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Madonna's elephant ad


"IS THIS as big as Crosby's?" asked Bob Hope when they gave him the Oscar.

So -- tonight's the night again; another one of those glorious evenings sitting through those wonderful Oscar-nominated songs.

TONIGHT MADONNA will appear in all her glory on the Academy Awards telecast, singing Stephen Sondheim's nominated ballad, "Sooner or Later," from "Dick Tracy." Millions of fans and critics will catch this Oscar debut. What we won't get to see is Madonna wearing a sequined bathing suit, astride a huge elephant.

Now this was not something planned for the Oscar show. Madonna's pachyderm passion was dreamed up for the star's new Japanese TV commercial, which promotes a Nippon boutique. Madonna is one of a growing number of supernovae who will not appear in TV or print ads in the U.S. (fearing commercialism might tarnish luster) but willingly go East for big bucks.

Madonna collected a cool million for her efforts. Rumor has it that as she perched on the aforesaid elephant, with a prop whip in her hand, pretending to flay the beast, she was asked to put more anger into it. "Think about somebody you hate," said the director. Madonna thought a moment, and began shrieking "Robin Wright! Robin Wright!" (Robin Wright is the pregnant current love of Madonna's ex, Sean Penn.)

EVERY SPRING, the talk of Washington is what happens at the famed Gridiron Dinner. This year's fun fest was on Saturday night, to salute the triumphant president of the United States and make fun of everybody and everything that matters in the nation's capital.

On this night of nights, the press performs to tweak the noses of the great in government and politics. The Gridiron has had its big past moments -- such as the time when Nancy Reagan joined the media onstage, dressed in rags, and sang "Second Hand Clothes." This year, dynamic singer Jack Duvall, in white tie and tails, trilled lyrics written by John Hall to the tune of the stirring music from "The Civil War" PBS series. This lilting, haunting refrain was dedicated to the victorious troops in the gulf.

Duvall is a longtime favorite of this columnist; a Virginia businessman who also just happens to manage the career of his very famous brother, actor Robert Duvall. Jack is a hell of a performer himself, and his "Statue of Liberty" get-up some time back, which he performed to the tune of the "Carioca" (lyric: "Have you considered Iacocca? He wrote a book and that's no joke-ah!"), made him infamous.

MAYBE YOU read Bill Safire last week wherein the pundit suggested the United Nations stay buckled up and select a new secretary-general, not from some Third World nation who feels its turn is up next, but from the reservoir of immense talent in the Western World. (In other words, Safire seemed to be saying that the U.N. is on a winning streak, has made its mark and shown it can be influential, so why should it drift back into sleepy ineffectuality?) Safire ended by mentioning Margaret Thatcher.

Now delegates of the Muslim countries at the big glass tower on the East River and 42nd Street in New York are busy working to prevent Britain's Iron Lady from being brought in to replace the retiring Perez de Cuellar.

Mrs. Thatcher is said actually to have a strong chance and the Muslims hope to knock her out of the box before this rampant popularity goes any further.

PEOPLE WHO RECALL the old Steve Allen "Tonight" show on NBC back in the '50s and people sitting in Broadway audiences these '90s nights for "City of Angels" are the natural heirs of Nick Vanoff's talent. He died at 61 of cardiac arrest in L.A. last week.

The one-time dancer who became an Emmy award-winning producer was also the man who put Jackie Mason on Broadway. He will be sadly missed by the cognoscenti and by his longtime love, Felisa, his sons, Nick and Flavio, and his old friend Liz.

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