IS THERE such a thing as a truly underrated icon?  You bet.  Her name is Doris Day and her great talent was so effortless as to seem ephemeral, and her image so distorted as to render her anachronistic in her own starring era.  Luckily, writer Tom Santopietro exists to put Day’s career into the proper perspective.  His coming book does exactly that — it considers the often-turbulent life of this great star, but more vitally, reassesses her long public reign; as an evocative big-band singer, an exuberant and sexy young movie star, a nuanced actress, a brilliant interpreter of American pop music, and, finally, alas, a joke.  Day was the intelligent, independent no-nonsense career woman/wife/mother — a bracing contrast to Marilyn Monroe’s pastiche of femininity, Elizabeth Taylor’s overwrought women-in-love or Audrey Hepburn’s fey sprite, usually consigned to romance with much older men. And of course, with one ballad, Doris could convey every emotion, even when her scripts faltered.

TIMES CHANGE, one becomes jaded, but I can still be thrilled to receive a handwritten note from Elizabeth Taylor: “Greetings from Hawaii! For someone who has been in bed with a bad back, I have done all the things I’ve dreamed of. And I did get into the shark cage. It was the most exciting thing I’ve done in my life — there were 12 sharks cruising the cage. I had to share that with you!” The star of stars also sent delicious chocolates. She lives as best as she can right in the moment. Brava! … “I think there should be a movie about my life and you should play me as the younger Farrah and I’ll play myself as the older Farrah. … I think this could be a huge blockbuster of a movie.” That was an overheard conversation on Emmy night between Farrah Fawcett and Heather Locklear. Locklear’s response was — a great deal of smiling and nodding.

PARIS HILTON will be mobbed like crazy when she arrives tonight at the Warner Bros. and Atlantic Records post-MTV Awards party at Stephen Starr’s Buddakan. Others expected — and who can expect to be trampled in the rush to get a breathless “that show was hot” from Paris — include Penelope Cruz, Sean Combs, Missy Elliott, Johnny Knoxville, Sean Paul, the Pussycat Dolls, My Chemical Romance, Panic! at the Disco, Three 6 Mafia and Taking Back Sunday. … One star who might give Hilton a run for the digital flash is penitent penitentiary rapper, Lil’ Kim. Guests will chow down on Buddakan’s famous dim sum. … We’re forever touting the Fete de Swifty event Sept. 25 in a tent on 73rd and Lexington Ave. It’s for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York to fight domestic violence. How can we refuse? So many want to be generous. The Brooklyn Brewery is donating beer for the third year. The sparkling juice Izze will also be offered, along with Jeffrey Zarnow’s Starr African Rum. Charmers Industries is giving Grey Goose Vodka, Glorious Food the seafood bar, Swifty’s chef Steve Attoe and Robert Caravaggi the food, http://www.spibooks.com is offering a load of great reading and Madame Tussaud’s is lending three of its star wax figures.

EMMY NIGHT: Thrilled to see Mariska Hargitay pick up her award. Would have been more thrilled if her co-star Christopher Meloni had joined her in the winner’s circle … Kudos to whoever was in charge of lighting the stage. Each and every woman looked beautiful, despite the vagaries of hairstyling and gowns … Super kudos to Cloris Leachman, 80, and Joan Collins, 73. Talk about testaments to good genes and healthy living. Joan sashayed out with the energy of a teenager, Leachman, who took her eighth Emmy, shows off a shape and posture to put most starlets to shame.

(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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