Columbia's so excited about "La Bamba" (opening next month), the story of legendary rocker Ritchie Valens meteoric career, that the publicity folks are touting it as the first offering from the David Puttnam regime.

(Instead of "Ishtar," the subject of the next item. The Puttnam people wanted no part of that one.)

Whoa. . . . Wasn't the $6.5-million "La Bamba" ushered in by former production chief Guy McElwaine? How did it become a Puttnam project?

The Columbia publicist paused. "Let me get back to you."

He called back later to report that producer Taylor Hackford would address the question.

"There's no doubt Guy deserves the credit for green-lighting the picture," said Hackford. "It was courageous on his part because it's the first time Hollywood has dealt with the Hispanic experience in America in a positive light rather than focusing on street gangs, drug addicts and hookers."

But Hackford also said that Puttnam likewise deserves considerable credit for the Luis Valdez-directed picture: "Often, when new management comes in, it downplays earlier projects. But, in this instance, both regimes were in sync. David saw it in rough cut and immediately said this was the kind of film Columbia should be making. He's been a champion of the film."

Hackford said Puttnam stayed out of the editing room but has been very involved in its marketing through special interest screenings. "By studio standards, it's a small film, but Columbia has been great about ensuring that audiences will be able to discover it."

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