Orchestrating the marketing of a big movie is always a delicate business, but Sony's Columbia Pictures is facing a special challenge with its holiday film My Girl, pairing 10-year-old Anna Chlumsky and 11-year-old Macaulay Culkin as preteen sweethearts. An indication of its difficulty: On the invitation for the movie's Nov. 3 premiere in L.A., the studio saw fit to spell out the PG admonition (''Warning: Some material may not be suitable for children''). Why? Because word is out that the character played by the wildly popular and chirpy child star, Home Alone's million-dollar Culkin, dies at the end.
Originally called Born Jaundiced (the new title, at least, is a good idea), the drama concerns a little girl (Chlumsky) who grows up in her father's mortuary; Dan Aykroyd plays her dad, and Jamie Lee Curtis appears as his girlfriend. At the film's finale, Chlumsky must confront the untimely loss of her pal Culkin from bee stings.
Imagine Entertainment, the movie's producer, had no intention of revealing the ending before the film opened. ''We trust critics who are reviewing movies not to give away plot,'' says Michael Rosenberg, Imagine's senior vice president for marketing. But when syndicated columnist Marilyn Beck found out about Culkin's screen death, she felt that parents should know about it before taking their kids to see the movie. She ran the news in her column on Aug. 16 over considerable objection from Imagine, she says. ''Parents should be warned and make the decision,'' says Beck. ''I felt it was important enough to break the story line, which I never do.''
Now that the story is out, Columbia is planning ways to deal with the Culkin question. ''There is some content in this movie that we want to be sure parents know about,'' says Sidney Ganis, spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment. The studio has set up screenings for child psychologists, says Ganis, who are responding positively to the film. And while many of the children attending previews cried, Ganis says, ''Audiences leave the theater feeling good, both kids and adults.'' Says one Columbia executive, ''We're going to be very up-front about it. We'll make a negative a positive. It would be stupid to do otherwise.''
A production executive at another studio who read an early draft of the script remembers not believing that they would ''kill the kid. It was better for us not to get involved in something like this,'' he says. ''There's no way I would take my kid to it, especially starring Macaulay Culkin.''
''I'm a mother,'' counters Culkin's costar Curtis, ''and I'm not worried about my child seeing this picture. The movie could get parents and kids talking. This isn't the first time kids have seen death in a movie. Kids watch the news, kids watch Terminator 2, kids watch movies where 15 people are killed in the first three minutes.'' True enough, but none of them is Macaulay Culkin.