- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Pay at pump

Everybody loves comedian Ray Romano. Even guys who rob gas stations.

Before he was the star of a blockbuster sitcom and, come Feb. 20, a feature film with Gene Hackman called “Welcome to Mooseport,” Mr. Romano pumped gas in Queens, N.Y.

One night he was robbed at gunpoint. “He stuck the gun out the window and said, ‘Gimme the money,’” Mr. Romano said in an interview with the Scripps Howard News Service. “Then he goes, ‘Gimme your back pocket.’ I took my wallet out and he said, ‘Throw that in.’

“As scared as I was, I still didn’t want to have to go to the motor vehicle bureau,” he recalled.

He must’ve been disarming. The robber spared Mr. Romano the dreaded trip to the DMV.

“I just showed him, ‘Here’s the money. Can you just take the money?’ I had a single, and he just took the single. I was 18 or 19. I remember my mother kind of pressured me to give it up.”

Battered man

David Gest, estranged husband of strange singer Liza Minnelli, has been lying low in Hawaii, where some believe he’s dodging scrutiny about charges that Miss Minnelli beat him, severely and repeatedly.

The 50-year-old producer, who has filed a divorce petition and a separate $10 million lawsuit, insists he’s not exaggerating.

Mr. Gest told NBC’s Stone Phillips that Miss Minnelli’s beatings caused him pain “so enormous that I get now 80 shots around the head to deaden the nerves,” according to a press release from the network.

Despite the beatings, he says it was a National Enquirer article portraying Miss Minnelli, 57, as an alcoholic that led to the relationship’s end. “She got the magazine on a Wednesday morning and on Thursday announced our marriage was over,” Mr. Gest said.

If not for that tabloid article, he said, the couple might still be married, beatings and all.

Where credit’s due

In London to publicize the opening there of his hit play “The Producers,” Mel Brooks — tongue, as always, in cheek — thanked Adolf Hitler himself for inspiring the story behind the 1968 movie and the highly profitable Broadway production.

“In this show, we have a lot of laughs at the expense of Mr. Hitler, and I am very grateful to him and his family for allowing me to knock the [expletive] out of them and make a couple of bucks,” he said, according to Reuters News Agency.

He cautioned, however: “May I warn some old Jews. It is make-believe. Hitler is not really on the stage. We are making fun of Hitler.”

At 77, Mr. Brooks says there’s still plenty of time for him to have fun at the expense of history’s worst tyrants.

“Do I lift, do I drive, am I bagging groceries at a very busy supermarket? No,” he said. “I sit with a little pencil and if I have an idea, I write it down. It’s light work. I can do that forever.”

Purple China

Paul McCartney hasn’t played there. The Stones almost did last year, but canceled twice. So it’s been left to … Deep Purple to be rock’s ambassadors to mainland China.

The classic rock band, headed by Richie Blackmore and best known for the headbanging riff of “Smoke on the Water,” will play four concerts in China starting March 31, taking in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Guangzhou, a promoter told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

Beijing’s stringent ministry of culture once viewed rock music as “spiritual pollution,” but has relaxed its position, the promoter said, giving the green light to Deep Purple.

Compiled by Scott Galupo from wire and Web reports.

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