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Great Balls of Fire! Opens with a Whole Lot of Shakin' on Both Coasts

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How do you launch the movie about the life of a still-living legend? If it’s Great Balls of Fire!, based on the early, rumble-‘n’-roll career of Jerry Lee Lewis, you do it with bicoastal premieres. Of course, you can’t have a premiere without a party, and you can’t have a premiere party without the star, so Dennis Quaid, who plays Jerry Lee, was on hand in both cities, as was Jerry Lee, now 53.

The June 26 New York premiere drew the likes of She-Devil co-stars Meryl Streep and Roseanne Barr, Timothy Hut-ton and David Byrne. Naturally, almost everyone said they had always been fans of the Killer. Ralph Macchio made the faux pas of saying he listens to his father’s Jerry Lee Lewis records. Peter Noone, of Herman’s Hermits, said he has fond memories of Jerry performing in England, and he doesn’t think the enfant terrible has changed much. “He was playing the piano with his bum last week,” said Noone.

Actually, at the party that night at the Ritz, Jerry Lee was playing the piano with Dennis Quaid as they dueled their way through “Great Balls of Fire,” the song But Quaid, growing restless, ran off to the Plaza, where he banged the keys ’til 3 A.M. while Hutton, Johnny Depp and Sean Pen hooted and hollered their approval.

On the West Coast, Quaid had a more sedate date—steady Meg Ryan. At the June 29 screening they sat in back—not to smooch but to sneak out I’ve seen it three times” was Quaid’s explanation.

Later, at the Hard Rock Cafe, Jerry Lee and Quaid again attacked the piano. That’s the problem with still-living legends: They want to share the spotlight.