NEW YORK (AP) – Paul McCartney and his wife have donated a painting from their private collection to the members of the Fire Department of New York – and the subject is something likely very close to their hearts.

The 1974 painting by Ron Kleinman features a Mack truck once operated by the members of the FDNY’s Engine Co. 33 on Great Jones Street.

The painting, 57 1/2 inches by 62 1/2 inches, was presented by the ex-Beatle and his wife, Heather Mills McCartney, earlier this month to the members of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, union spokesman Tom Butler said Wednesday.

“This is given with a deep respect and gratitude, from our family to yours, for all that you (the firefighters) have done,” McCartney, the son of a former Liverpool, England, firefighter, said in a statement. “A heartfelt thanks, and I hope that all of the firefighters will be able to enjoy its beauty once it finds its resting place.”

The painting will be displayed at firehouses throughout the city, UFA President Steve Cassidy said.

McCartney was one of the featured performers in a benefit concert following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, which killed 343 New York firefighters.

PARIS (AP) – British film director Alan Parker has been named an officer in the Order of Arts and Letters, one of France’s top culture awards.

“You have explored the possibilities of film with an immense talent,” Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said Wednesday as he presented the award to Parker.

Parker, 61, praised France as “the flag carrier for cinema throughout the world.”

The minister noted that Parker’s 1978 movie, “Midnight Express,” drew 6 million French fans.

He also praised the director’s “veritable artistic commitment against the death sentence” as shown in 2003’s “The Life of David Gale.”

Parker, who is a founding member of the Director’s Guild of Great Britain, said he was honored by the distinction.

“I am privileged and honored to be thus distinguished by France,” he said in his brief remarks.

In an interview later, Parker said France alone respects film as an art form.

“Hollywood, which created modern cinema, uses it only as a commodity,” he said.

BEIJING (AP) – Sam’s playing it again – in China.

A musical based on the 1942 movie “Casablanca” will make its world debut in Beijing next month, the official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday. The film starred Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as former lovers in Casablanca, Morocco, during World War II.

The stage version will feature tap dance numbers and the theme “As Time Goes By,” Xinhua said. The premiere will be April 8-12 at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s legislature.

The project was developed by the China Arts and Entertainment Group and Time Warner Inc., said Yang Xuan, a spokeswoman for the Chinese partner.

NEW YORK (AP) – John Grisham’s next legal thriller will have a new twist: It will all be true. The author of “The Firm,” “The Client” and other best sellers is writing a work of nonfiction, his first, about a death-row inmate who nearly died for a murder he didn’t commit.

The book, not yet titled, is scheduled for publication in 2006.

“It’s a natural story for John to tell,” Stephen Rubin, president and publisher of Doubleday Broadway, said in a statement Wednesday. “It has many of the same themes present in his novels – legal suspense, the death penalty, wrongful conviction, even baseball. It’s the ultimate true legal thriller.”

According to Doubleday, Grisham thought of the book after reading the obituary of Ronald Keith Williamson, a promising athlete drafted in the early 1970s by the Oakland Athletics. In 1986, he was arrested for the rape and murder of a 21-year-old Oklahoma woman. Williamson was convicted. He was within days of his scheduled execution, in 1999, when DNA testing proved he was innocent.

Williamson died of cirrhosis of the liver in 2004. He was 51.

“Not in my most creative hour could I imagine a story as compelling as Ron Williamson’s,” Grisham said in a statement.

Grisham won’t be the first author of courtroom novels to try nonfiction. Scott Turow, whose best sellers include “Presumed Innocent” and “The Burden of Proof,” wrote the nonfiction “Ultimate Punishment,” an analysis of the death penalty that was published in 2003.

LONDON (AP) – The world premiere of Sandra Bullock’s new film, “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” was held in Leicester Square, with former co-star Hugh Grant among her guests.

“The last time I was here I fell into the premiere, and I figured I had to redeem myself,” Bullock said Wednesday night, explaining the decision to hold the world premiere in London. “I thought if I walked in normally this time it would make up for it.”

She made a memorable entrance at the British premiere of the first “Miss Congeniality” film five years ago when she famously tripped on the red carpet outside the theater.

In the first movie, Bullock played an accident-prone FBI agent who went undercover at a beauty pageant. For the sequel, she goes undercover again, this time in Las Vegas.

Grant, Bullock’s co-star in 2002’s “Two Weeks Notice,” arrived at the Vue theater in central London without his girlfriend, Jemima Khan.

“He’s a great friend and a great support. He’s fantastic,” said Bullock, dressed in jeans and a black Chanel coat embroidered with pearls. “And he takes a blinkingly good picture. He’s disgustingly photogenic.”

“Miss Congeniality 2” also stars Regina King, Ernie Hudson and William Shatner.

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