What's the big secret?

I wish someone in Hollywood knew what was going on with the new telecommunications bill.

If I am an average citizen, there is no hope for the free world. Jeffrey Klein, Mother Jones' editor in chief, alerted me to the fact that there is major legislation working its way through Congress that will deregulate the whole telecommunications industry. I had no idea. He asked me to check it out with my friends in the entertainment industry.

Right away, two depressing facts became clear:

1) I have almost no friends in any industry.

2) You might as well start stocking your bomb shelters with nonperishables now, because it appears that I am above average as an informed citizen.

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I shudder.

I would have bet my life that a makeup artist I know was the most informed person in all of show business. People tend to tell her things. It turns out, however, she was not at all familiar with the telecommunications deregulation legislation. She seemed so embarrassed. I quickly assured her that, if it weren't for this Mother Jones job, I never would have heard of it either. We both felt better knowing that the other was equi-ignorant.

I explained to her that this legislation is a grab bag of seemingly dull and somewhat hard-to-follow changes that, for one thing, will allow one company to own many information outlets--a phone company, some TV and radio stations, a few newspapers. Power over the media will be thrown into the not-so-patiently-waiting hands of a few very rich companies, and the marketplace of ideas will end up carrying only a couple of brand names.

I put in calls to both media magnate Rupert Murdoch and former "Entertainment Tonight" host Leeza Gibbons. Rupert didn't return my call, but his assistant was quite nice to me. She said she didn't think anybody in L.A. would comprehend this legislation. I told her I wanted Mr. Murdoch to explain it to me. She said he was quite busy lately. I told her I assumed he was always quite busy and that even if he wasn't, I would probably not be his priority. She could not deny it.

Leeza Gibbons returned my call the next day. However, she knew nothing about the legislation. I invited her to a pingpong party I'm giving, but she couldn't come because she was going to Roseanne's baby shower. (I didn't invite Rupert.)

I figured my manager, Bonnie Burns, was my ace in the hole in understanding the proposed bill. Bonnie is in the know about everything in show business because she has a car phone, drinks coffee, and goes to the gym. I think she could have educated me on the laws in question, but she just had surgery on her tongue. She can't talk, which means she can't use her car phone, which means she can't drive, which means she can't go for coffee, which means she can't work out. Right now, she's in a deflated, uninformed heap somewhere.

I talked to a gaffer from my old television show. She had never heard of the legislation. I couldn't get too high-and-mighty about the little bit I knew, though, because I didn't know what a gaffer was. I explained to her that one aspect of the Senate bill would allow phone companies to provide cable TV service and vice versa. She informed me that a gaffer is a master electrician who works with the lighting designer and is in charge of the lighting crew.

The fact that nobody seems to know what's going on with telecommunications deregulation seems to me to play right into the hands of the few big companies that are looking to run all our media. Ironically, this concentration of control is coming at a time when we're told that soon there will be 500 stations available on our TVs--500 stations, yes, but one train of thought.

Eventually, both co-hosts on debate shows like "Crossfire" will come from the right. In the first five minutes of the show, they'll join in heated agreement that it's the kids today--especially the toddlers--who are ruining everything. Since that's finally settled, they'll show an Arnold Schwarzenegger film for the rest of the half-hour.

I don't know about you, but my TV doesn't exactly carry a dazzling variety of programming now. Have you flipped through the channels at 2 p.m.? That's when the Sally Jessy Ricki Montel Oprah show comes on almost every channel.

Once, I sat in a meeting with a mover-and-shaker-type TV producer who told me he developed the Ricki Lake Show. Developed? I think the word is "copied." Now I believe he's working on developing the "I Love Lucy Show." He's thinking of having her be married to a Cuban bandleader.

Letters to Paula

Gina Grappone, St. Paul, Minn.: At a small gathering a few weeks ago, I spouted off the factoid that if you look closely at the Munchkin scenes in The Wizard of Oz, you are supposed to be able to see a dead Munchkin actor who hung him or herself on the set. Another woman at the party had heard the same thing. Is the story of the Munchkin suicide true, or is it an urban myth?

A: Gina, as it happens, I know Mickey Carroll, who played a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz. Mickey says that the Munchkin suicide story is "baloney." He says that he was there 18 hours a day and never heard any reports of danglers. I believe him, because it makes no sense for someone, given the opportunity to perform in The Wizard of Oz, to hang themselves. (If you're in the Power Rangers movie, on the other hand, by all means hang yourself.)

One bit of Wizard of Oz trivia I do know is that they used to bind Judy Garland's breasts so she'd look less mature in the role of Dorothy.

Anyway, thanks for taking time out from trying to play your Beatles albums backwards to write me.

Tyrus, e-mail: Is it true that marshmallows are made from horses' hooves? Couldn't there be a way to make them with oils instead?

A: Tyrus, this subject touches me because I was raised in Massachusetts, which is the home state of Marshmallow Fluff. You may not be familiar with this delicious food because it's not available in stores everywhere in the country. (You can mail order three one-pound containers for $8, though.)

Kraft's Marshmallow Creme is a sad Fluff wannabe. It's fine for an ice cream sundae, but no substitute at all in a Fluffernutter sandwich. The Fluff jar used to have the Fluffernutter recipe on the back label. It's actually just one piece of bread with peanut butter and one piece of bread with Marshmallow Fluff. I know this seems simple, but we Fluff eaters aren't that bright.

I called the maker of Marshmallow Fluff, Durkee-Mower Inc., for help with your question. (That's how I found out about the mail-order option. Three pounds of Fluff are winging their way to me now.) When I asked about the ingredients in marshmallows, the woman at Durkee-Mower sounded terribly offended and told me she couldn't tell me, because her company doesn't make marshmallows, it makes Marshmallow Fluff. It's a subtle distinction for those of us not in the business. The woman also told me, however, that two-and-a-half cups of Fluff is equivalent to 32 marshmallows, which leads me to believe they're not exactly apples and oranges.

Next I called Kraft Foods, makers of Marshmallow Creme and actual marshmallows. A woman answered the phone. When I told her I needed to know the ingredients of marshmallows, she asked, "What size marshmallows?" I said I imagined the minis and the larges had the same ingredients, but she insisted on putting me on hold while she went and checked. I think marshmallow people see many more colors in the rainbow than the rest of us.

The ingredients in Kraft marshmallows, large or small, are: corn syrup, sugar, modified food starch, dextrose, water, pork-skin gelatin, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, artificial flavor, natural flavor (of what I can't imagine), and blue #1. There was no specific mention of horses' hooves, but I don't know what blue #1 is made of.