Liza Minnelli and David Gest's freak show wedding Saturday afternoon will feature a bizarre selection of songs by an array of eclectic musicians handpicked by the couple.
I can tell you that Queen's Brian May will perform "Tie Your Mother Down" and "We Are the Champions." Billy Paul will sing "Me and Mrs. Jones" — a song about infidelity that is not usually heard at nuptials. Soul singing legend Chuck Jackson is due to render his famous anthem "Any Day Now" at the reception for 800 people at 55 Wall Street, part of the Regent Hotel chain — the same group that owns the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles. Phoebe Snow will sing her own signature song, "At Last," from her recent Sony/Legacy greatest hits album.
Meanwhile, I'm reporting here exclusively that not only is Whitney Houston not coming as planned (along with hubby Bobby Brown), but Chaka Khan has dropped out, too. Also off the guest list is Shirley Temple, who I told you earlier — also exclusively — was supposed to come. Temple chickened out once she heard the rumor that Gest has a collection of her memorabilia.
Crashers need not attend, by the way. Without a special black ticket, no one will be able to pass through the heavy security termed "worse than the White House" by one insider.
It's going to be a weird weekend.
Tomorrow is Liza's wedding. On Sunday night, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash will be interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes.
Is it a full moon or what?
On the subject of Liza, my colleague Liz Smith breaks the news today that Whitney Houston will not be a guest at the wedding and will not sing "The Greatest Love of All" as Liza goes down the aisle. (You can only imagine what that walk of fame will be like!)
Whitney is claiming a previous engagement in Florida, but in reality — as I reported here a couple of weeks ago — the greatest singer of her generation has been getting herself together and trying to do a little recording for a new album. She has a $100 million album deal with Arista Records, so that takes precedence.
Of course, Whitney's enemies will say that she's too sick to travel, or too worried about her appearance after the P.R. debacle that followed her Michael Jackson concert gig back in September.
I say Whitney's advisors are right to keep her away from this freak show of a wedding at which most guests will be nursing-home age anyway and probably have never heard of Whitney Houston.
By the way, I keep asking: Has anyone called in John Waters to film this thing?
Meantime: John Nash. Even though 60 Minutes has released a teaser from Wallace's interview to the wire services (he denies being gay, anti-Semitic, or anything else that could hurt A Beautiful Mind's Oscar chances), I can tell you this is a little premature.
Last night, at the premiere of the Broadway musical Sweet Smell of Success, the famous producer of 60 Minutes, Don Hewitt, sat right in front of me. He left at intermission — bolted, really.
When I asked how the Nash interview was going, Hewitt replied: "We've already pulled it all apart and put it back together once. It's still in editing. I'm going back there to see how it's going."
We'll have to wait until Sunday to see if Wallace still has the great chops he's known for and quizzes Nash about the issues that have plagued A Beautiful Mind for the last several months.
I heard some great news yesterday about one of my heroes, Regis Philbin.
ABC plans to bring Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? back in the dog days of August with 12 straight episodes. That's right: an even dozen, with no breaks, and most likely all live.
The idea is to try to recapture the game-show's original excitement.
You may know that Millionaire went from airing twice a week to nearly every day of the week when ABC realized it could save their network from ratings disaster. But of course they wound up wringing the life out of the show, burning out interest and then implying that Philbin was the problem.
Of course, that's just absurd. Regis has been on for an hour every morning for 15 years and his ratings are higher than ever. But the key to Live with Regis and Kelly (or Kathie Lee) is consistency. For Millionaire, greed simply got in the way.
My guess is that the August run will be a big hit if it's done right. Regis is forever. Yesterday on Live he showed off a photograph taken of him with gossip columnist Walter Winchell in the early '60s, and a newspaper clip of a column Winchell wrote about Philbin subsequently. That was nearly 40 years ago!
There hasn't been a Broadway opening so grand and buzzy since last year's for The Producers. Last night, The Sweet Smell of Success, a musical based on one of the best movies ever made, finally premiered in front of many tuxedoed and gowned celebrities and VIPs.
They clapped, but they didn't mean it.
Nevertheless, Sweet Smell attracted quite a crowd, including a group of the most normal and nicest people I've met at such a gathering in a long time: previously Oscar-nominated actress Joan Allen with her husband, actor Peter Friedman (no relation to this reporter); character actor Todd Susman and his girlfriend, actress Sandy Faison.
More on Joan Allen on Monday. But Sussman's face would be familiar to you. He's a TV regular, and did five seasons on Newhart. He is the voice of Mitsubishi in commercials and appears on camera in many of them.
Faison is a Broadway veteran who was also featured in the soap Edge of Night during its last two years as an adult virgin. In real life, she said, she was nine months pregnant and had to hide it.
Joan Allen heard this, and laughed a good laugh. "That's soap opera," she said, and sighed.
Some other luminaries at the Success party at the Waldorf included Kyra Sedgwick, Fisher Stevens, Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi, Liz Smith, Cindy Adams, Polly Draper and husband Michael Wolff, local TV news star Lynn White, and two legends: Patricia Neal and Celeste Holm, both of whom looked great.
Ernest Lehman, the 85-year-old writer of the movie Sweet Smell was there, along with David Brown, the 86-year-old producer of the musical. Each is quite remarkable.
Lehman — who also wrote West Side Story, The Sound of Music, North by Northwest, Sabrina, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — is the father of a six-week-old child by his second wife, by the way.
He told me: "I hope people don't compare the movie to the musical. You have to separate them."
I'll tell you more about Ernie Lehman next week, if Sweet Smell is still playing. The show has a strong book by John Guare, but is hopelessly weighed down by Marvin Hamlisch's unmelodic, un-singable jazz songs (almost none of which has a chorus) and sets so dark they require a flashlight for illumination.
In two and a half hours, you never get to see the main character, J.J. Hunsecker, in the Stork Club wielding his immense power as a gossip columnist. This would be a like theater version of Cheers that never showed the bar.
What were these people thinking? John Lithgow is excellent, but he's alone, and he seems like he's making it up as he goes along.
P.S. — Lithgow left the Waldorf early, probably after hearing The New York Times' scathingly negative review. But I guarantee you: he'll be back on Broadway again soon.