Q. What's this about "Home Alone" star Macaulay Culkin turning extremely deadbeat in his next film?

A. The truth is, he dies. "It's a rough one, but pivotal to the story," says a Columbia Pictures executive. "This is a coming-of-age drama about a girl (Anna Chlumsky), the daughter of a mortician, whose best friend . . . dies." Still, parents might want to warn their children about what happens to their screen idol when the movie opens next month.Q. What can you tell me about Sam Waterston of "I'll Fly Away": married, children? - J.A., San Francisco.

A. Waterston, who'll be 51 Nov. 15, attended Groton, Yale and Paris' Sorbonne, and made his Broadway debut in 1962. Among his best-known credits: in movies, "The Killing Fields," for which he had an Oscar nomination; and three Woody Allen films, "Interiors," "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors"; in TV, the series "Q.E.D," the movie "Friendly Fire," "Oppenheimer" for PBS and the voice of Lincoln in "The Civil War." He's married, father of four (oldest son James, a Yale student, appeared in "Dead Poets Society").

Q. Where can I write Sam Waterston of "I'll Fly Away"? We shared a table with his parents on a cruise in 1987 and have been following his career since. - P.S., Hampden, Maine.

A. The series is filmed in Atlanta, Ga., but write: NBC-TV, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, 10112.

Q. Why did they kill off the character played by George Dzunda on "Law and Order"? - D.B.G., Charlotte, N.C.

A. "Law and Order," filmed in New York, is a tough show to do and Dzunda missed his family on the West Coast. He asked to be released from his contract.

Q. I'm a great fan of "Law & Order," especially Michael Moriarity. Where can I write? - M.V.R., Southfield, Mich.

A. NBC-TV, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10012.

Q. On "A Different World," there is a phrase framed in Whitley's apartment which reads: "I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul." I'm sure it's part of a poem I read in high school. - M.N., North Hollywood, Calif.

A. You probably did. It's from William Ernest Henley's "Echoes IV, In Memoriam R.T. Hamilton Bruce," better known as "Invictus." Next time a quotation stumps you, try Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, found in every library.

Q. I love "In the Heat of the Night." Is there a place called Sparta? I think there is, but my husband and a cousin who lives in Jackson, Miss., say there isn't. - E.K., Amherst, Colo.

A. Sparta is fictional but "Heat" is filmed in Covington, near Atlanta, Ga., to give it a real Southern small-town flavor.

Q. Give me some information on Richard Chamberlain: his real name, age, married, children, where he lives. He seems to have aged since I saw him in "The Thorn Birds." - P.T., Harbor Beach, Mich.

A. Chamberlain uses his real name. He's 56, never married, no children and divides his time between homes in Hawaii and California. "The Thorn Birds" was made in 1983, so he's 8 years older now.

Q. How would I go about getting tickets for "Saturday Night Live"? - H.Z., Palatine, Ill.

A. Write: Guest Relations, NBC-TV, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112. But be prepared to wait. Tickets to the show are scarce.

Q. Can you confirm or deny whether Pat Boone and Dick Clark are brothers? My husband read this many years ago but no one believes him. - D., Sayreville, N.J.

A. Your husband must have misunderstood. Boone and Clark aren't related.

Q. I remember "Bonanza" starting with the name "Ponderosa" on Saturdays. Then it was moved to Sundays and renamed "Bonanza." Aren't I right? No one else remembers this. - G.S., Charlotte, N.C.

A. "Bonanza" did bow on Saturdays in 1959 but was clobbered by "Perry Mason" on CBS. It moved to Sundays in 1961 and stayed there until 1972 when it moved to Tuesdays, where it ended its run in 1973. It was "Bonanza" all the way. "Ponderosa" was the title used on reruns in syndication while the original show was still on the air.

Q. I'd like to know about Sarah Polley of the "Avonlea" series. - J.T., Rochestar Hills, Mich.

A. Toronto native Polley is 12 and an actress since she was 4 with a role in a movie, "One Magic Christmas." Both her parents (her mother died in 1990) and four siblings are actors in Canada. She starred in the Canadian series "Ramona" and was in the feature "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" with Robin Williams.

Q. Settle an argument: Which came first, "Lost in Space" or "Star Trek"? - C.H.W., Carthage, N.Y.

A. "Lost" by a season, 1965, to 1966 for "Star Trek."

Q. What's the tennis background of Mary Carillo, who was such a good commentator during the U.S. Open last month?

A. Carillo, 34, was a top junior player and a pro for four years, including a French Open mixed-doubles title with her childhood friend John McEnroe. But knee problems ended her career in 1980. She married, taught tennis and by a fluke found herself in TV commentary, most recently for CBS. In "Hard Courts" (Villard), sportswriter John Feinstein cites Carillo for "her honesty, her tough questions and her willingness to take on issues."

Q. Who belongs to the voice behind Cruella De Vil of Disney's "101 Dalmatians?"

A. That's Betty Lou Gerson, 77, who spent 55 years in radio, TV and animation, beginning with Don Ameche in a 1930s radio soap opera. While her raspy laugh defined Cruella's personality, Gerson's features, interestingly, inspired animators creating Cruella's body, especially those wraparound cheekbones. Today, she runs a phone-answering business - with no speaking parts. "I told my husband I'd do anything, but not the switchboard. I didn't want to mess things up."

Q. How has River Phoenix managed to make a smooth transition into adult roles?

A. "I've kept my ego and my happiness completely separate from my work," says Phoenix, 21. "I don't depend on my work to make me feel good about myself." Phoenix, the son of former Children of God missionaries who was first noticed in "Stand By Me" five years ago, recently left behind his on-screen youth in "Dogfight" and "My Own Private Idaho." (Us, Sept.)

Q. Why are Bob Marley's heirs still fighting over his estate?

A. The reggae king left a huge family - his mother and at least 11 children by eight women - but no will. His recordings earn about $2.5 million a year in royalties. His mother, Cedella Booker, and other family members are trying to reclaim the estate before it is eaten up in legal fees or auctioned to foreign investors. Meanwhile, lawyers, earning as much as $250 an hour, reportedly have already collected at least $4 million in fees for actions, including taking away the house Marley had bought for his mother in Miami before he died of cancer 10 years ago. "He was a simple Rastaman," his mother mourns.

Q. Have you ever heard of the movie "Le Mans" with Steve McQueen? What company reproduced it in video? - E.P., Youngstown, Ohio.

A. The 1971 auto racing drama is available to television but isn't listed as available on video.

Q. Could I have some information on Sarah Jessica Parker? - L., Livonia, Mich.

A. Parker is 25, born in Nelsonville, Ohio, studied ballet in Cincinnati and made her TV debut at 8 in a local TV production of "The Little Match Girl." At 11, she was on Broadway in Harold Pinter's "The Innocents." She's toured in "The Sound of Music," did "Annie" on Broadway. She's been in three TV series: "Square Pegs," "A Year in the Life" and "Equal Justice," and the feature "L.A. Story" with Steve Martin.

Q. I'm a fan of the gentleman who plays Holling in "Northern Exposure." Tell me about his previous acting credits, marital status and how I can write to him. - S.R.M., Lewiston, N.Y.

A. Actor/singer John Collum has a pair of Tonys for his stage work in two musicals, "Shenandoah" and "Twentieth Century." He made his Broadway bow in "Camelot," went on to do "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," "1776" (as Rutledge, a role he repeated in the movie), "Man of LaMancha" and most recently Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Aspects of Love." He's also done straight roles in "Hamlet," "Private Lives" and "Deathtrap." He was in the TV series "Buck James" and guested in and directed "Quantum Leap." He's married to dancer/writer Emily Frankel. Write: CBS-TV, 7800 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Q. Tell me when John Cassavetes was in a TV series in the 1950s. How and when did he die? - J.S., Austin, Texas.

A. Cassavetes' television work in the 1950s was primarily in anthology drama shows, but he did do a single season in "Johnny Staccato," 1959-60. He died of complications from cirrhosis of the liver on Feb. 3, 1989. He was 59.

Q. Tell me about Mary Wickes. Where did we see her before the "Father Dowling Mysteries"? - W.F.B., Thousand Oaks, Calif.

A. It might be easier to say where you didn't see her. She went to Hollywood to repeat her Broadway role as the much-put-upon nurse in the 1942 movie version of "The Man Who Came to Dinner." Since then, she's done too many movies to list. Her TV credits are almost as long - nine series, including "Dowling." Among the others: "The Peter Lind Hayes Show," "The Halls of Ivy," "The Gertrude Berg Show," "Julia."

Q. Tell me anything you can about Sam Elliott. - L.B., Estes Park, Colo.

A. Elliott was born in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 9, 1944. He grew up in Oregon. He worked in construction while he studied to be an actor. He made his movie debut with a bit part in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" but never met its co-star, Katherine Ross, until they worked together in a TV movie in 1978. They married in 1979. He was a semi-regular on "Mission: Impossible" and a regular on "The Yellow Rose" but he's best known for miniseries like "Once an Eagle," "Aspen," "The Sacketts" and "A Death in California" and for many TV movies. The latest, "Conagher," was seen in July on TNT cable network. Elliott and Ross have a daughter, Cleo, 7.

Q. When and where was Chris Burke, of "Life Goes On," born? - C.S.Z., Detroit.

A. Burke was born Aug. 26, 1965, in New York City.

- Send your questions to Celebrity Questions, Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI 48231.