Forget the Script. Try the Backstory.

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Talk about development hell! Surferdude-turned-aspiring screenwriter Dana Rohrabacher spent decades polishing his action-adventure screenplay "Baja." By the time he managed to sell it two years ago, he had already served eight terms as the Republican congressman from Orange County, Calif.

But last fall -- with the movie still no closer to filming -- the producer who optioned Rohrabacher's screenplay was indicted on charges of swindling millions from people investing in an unrelated, nonexistent TV pilot. Now, federal prosecutors in L.A. allege the $23,000 Joseph Medawar paid the congressman for "Baja" came from money laundered in the scam.

The subject of the phantom TV series? The Department of Homeland Security. (Hey, we'd watch.) The Los Angeles Times has reported that Rohrabacher helped Medawar get meetings with federal officials -- in the course of supposedly researching the fake TV show -- which Medawar then touted to his alleged con targets. The congressman told the Times he received clearance from the House Ethics Committee before accepting money in the deal.

Rohrabacher's spokeswoman said the congressman had no idea Medawar was doing what the feds allege. Medawar "seemingly had a good reputation," said Rebecca Rudman . "Had he known that this guy either was incompetent or had no intention of doing a TV series, he wouldn't have gone near him. Dana's always been interested in Hollywood . . . he thought everything was on the up and up."

Still, the congressman is reserving judgment on what he thought sounded like a pretty good TV pitch -- and he won't return the money (absent the taxes he paid on it) unless Medawar is found guilty, Rudman said.

The good news? Rudman says that Medawar's option on "Baja" expired in December. And now the screenwriter "is in serious discussions" with another interested producer, she said.

T-Shirt Provides Ammo for a VP Potshot

So, is it too soon to make Cheney shooting jokes yet? Or might it be . . . too late ?

Kristen Comer
Don't shoot! Kristen Comer modeling a Brady Campaign T-shirt.(Courtesy Of The Brady Campaign)
That was the quandary facing the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Weeks ago, the D.C. headquarters ordered a batch of T-shirts protesting so-called "shoot first" laws that allow people to fire guns to defend themselves in public before trying to escape. In an astounding moment of advocacy kismet, the shirts -- with "Innocent Bystander" printed on the fronts -- arrived the day after the Cheney shooting broke.

Their color? Well, blaze orange, wouldn't you know!

But a plan to ship some shirts over to the White House (and alert the media to it) collapsed like so many late-night jokes when Harry Whittington had his minor heart attack. (Comments from Sarah Brady right after the shooting calling Cheney "scary" kind of misfired.) Thus it was not until yesterday -- a safe five days after the victim left the hospital -- that the campaign sent the tees off to press secretary Scott McClellan .

So, better late than tacky? "I'm not sure this story has returned to being funny, but we think it ought to be discussed again," said Brady spokesman Peter Hamm . "The message of gun safety was lost in this story."

Here's to the (Texas) Ladies Who Lunch

Yee haw! Laura Bush was the surprise guest at a Texas-themed birthday party for GOP hostess Mary Ourisman yesterday. The bipartisan luncheon for 24 "Texas girls" at the Northwest Washington home of NBC4 anchor Barbara Harrison celebrated all things Lone Star: Tex-Mex food, cowboy hats and bandanas, and a fiddler. The first lady joined in a version of "Deep in the Heart of Texas" customized for Ourisman: She's cute, it's true, Her faults are few, Just like the state of Texas.

After enough verses of that, we would have begged for a margarita.

And for all those keeping track: Harrison, who has lost four pounds on her on-air sweeps diet, skipped the tres leches cake.

HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

· Barry Humphries , aka Dame Edna , browsing the Phillips Collection's new "Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec" exhibit yesterday. Wearing an all-weather coat and slouchy hat (yes, a man's all-weather coat and slouchy hat), the actor/art collector took a break from his one-woman show at the National Theatre (reviewed on C1 today) to see how six of his own pieces -- three Rothensteins , three Conders -- look on the walls of the Phillips.

· Ex-"Apprentice" Omarosa Stallworth giving career advice at Howard University yesterday. Stallworth was back at her alma mater for the National Black Executive Exchange Program, where the surprisingly sedate businesswoman praised Patti LaBelle as a key mentor (she recommended good lawyers) but failed to mention the man who made her a household word, Donald Trump .

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