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Director Mike Nichols has taken out a $1.1 million option on "The Simple Plan," a first novel by Scott B. Smith. Nichols paid a reported $250,000 up front from his own pocket and plans to get a studio to pick up the total tab later on.

Nichols spent a recent weekend reading the book, about two brothers who unexpectedly discover a huge sum of what turns out to be dirty money, called Smith's agent and made the deal the following Monday morning.- Rap star Hammer topped off his 1992 efforts to feed the hungry with a 47,000-pound donation of food to missions around his native Oakland. Working with the USA Harvest organization, Hammer collected more than 700,000 pounds of food during the year.

- Michael Jackson fans have won one. A much-delayed mural of an 80-foot-tall Gloved One - believed to be financed by himself - has gotten an OK from the National Park Service, which has some control over the Hollywood wall where it will be painted. Work will begin in January on the wall, part of the 66-year-old El Capitan Theater, a national historic landmark.

Jackson is also to be honored by the NAACP, which has named him entertainer of the year. The performer will pick up his trophy at the civil rights group's annual mid-January Image Awards banquet. "His consistent level of excellence is a stellar example of what the Image Awards are all about," said NAACP chairman William Gibson.

- Ginger Rogers' favorite charity will get $50,000 because she won a settlement from a Northern California greeting card company that didn't get permission before using a picture of her dancing with Fred Astaire. The settlement calls for the card-maker to donate the money to an unidentified charity of her choice.

- Marlee Matlin has signed on as a Super Bowl performer. The deaf actress will "sign" the national anthem while country singer Garth Brooks sings it before kickoff in Pasadena's Rose Bowl.

- Betty Shabazz says Spike Lee "captured the essense" of her assassinated husband in his "Malcolm X." But she told a local TV interviewer that Angela Bassett added oomph to her own persona in the hit film. "I was not as assertive as she was," Shabazz said, adding that she found the portrayal "marvelous."

- Johnny Weismuller Jr., son of the famed Tarzan, has taken out a trade-paper ad, offering to finance production of low-budget movies in the $1 million to $3 million range. "You and your project must be ready now," says the ad. "Development money is not available."

- Producer Steven Bochco ("L.A. Law," "Hill St. Blues") has begun a scholarship program for inner-city high school graduates. His grants will help students going on to junior colleges or trade and technical schools.

- Real estate beat: Guns 'N Roses lead singer Axl Rose has sold his Hollywood Hills pad and bought a new place in Malibu. Rose got almost $700,000 for his old home and paid a reported $3.95 million for his new mansion. The Malibu manse has five bedrooms, 81/2 baths and sits on three acres atop a promontory overlooking Santa Monica Bay. Rose lost money on his Hollywood Hills house, having paid $800,000 when he bought it two years ago. . . . John Forsythe has bought a 16-acre retreat in the Santa Ynez Valley hamlet of Los Olivos north of Santa Barbara. No price was announced for the spread, whose neighbors include Ronald Reagan and Michael Jackson. . . . A penthouse apartment featured in several Raymond Chandler novels and in movies like "Dead Again" and "The Long Good-Bye" has gone on the rental market for $950 per month. The Hollywood pad boasts a private sundeck, panoramic view and historic outside elevator. There's no garage, though, o renters have to park in the street.

- Paul Newman is expanding his efforts for seriously ill children. His Hole in the Wall Gang charity, which already operates a Connecticut camp for terminally and chronically ill kids, has joined two other charities to open a similar camp on 121 acres in Florida. Newman's efforts are largely financed by proceeds from his Newman's Own food label.