, has been colder than the meat locker Penelope Cruz stashes her dead husband in in “Volver.” It’s been more than a decade since anyone took him seriously commercially, forget about artistically. But the Rocky story has proven to be an evergreen, one that people remember fondly and seemingly want to embrace. Bravo to Stallone for making a new episode with some class and dignity.

The big test for “Rocky Balboa” will come on Friday, when it faces competition from “The Good Shepherd,” “Night at the Museum” and “We Are Marshall.” As for "Apocalypto," it would seem the party is over, and the Mayans are in ruins once again.

Tom Cruise Can't Put Out These Fires

Tom Cruise — recently voted as creepier than ever in a Gallup poll, has lost a lot of fans. Chief among them: The New York Fire Department.

I’m told that the bad feeling toward Cruise stems from his attempt to bring Scientology into the department. His crusade began shortly after 9/11 and was briefly documented in the papers here.

The gist of it was that Cruise himself arrived and began to offer “detox programs” to firemen who had respiratory problems. The detoxing, he said, was developed by Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard, a dead science fiction writer.

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Of course, the real goal was to grab new members for Scientology. Apparently, the group had some success. According to my sources in the FDNY, several firefighters not only joined Scientology but left their families in the process.

“They told the firefighters that they’d been unhappy in their lives before 9/11 and that they should leave,” said a higher up in the department who spoke to me recently. “Cruise is responsible.”

Cruise and Scientology dubbed their program “New York Rescue Workers Detoxificiation Project.” They got tax-free status for it, too, and used a California CPA named Roland Fink, who happened to be a Scientologist, to vouch for them in writing as an “independent auditor.”

Fink, according to reports, has coincidentally made the Scientology “honor roll” twice in the last four years.

The result, according to their federal tax filing, is the usual financial roundelay for the IRS-sanctioned religion. In 2004 they raised $1.6 million, nearly all of which went to “expenses.” Of that, $880,000 went to something called Downtown PC. Another $173,300 was funneled back to Dr. Steven Lager of Williston Park, N.Y., a major Scientologist who advocates alternative methods of detoxification.

The detox method is considered to be another name for Scientology’s “purification” program, long in existence before 9/11 and designed to “cleanse” their followers.

How the Scientology detox program raises their money is perhaps even more interesting. As detailed on their Web site, their new fundraising initiative — launched Nov. 1 and set to conclude on May 1, 2007 — reads very much like a pyramid scheme at worst, or Amway at best.

“To reach our goal, we are asking for your help and the help of all New Yorkers. Those who join the campaign as Participants agree to ask 25 of their family, friends and co-workers to donate $5.00 each to the project. When a donation sheet with 25 donors donating a minimum of $5 each is completed and mailed to the project, the Participant will then be entered into a drawing to win a Caribbean Dream Vacation for two to the Atlantis Hotel & Casino in the Bahamas. Participants are encouraged to complete as many donation sheets as they can — each completed sheet qualifies you for another entry in the drawing.”

According to the group’s Web site, at least two New York City firefighters joined Scientology as a result of the detox program. Both Sebastian Rapanti and Joe Higgins offer themselves as case studies for the group on the site. They also appear in pictures with actress Jenna Elfman and her husband, Bodhi Elfman, two avowed Scientologists, from a party at the group’s Hollywood headquarters, some 3,000 miles from their homes and families.

According to the New York Times, Higgins wound up joining Scientology and becoming a paid adviser.

My source within the Fire Department warns that Scientology will not be allowed in again if there’s another terrorist attack. “Our crisis workers weren’t equipped to deal with them last time. They’re ready now,” my source said.

By the way, the Scientology/Detox people should re-designate one of the spokeswomen in their recruitment and fundraising video. Margarita Lopez is no longer a New York City Councilwoman, as she is billed. She is now a Surrogate Court judge in Brooklyn. Her efforts to become Manhattan Borough president in 2005 were blunted when the New York Post reported that she directed hundreds of thousands of city dollars into the controversial detox program after receiving $115,000 in campaign donations from Scientology.

L.A. Times: Disappearing Ink

Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times proved to have a little disappearing ink in a story that ran online and in the paper about the Academy Awards and Paramount Pictures.

The mystery began when those of us who have the word “Pellicano” set for Google alert received an automatic notice that the jailed investigator was included in an article in Thursday’s Times.

The story was called “Head of the Class,” by Josh Young, a good entertainment writer whom I know from his days at Entertainment Weekly.

The citation was a sentence fragment that read: “…with the DreamWorks acquisition, the firing of Viacom chief Tom Freston and reports that attempted to link Brad Grey to the Anthony Pellicano wiretap scandal left ...”

But lo and behold: clicking on the link to “Head of the Class” brought us to the story. Alas, there was no sign of this sentence at all, and no reference to Freston’s firing or Grey’s link to the wiretap scandal. The reference didn’t appear in the newspaper print edition either, which ran on Page S22.

There was another difference, too. In the paper, the story was called “What Went Right?” Online it was titled with less enthusiasm: “Head of the Class.”

So what happened to the missing text? One can only surmise that holiday gremlins managed to remove it between the time it appeared online and went into the paper.

Goodbye, Mr. Jerry

I am sad to note the passing of Jerry Berns, the great owner and presence of the 21 Club. He was 99 years old. I wish the people writing the obits in the Times knew more about these great legends, because Jerry Berns was known to everyone as "Mr. Jerry," just as Pete Kreindler was "Mr. Pete." Those were their nicknames around the restaurant.

Mr. Jerry was gracious, good natured, and funny. When I met him he was already past 70, and had known everyone including Walter Winchell, who was a fixture at 21. Back in 1983, Mr. Jerry let me and the late great Pierre Franey film inside the restaurant's hidden wine cellar for the first time, for "The Merv Griffin Show." It was magical.

Mr. Jerry stayed on when Marshall Cogan bought the place and tried to wreck it, but the fact is 21 is eternal thanks to Jerry and Pete. Another little bit of New York history is lost today. Rest in peace.