FILM GREAT GLENN FORD DEAD AT 90

Glenn Ford, who appeared in his first film in 1939 and his last in 1991, making 82 films between those years, has died in Beverly Hills at age 90. Some of his films are regarded as classics, including The Blackboard Jungle, Gilda, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, and The Big Heat. He had been in failing health for more than 10 years, making it impossible for him to attend a 90th birthday tribute on May 1 in Hollywood. In a videotape played at the affair, he said, "I wish I were up and around, but I'm doing the best that I can. ... There's so much I have to be grateful for." During the 1940s, he often starred in three or four movies each year (in 1940, five films), playing pretty much the same strong, nice-guy character. He once acknowledged, "I have to play myself. I'm not an actor who can take on another character, like Laurence Olivier. The worst thing I could do would be to play Shakespeare."

REPORT: SCIENTOLOGY WAS PREPARED TO BACK CRUISE

The Church of Scientology was prepared to underwrite Tom Cruise's production company, Cruise-Wagner, if it was unable to come up with other backers, according to a report on MSNBC.com, which cited an unnamed source. A spokeswoman for Cruise-Wagner denied the claim. However, the site's source insisted, "They've got deep pockets. ... Tom has been good to the church, and they want to be there for him, but ultimately, this would have been a business deal." In 2000, John Travolta's Battlefield Earth was plagued by accusations that it was secretly funded by Scientologists who inserted "subliminal" pitches for the church, charges that Travolta repeatedly denied. (The movie was based on a sci-fi novel written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.)

CONTROVERSY DOGS OPENING OF VENICE FILM FESTIVAL

The Venice Film Festival appeared awash in controversy Wednesday as it kicked off with the world premiere of Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, starring Scarlett Johansson. Organizers of Rome's film festival, scheduled for Oct. 13, were up in arms over comments by Venice festival director Marco Muller that the festival in Rome would feature films that "neither Cannes nor Venice wanted." They called Muller's remarks "an incredible offence to the filmmakers who are showing their work in Rome." Italian Heritage Minister Francesco Rutelli attempted to tone down the bickering. In Venice for the festival and for a series of meetings with local government leaders, Rutelli said, "Let's stop talking and show the films." He indicated that at the end of the festival he would work to separate the two festivals by more than the current one month so that they would not conflict with one another. He said his current meetings with local officials will focus on how their communities could contribute to restoring and improving the site of the Venice festival, including the construction of a new "film palazzo."

PHSYCHO SCREENWRITER STEFANO DEAD AT AGE 84

Joseph Stefano, who wrote the screenplay for Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller, died Aug. 25 in Thousand Oaks, CA at age 84, according to reports published on Wednesday. He also worked with Gus Van Sant on the 1998 remake of the movie. In an interview with E! Online Stefano recalled that when he read the original novel, "I realized I was hearing an awful lot about the killer and very little about the killed. That brought my mind around to Marian Crane, and I though, "What if the movie is about her?" ... It must have taken me 20 minutes to pitch. Hitchcock didn't say a word. And when I finished, he looked at me and said, 'We could get a star.' In 1959 it was unheard of to get a star to play someone who gets murdered 15 minutes into the film." Stefano also wrote numerous other features and was credited as the co-creator to the classic sci-fi series The Outer Limits.

Brian B.