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''First Wives Club'' went through a lot of editing

Script was altered numerous times after shooting to focus on its stars

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It was nipped. It was tucked. While that sure sounds like the face of Elise Eliot — the plastic-surgery canvas played by Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club — it describes the film as well, which altered as much after editing as Hawn’s lips did after saline injections. ”Entire plotlines were cut,” says screenwriter Robert Harling. ”To paraphrase [costar] Bette Midler, this movie’s a quilt.” But with the highest-grossing September opening ever ($19 million), Wives, which also features Diane Keaton, is becoming a patchwork of profits — despite these changes:

In the trailer, Midler asks Hawn whether her surgeon gave her ”the full Ivana.” In the finished cut, it’s softened to ”the full enchilada” — possibly to avoid ruffling the feathers of the real Ivana, who puts in a cameo.

To trim the film, out went Jon Stewart’s role as Hawn’s love interest, Heather Locklear’s lines, and a catfight between Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker. ”One thing they found in editing is that Goldie, Bette, and Diane are…what you want to see,” says Harling. ”There wasn’t room for other things.”

Added during looping: a nod to Paramount’s other hit (”This is just like Mission: Impossible,” says Midler, as the trio steal financial records). There’s also a plug for Best Seller, a new novel by Wives author Olivia Goldsmith.

In the finale, Kathie Lee Gifford interviews the trio, but according to an on-set source, this jab by Midler was nixed: ”Where’s Frank, Kathie?” asks Bette. ”He’s home taking care of Cody,” replies Gifford. Snipes Bette, ”So you think.” Too bad for Gifford, Frank’s third wife. Her humor-excised appearance is drawing snickers and even hisses at some theaters.