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Entertainment Today: Showbiz news

By United Press International

BILLY WILDER DIES

The filmmaker responsible for such gems as "Double Indemnity," "Sunset Boulevard," "The Seven Year Itch" and "The Apartment" has died.

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Billy Wilder passed away Wednesday night of pneumonia at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., according to Variety. He was 95.

Wilder had a double-barreled talent for writing scenarios and directing movies that won him six Oscars, 12 more nominations, and great respect in both fields. In a career that spanned more than half a century, he had a hand in creating some of the most memorable moments in American movie history.

Among Wilder's nominations for best screenplay was one for "Some Like It Hot" (1959), which he directed and co-wrote with I.A.L. Diamond. The film -- which starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe -- was honored in 1999 by the American Film Institute as the funniest U.S. movie ever made.

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Other films Wilder made, as director and writer, included "The Major and the Minor" (1942), "Stalag 17" (1953), "Sabrina" (1954), "Witness for the Prosecution" (1958) and "The Front Page" (1974). His final film was the comedy "Buddy Buddy" in 1981.

Receiving the Irving Thalberg Award for lifetime achievement during the Academy Awards ceremony in April 1988, Wilder paid tribute to his long-time script collaborator, Diamond, who died of cancer 10 days later at age 67.

Asked in a 1996 National Public Radio interview, shortly after turning 90, what was the secret of his success, Wilder said, "I work on schedule. I show up. I don't drink. I've never missed a day. I'm an honorable, reliable man and that's enormously important. Talent ---- phhht! But, reliable, that's the most important thing."


WILL SMITH

Will Smith and his production company, Overbrook Entertainment, reportedly have obtained the rights to produce remakes of the 1970s films "Uptown Saturday Night," "Let's Do It Again" and "A Piece of the Action." All three movies starred Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier, who was honored at the Oscars last Sunday.

A spokesperson for Overbrook told MTV News that it's too early to tell when the films will come out or if Smith will be starring in them. The rapper-turned-actor is currently in negotiation to reprise his role as cop Mike Lowrey in a sequel to "Bad Boys" that'd also star Martin Lawrence.

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'WATCHING ELLIE'

Although there had been reports earlier this week that NBC will drop the new Julia Louis-Dreyfus comedy "Watching Ellie" from its Tuesday primetime schedule after next week's episode, the network has announced that it will keep the show on the air for at least two more weeks.

NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker made the announcement himself, in a prepared statement released by the network. "We're proud of 'Watching Ellie' and continue to be buoyed by the show's performance and its potential," he said. "We want to give it every opportunity to find the audience it deserves."

The show -- which had steadily lost audience since its highly rated premiere in February -- actually attracted a larger 18-49 audience this week than it had the previous week. NBC said "Ellie" also attracted a larger 18-49 audience Tuesday night than its lead-in, a "Frasier" rerun.

Fans have at least four more new episodes of "Watching Ellie" to look forward to -- back-to-back episodes on April 2, and single new episodes on April 9 and April 16.

(Thanks to UPI Hollywood Reporter Pat Nason)


'LORD OF THE RINGS'

"The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" has now raked in more than $800 million worldwide, according to New Line Cinema.

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Directed by Peter Jackson, the epic adventure won four Oscars last Sunday -- for Cinematography (Andrew Lesnie), Makeup (Peter Owen, Richard Taylor), Score (Howard Shore), and Visual Effects (Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook, Richard Taylor and Mark Stetson). The film was nominated for a total of 13 awards.

Meanwhile, a special four-minute preview featuring never-before-seen footage from the sequel, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," is due to debut in movie theaters. "The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers" will hit screens Dec. 18.

(Web site: lordoftherings.net)


SOTA BENEFIT

Cuban born percussionist Jesus Diaz and his band QBA will take the stage next Thursday at the School of the Arts (SOTA) sixth annual fundraiser in San Francisco. Comedian and actor Cheech Marin will emcee the benefit, being held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum. This year's theme is "An Evening of Latin Music."

SOTA is the Bay Area's only public high school that is dedicated to the arts. It offers specialized training for more than 400 gifted students in vocal and instrumental music, dance, theatre arts and technology, film and video and visual arts.

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(Web site: yerbabuenaarts.org)

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