Plus, Robert Blake's wife is murdered, ''Producers'' blitzes the Tonys, and more

By Gary Susman
Updated May 09, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
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BOX OFFICE ”The Mummy Returns” sandblasted its way into the record books this weekend with a $70.1 million opening that outstripped even the most optimistic projections. It now holds the records for top non- holiday three day weekend opening, beating 1999’s ”Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” ($64.8 million); biggest single Friday, at $23.4 million (beating $22.6 million for ”Toy Story 2”); and biggest single Saturday, at $26.8 million (beating $24.4 million for ”The Lost World: Jurassic Park”). Only ”Lost World” has enjoyed a bigger opening, at $72 million during the 1997 Memorial Day weekend.

Analysts had predicted an opening between $45 and $55 million for the summer starting sequel, which opened on 3,400 screens and faced no competition from other new wide release movies. Despite reviews that suggested the film should have remained entombed, Universal’s exit pollsters said that moviegoers of all ages, divided equally by gender, came out to smell what The Rock and Brendan Fraser were cooking.

”Mummy” pushed this weekend’s total box office to more than $100 million, but it grabbed 69 percent of that take for itself, earning more than double the combined grosses of the next 11 films. It drove ”Driven” to a distant No. 2 finish with $6.1 million. ”Bridget Jones’s Diary” was close behind with $6 million. No. 4, ”Spy Kids,” earned $4 million and is poised to top $100 million this week, with just $1.5 million to go. Rounding out the top five was ”Along Came a Spider,” with $3.8 million

BLAKE BOMBSHELL Robert Blake, best known as ’70s TV cop Baretta, has hired a detective to solve the murder of his own wife. Leebonny Bakley, 45, was shot in her parked car on Friday night near a Los Angeles restaurant where the couple had just eaten dinner. Blake’s attorney, Harland Braun, said that the Blakes had feared for her life because of her criminal past; she had bilked a number of men in what Braun called ”lonely hearts con schemes,” and she was on probation after having been convicted in Arkansas for carrying a fake I.D.

The Blakes had been dining at Vitello’s, where they were such regulars that a dish on the menu was named for the actor. After dinner, while Blake returned to the restaurant to retrieve his gun, Bakley was shot once in the head as she waited in the car a block away.

Blake, 67, checked himself into the hospital Saturday for high blood pressure and was released the next day. Although the police have searched Blake’s home, they have said they do not consider him a suspect. The couple had been married since November and had an 11 month old daughter, Rose Lenore Sophia.

TONY FUROR It was springtime for ”The Producers” today, as the hit Broadway musical picked up a record 15 Tony nominations. Among the citations for Mel Brooks‘ adaptation of his 1967 movie were Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Featured Actor for three of its players, and Best Actor for both Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who will also host the Tony ceremony together on June 3 at Radio City Music Hall. ”The Full Monty” followed with 10 nominations, including Best Musical, while the revival of ”Follies” took nine nods. Leading the Best Play nominees were August Wilson’s ”King Hedley II” and David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning ”Proof,” with six nominations apiece. Broadway revival stars Reba McEntire (”Annie Get Your Gun”) and Eric McCormack (”The Music Man”) announced the nominees this morning at the venerable Broadway hangout Sardi’s.

‘SURVIVOR’ SENDOFF Not only did Tina defeat Colby and Keith, but she also trounced Chandler and Monica. Thursday’s three hour ”Survivor” finale was the third most watched TV event of the year, after the Super Bowl and the Oscars, and gave CBS 33.8 million viewers for the night, more than twice as many as NBC’s 16.8 million. Still, that marks a 30 percent dropoff from last year’s ”Survivor” climax, suggesting that this year’s contestants were just too damn nice.

HONORS Sting received a Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award from the Arab American Institute Foundation at a black tie dinner in Washington on Saturday. Those who came to praise Sting included Secretary of State Colin Powell and Jordan’s Queen Noor. The award, for promoting ”cross-cultural understanding,” recognized Sting’s environmental work and his insistence on recording the duet ”Desert Rose” with Algerian singer Cheb Mami in the face of music industry resistance.

Robert De Niro will receive a lifetime achievement award during the 11th annual Independent Feature Project Gotham Awards in October. Previous honorees include such De Niro collaborators as Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese, and Meryl Streep.The ceremony, which recognizes New York based independent filmmakers, will air on Bravo.

STRIKE OUT Hollywood’s strike fears aren’t over just yet. The tentative agreement reached Friday between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers calls for a $41 million raise over three years in residual payments to writers for airings on cable, the Fox network, and overseas TV. It also calls for such creative rights provisions as allowing writers to be present during movie shoots and requiring that they be consulted when other writers are hired to revise their work. While the WGA membership is expected to approve the deal, Hollywood actors are still preparing to walk out when their contract expires June 30. Negotiations between the actors and the AMPTP start Thursday.

PASSING NOTES Boozoo Chavis, the accordionist who was one of the first to record zydeco music, died Saturday of a heart attack and a stroke at a hospital in Austin, Tex. The legendary Louisiana musician was still busy touring at 70 and had just finished a new recording for Rounder Records.

Jazz drummer Billy Higgins, 64, died Friday at a Los Angeles hospital while awaiting his second liver transplant. He was best known for his work with avant garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman, including Coleman’s revolutionary 1959 album ”Free Jazz.”


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