Kathleen Turner, who has been ill enough to skip both of Wednesday's performances of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," flew into town yesterday to argue against placing any restrictions on the upcoming five-year reauthorization legislation for the National Endowment for the Arts. Although the Arts Caucus luncheon and other Capitol Hill meetings were closed to the press, Turner said before the meetings, "I think most of us feel the destruction of the NEA would be absurd and unconstitutional, and certainly not profitable for the arts." Turner came to town for a little lobbying with producer-director Joseph Papp and fellow actors Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline.

Freeman, who opened Wednesday night in Shakespeare in the Park's "Taming of the Shrew," said, "It's not fair to the artist for someone in a position of power to have the right to decide what is or is not art or obscenity." Kline said in an interview that what an artist does is very personal. "The artist must be protected, and immune to government legislation of what his subconscious may or may not be brewing." At the closed luncheon, Rep. Sidney Yates called on caucus members to keep things in perspective. In 25 years the endowment has presented 85,000 grants, and of those only some 20 or 25 have been controversial.

Out and About Heather Foley has invited Barbara Bush and Marilyn Quayle to lunch today. The wife of the speaker of the House, who has lunched frequently with the First Lady, and Corinne Michel, the wife of the House minority leader, decided to get them together for an unusual bipartisan luncheon in the Rayburn House Office Building that will also include the wives of the House leadership and the committee chairmen ...

Hospital Report: Tony Award-winning actor-dancer Ben Vereen was released from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles Wednesday after undergoing what is described as "minor" arthroscopic surgery to his right knee ... Entertainer Pearl Bailey, a recent graduate of Georgetown University, had an arthritic left knee replaced Wednesday in Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. The 72-year-old star is expected to be hospitalized for about two weeks and should be walking in four to six weeks ...

Norman Lear's company, Act III, has purchased author Jane Leavy's new novel "Squeeze Play," about a female sportswriter in the all-male world of baseball, for an undisclosed six-figure amount. David Picker, who has been a high-level executive of such major studios as Columbia, Paramount and United Artists, said he will produce the film by former Washington Post writer Leavy ...

Comic Redd Foxx has fallen on hard times. A smash success in the 1970s TV series "Sanford and Son," Foxx owes the government $2.9 million in taxes and penalties. Seventy-six pieces of jewelry, including a diamond and gold watch given him by Elvis Presley, will be auctioned by the Internal Revenue Service later this month. The IRS already auctioned eight of Foxx's cars in May, raising $49,555. The jewelry and cars were seized in an IRS raid last November, along with Foxx's Las Vegas home. A payment plan has been worked out so Foxx can keep his home ...