Bette Midler as a nun didn't fly, so Touchstone Pictures' upcoming singing-nun comedy "Sister Act" stars Whoopi Goldberg instead.
The story follows Goldberg, who plays a casino lounge singer on the run from her mobster boyfriend, into hiding at a San Francisco convent, where she finds a new calling as a hip, habit-wearing choirmistress.
The people who front for the Divine Miss M have taken a vow of silence on why the project, which was in development at the star's Disney-based All Girl Productions for at least a couple of years, was passed back to the studio. "We don't comment on any past, present and future projects Bette is involved in," was all an All Girl spokeswoman said.
Also mum is Paul Rudnick, who wrote the original screenplay for "Sister Act" and has successfully, through arbitration, won the right to adopt the pseudonym Joseph Howard for the film's final credits. (Rudnick, you might recall, had a tempestuous Broadway experience last year with his play "I Hate Hamlet.")
Rudnick's agent in New York, Helen Merrill, said she didn't know who Joseph Howard was, even though the Writers Guild of America listed her as his agent. Rudnick didn't return phone calls, and the only explanation given for his decision to take his name off the picture was offered by Merrill: "There were endless other writers."
For its part, the WGA makes it a practice never to reveal the whys and wherefores of individual screenwriters' unhappiness, only who wins out in the end.
Then there's Goldberg herself.
She passed out T-shirts with the logo "Nigga-teer" on the set--interpreted as a blast against her employers--and now doesn't want to do any publicity for the picture, a Disney executive said.
"After all, she sees herself as an Academy Award-winning actress," the exec added. Goldberg won an Oscar for her supporting role in "Ghost." "Difficult? You might say she didn't have a good time making the movie."
The comedian-actress's publicist said Goldberg may yet do a day's worth of telephone interviews to support "Sister Act" from the set of her current movie, "Change of Heart," now shooting in Berkeley.
Considering all the disassociation going on, Disney is very high on the picture and is previewing it like mad to clapping, cheering audiences, as witnessed at a recent non-industry test screening in Burbank.