Times Staff Writer

'Amadeus" got off to a head start on this year's Oscar competition Saturday night as Milos Forman won the Directors Guild of America Award for his work on the flamboyant film biography of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

It was the second Directors Guild Award for the Czech director, who won in 1975 for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Forman beat out Robert Benton ("Places in the Heart"), Norman Jewison ("A Soldier's Story"), Roland Joffe ("The Killing Fields") and David Lean ("A Passage to India") to become the favorite for best director honors at the March 25 Academy Awards. (Woody Allen is also on the Oscar list; Jewison isn't.) Only twice in 36 years has the Directors Guild honoree not gone on to win the Oscar.

Forman received his award in New York at a simultaneous award banquet also attended by Joffe and Benton. Lean and Jewison attended the Beverly Hilton ceremonies and stepped forward as their nominations were announced. Lean delivered a simple, "Thank you," while Jewison said that he was honored to be in the spotlight with five films whose characters actually "talk to each other."

Forman's absence here inevitably made the affair a little anticlimactic. Earlier in the evening the D.W. Griffith Award for lifetime achievement was delivered to writer-director Billy Wilder, perhaps best known for "Sunset Boulevard." The award was presented by Jack Lemmon, who appeared in such Wilder favorites as "The Apartment," "Some Like It Hot" and "Irma La Douce." Lemmon praised Wilder as the most self-assured of directors, one who would allow actors to try any idea, "no matter how crazy," on the set. Then he would "go ahead and do exactly what he planned to," Lemmon said with a laugh.

The directors also enjoyed a few laughs at the expense of their brethren writers. Emcee Hal Kanter delivered an ersatz update on the writers' contractual negotiations, announcing that the writers had won two critical concessions: Writers on any TV series that goes beyond six episodes would receive parking spaces within walking distance of a bus line to the studio; and no TV executive may enter a working writer's office unless that executive is accompanied by an adult.

The winners of the TV directing awards were: Jay Sandrich for the pilot episode of "The Cosby Show"; Don Mischer and Twyla Tharp for the "Baryshnikov by Tharp With American Ballet Theatre"; Thomas Carter for "The Rise and Fall of Paul the Wall" episode of "Hill Street Blues"; Sandy Grossman for "Super Bowl XVIII"; Joan Darling for the "Mom's on Strike" "After School Special"; Daniel Petrie for "The Dollmaker," and Alfred R. Kelman for "The Journey Within" on "The Body Human." The commercial director winner was Stu Hagmann.

Also awarded were the Frank Capra Achievement Award to Jane Schimel and Abby Singer and the Robert B. Aldrich Service Award to Elliot Silverstein.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: What special meaning does "See you next Wednesday" have for director John Landis?

Harold Reynolds, film critic for the Sun-Herald in Biloxi, Miss., has discovered the phrase in five different Landis productions: "American Werewolf in London" (a title on a movie marquee), "The Blues Brothers" (on a highway billboard), "Trading Places" (a movie poster in Jamie Lee Curtis' apartment) and the "Thriller" video (dialogue from the theater screen as Michael Jackson watches a movie).

Reynolds couldn't find the slogan in "Animal House" or Landis' segment of "Twilight Zone: The Movie." He had almost given up on Landis' latest, "Into the Night," until a scene in which Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer are kicked out of a television director's office. The movie poster on the wall: "See You Next Wednesday."

Landis is in London for a new film and could not be reached to address the mystery. Neither his agent nor executives at Universal Pictures, home of "Into the Night," had an explanation to offer.

TRAILERS: The year's first Oscar will be presented Saturday for a 27-year-old film: "The Bridge on the River Kwai." Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson will be honored posthumously for their screenplay, which went uncredited in 1958 because both writers were blacklisted in Hollywood. Their Oscar was awarded to Pierre Boulle, who wrote the "Bridge" novel. The writers' widows will accept their Oscars at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. . . .

The weeklong American Film Market is under way at the Hyatt on Sunset Boulevard, with 289 films on the foreign distribution block. More than 500 film-buying companies are expected from 57 countries, including--for the first time--China, the Soviet Union and East Germany. . . .

Twentieth Century Fox is celebrating the March 29 re-release of "Return of the Jedi" with six-hour benefit screenings of the "Star Wars" trilogy March 28. Theaters in eight cities, including Los Angeles, will offer $10 tickets to "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return" . . .

Blake Edwards began production last week on his latest film for Columbia Pictures, "A Fine Mess," previously known as "The Music Box" after the Laurel and Hardy short that inspired it. Ted Danson and Howie Mandel are the good guys, Richard Mulligan and Stuart Margolin the troublemakers; Maria Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Edwards and Paul Sorvino co-star.

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