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Troubles in Gotham Village? Warners Eschews Batbash

Bruce Wayne, the comic strip philanthropist and playboy who moonlights as the crime buster Batman, has inspired Warner Bros. to donate more than $100,000 to Zahn Memorial Center for Social Services in Los Angeles rather than throw the Westwood Batbash it had planned for the West Coast launch of the film “Batman”.

Zahn is operated by the Salvation Army and the money will be earmarked for the L.A. homeless.

“We decided to think in the spirit of Batman--who works to better Gotham, if you will,” said Warners’ advertising chief Rob Friedman.

Friedman said the decision to drop plans to turn Westwood Village into a one-night Gotham was made before any commitments had been made for security, catering or set construction, and he acknowledged that the decision was as practical as it was philanthropical.

“When you make plans for these events, you have to think on all levels,” he said. “From a security point of view, we got really afraid.”

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“They were really afraid of that party,” said an industry source who would have been involved in the Gotham event. “They would have had 10,000 people there trying to see the Batmobile. Somebody would have been hurt.”

Instead of the Gotham party, Warner Bros. is hosting simultaneous 8 p.m. premiere screenings June 19 at the 1,500-seat Village Theater and the adjacent 850-seat Bruin Theater in Westwood.

“Batman” stars Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger are expected to attend the Westwood premiere, Friedman reported, as will Batman creator Bob Kane. Friedman said some seats in both theaters will be given away to the public.

Warner Bros.’ plans for “Batman” also include a June 22 premiere in Washington to benefit the National Zoo. Meanwhile, the studio will fly in journalists from all over the country for a publicity junket in Los Angeles next week.

Friedman and other studio executives reacted angrily to published reports Tuesday that implied the canceled Gotham party was a bad omen for the movie’s box-office prospects.

Warner Bros. has kept a tight lid on “Batman” publicity from the day it announced the project and has deflected criticism from journalists and Batman fans who objected to the casting of comedy actor Keaton in the role of the Caped Crusader.

Word about the quality of the film inevitably leaked out after exhibitor screenings last week and one exhibitor was quoted in a Los Angeles Herald Examiner story Tuesday calling “Batman” “Howard the Bat,” a reference to the colossal 1987 summer flop “Howard the Duck.”

The half-dozen exhibitors contacted by The Times said their screenings went well, and most of them said they were confident the film will be a hit.

“It’s a combination of ‘Superman’ and ‘Beetlejuice’ and a few other things,” said one exhibitor, who echoed the consensus opinion that the film belongs to Jack Nicholson more than Michael Keaton. “It’s been a long wait, (but) the screening put an end to a lot of worries.”

The exhibitors agreed that the film is darker in theme and more serious in mood than fans of the 1960s TV show may be hoping for, but none thought there was a chance that the $50-million-plus spectacle would be a flop.

An executive with a major theater chain said he is ebullient about “Batman’s” prospects, saying his office figures “Batman” will trail only “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” in summer receipts.

“We figure ‘Indiana Jones’ will do about $225 million, ‘Batman’ will do $175 million, ‘Ghostbusters II’ will do $150 million and ‘Lethal Weapon’ about $100 million,” he said. “Whoever called this thing ‘Howard the Bat’ doesn’t have the movie booked; I can tell you that.”


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