November 09, 1998 12:00 PM

I hear that Mel Gibson is negotiating to coproduce, cofinance and possibly star in The Professor and the Madman, the true story of a Civil War surgeon who goes insane, commits a murder and then, while imprisoned, forges a friendship with a scholar who helped create the Oxford English Dictionary. The movie, based on the bestseller by Simon Winchester, sparked Gibson’s interest after director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) optioned the film rights. I understand the role Gibson is eyeing is that of the professor.

Brad Pitt had to take a break from The Fight Club, a drama he’s shooting in L.A., to quickly finish promotional appearances in Japan for his new film Meet Joe Black. The final scenes of The Fight Club call for Pitt to have a shaved head, and presumably, a bald Pitt wouldn’t play as well in Japan.

If you’re writing to celebrities for their autographs, why not ask for some advice while you’re at it? That’s what 12-year-old Kalman Gabriel did, and the 200-plus responses he received in the last four years will be published next year in a book, Dear Kalman. Alec Baldwin, the first to reply, sent a hand-written letter telling him to work hard in school. Gabriel, who is now 16 and lives in Oyster Bay, N.Y., also got notes from Sydney Biddle Barrows (the Mayflower Madam): “Don’t do anything illegal—it’s not worth it”; Drew Barrymore: “Spread the sunshine”; John Travolta: “Follow your dream”; and model Frederique. But Gabriel didn’t need her advice: “If there is a will, there is a way.”

Roseanne’s off to New York City, where she will tape her talk show from the Apollo Theatre during the second week of November. Fans of her old series will be happy: One episode will be a Roseanne reunion show, with former costars John Goodman, Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf as guests.

Actress Patricia

Arquette recently joined such celebrities as Jada Pinkett Smith, John Lithgow and Henry Kissinger to spend a day teaching in inner city classrooms as part of Teach for America Week. Arquette’s lesson to fifth graders at the Daniel Webster Middle School in L.A. may have been the most personal. Although she married actor Nicolas Cage in 1995, Arquette, 30, told the class that at age 20, she was a single mom with an infant son, and it wasn’t much fun. Her message: Stay in school. “You can’t be molded by someone else; you have to be your own person,” Arquette told the class, noting that she waited years before accepting her husband’s marriage proposal.

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