Once upon a time, three decades before Liz Smith and People magazine, there were Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. Hollywood was their oyster, but the only pearls that dropped from their venomous gossip columns were movie trivia, payola plugs, personal rumors, and vitriol aimed at ungrateful ``enemies.'' Their widely read newspaper columns were written with an utter lack of skill -- L. B. Mayer once said that ``Louella writes like Sam Goldwyn talks.'' Now they have been immortalized in a television drama as flimsy, trifling, and vaguely vulgar as their copy. And just as shakily written. Malice in Wonderland (CBS, Sunday, May 12, 9-11 p.m., check local listings) could have been good, clean (well, not so clean) fun in the hands of a stylish satirist. But instead this teleplay by Jacqueline Feather and David Seidler, based on the book ``Hedda and Louella,'' by George Eells, directed by Gus Trikonis, is an uneasy, zap-happy barrel of insults; gross and grotesque in its re-creation of the feud that rocked the intersection of Hollywood and Vine.Skip to next paragraph
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The most interesting thing about this electronic wax museum is the fact that it features a slimmed-down, sleek Elizabeth Taylor. Ironically, since Louella Parsons was a plumpish woman, Liz's sleekness is totally out of character. But she manages to sound like the real Louella once sounded -- as if she were reading her lines under water.
Jane Alexander, who has made a career playing noble and humble women, is at last given a chance to play it down and dirty as the arrogant Hedda Hopper.
But will today's TV audiences remember Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper? Will they remember the famous feud between Orson Welles and William Randolph Hearst over ``Citizen Kane''? Will they remember the much-rumored relationship between Hearst and actress Marion Davies, which enabled her to be starred in so many Hearst-financed films? As a matter of fact, will they even remember Marion Davies?
And does it all matter anyway?
``Malice in Wonderland'' is mainly a marvelous title with a delightful twist ending, so see it through to the end if you decide to see it at all. Exciting? Well, it's not quite as exciting as a game of Trivial Pursuit. ``Malice'' is mainly worth watching for its fine re-creation of the period, its costumes, sets . . . and its villains. Oh yes, and for two brave if not bravura performances by two fine actresses playing beneath themselves.
Louella and Hedda are gone and forgotten, and if this film serves any purpose at all, it is to remind us how little we miss their poison-pen trivial pursuits.