"What would you rather do? Hear the State of the Union, or spend an evening with Uncle Miltie?"
That is how producer Hal Weiner introduced the preview premiere of "Family Business," a made-for-TV movie that stars Milton Berle, last night at the American Film Institute. Berle, who plays a dying old man trying to settle his will and deal with four jealous sons, didn't attend the screening or dinner at Morgan's afterward (was he watching the State of the Union, maybe?). As Weiner's coproducer and wife, Marilyn, explained it, Berle is also starring in an off-Broadway play called "Goodbye, Grandpa" that opens soon and couldn't leave New York.
So the roughly 500 guests made do with Berle's image on the screen and tales of him off it, the enthusiastic Weiners, their crew and Mayor Marion Barry. He knows the Weiners because Marilyn is chairman of the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, and the Weiners and Barry have discussed establishing a film studio here.
"Hello Mayor, remember me?" Marilyn Weiner asked Barry when he arrived at the AFI.
The mayor feigned forgetfulness.
"You asked me to vote for you and you don't remember me?" Marilyn Weiner continued.
Barry kissed her hand. "Ma'am, did you vote for me?" he asked. "The whole city turned out and I wanted more."
So do the brothers in "Family Business," who squabble over their dad's estate and, in the process, dig up old rivalries. Two of them came last night, though in more amiable form: actors David Garfield and David Rosenbaum, who appeared in the original off-Broadway production and play a mama's boy and a manipulator, respectively, in the story's Jewish family.
Garfield, who is Jewish, said, "The best personal review I got [for his stage performance] was in a Jewish newspaper in Brooklyn, which loved me and saw the whole play from my point of view. Needless to say, it was my mother's favorite."
Of working with TV veteran Berle, Rosenbaum said, "He's a professional. He knows exactly what he wants to do; he knows the camera. He taught me a lot and he was a pleasure."
"Family Business," the first feature film by the Weiners and Screenscope, their company, was shot entirely in Washington and is scheduled to air on the PBS "American Playhouse" series Feb. 1.