Plus, Elle Macpherson, ''South Park,'' ''Random Hearts,'' John Lennon, and more

By Josh Wolk
Updated October 11, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

IT’S ON Martin Scorsese‘s next project, ”Gangs of New York” — kind of like ”Kundun,” but with 19th-century street gangs busting heads instead of the Dalai Lama preaching peace — is now a go, thanks to Miramax. Disney had been looking for someone to help out with the $90 million budget, and its indie subsidiary jumped in with wallets a-blazin’ in order to nab domestic rights. Scorsese reportedly is also hoping to cast Cameron Diaz and Robert De Niro for the February shoot.

CASTING Because anyone less than gorgeous is prohibited by law to go anywhere near the ”Friends” set, Elle Macpherson has been recruited to do an extended guest shot as Joey’s new roomie. She’ll be introduced during November sweeps…. ”The Blair Witch Project”’s Heather Donahue has signed to play Freddie Prinze Jr.’s girlfriend in the college-set love story ”Boys and Girls”…. Right after Dougray Scott left the cast of ”The X-Men,” director Bryan Singer has found someone new to fill his Wolverine suit: Australian actor Hugh Jackman, a virtual unknown in America, who has appeared in such Aussie films as ”Paperback Hero.”

PASSING THE BATON Death has bridged the comedy generation gap: ”South Park” creators received permission from Monty Python to remake the legendary ”Dead Parrot” sketch as the ”Dead Friend Sketch,” starring — who else? — Kenny as the title corpse. Pythoner Terry Jones reportedly said the group lent their words to ”South Park” because the cartoon was done in the ”same anarchic spirit of Monty Python.” The short will appear on the group’s 30th-anniversary special, ”It’s the Monty Python Story,” set to air on the BBC.

DISGRUNTLED Critics weren’t the only ones irritated by ”Random Hearts”: Warren Adler, the author of the original 1984 novel, has posted a note on his website saying how let down he was by the film adaptation. ”I join the vast legion of disappointed novelists who have seen their work recast into a completely different and an inferior version,” wrote Adler, who was never consulted about the script over the film’s 15-year gestation. ”I am in excellent company.” Part of his grudge stems from the writers changing the main characters from a congressional aide and housewife into a cop and a congresswoman. The rest of his annoyance presumably stems from it being turned into a yawn-athon.

SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE Rights to the best-selling autobiography of presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, ”Faith of My Fathers,” have been bought by Barry Diller’s USA Films. The book traces how McCain was influenced by his stern military father to join the Navy, and how he later spent five-and-a-half years in a Vietnam prison camp. Variety reports that McCain has talked to Robert Duvall about playing his ”Great Santini”-esque dad. Alas, there’s no way this film could be finished in time to serve as the biggest-budget presidential campaign film ever.

NOW THAT’S POETRY In a BBC poll, Britons voted John Lennon‘s ”Imagine” as their favorite song lyrics. Strangely, the Spice Girls’ haunting T.S. Eliotesque ”I wanna really really really wanna zigzig ha” from ”Wannabe” didn’t even place.

VANITY RULES British TV viewers didn’t see George Michael‘s performance at Saturday’s NetAid concert at London’s Wembley Stadium. Because of the many technical problems that sprouted up during his set, Michael refused to let the BBC air it, even though it was broadcasting segments from most of the other acts performing that day.

REMAKE The chairman of the resuscitated RKO pictures is planning a four-hour TV miniseries version of Orson Welles’ ”The Magnificent Ambersons”, which will be faithful to Welles’ original 165-page script, which he wrote right after ”Citizen Kane.” Welles had disowned the original film after RKO cut an hour out of it and burned the excised footage back in 1942 while he was on vacation.

OBITUARY Vibraphonist Milt Jackson died of liver cancer Saturday at the age of 76. One of the original members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, he also played with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Miles Davis.