A good year for the Brits

IF EITHER Helen Mirren or Judi Dench or Kate Winslet wins the Academy Award for best actress on Feb. 25, that English lady will be the first British person to win the Oscar since Emma Thompson brought one back to London in 1993. Dench said of her own nomination. “I’m very pleased. I’m in frighteningly good company. It’s very nice for the Queen to allow me in for a minute.” (Judi is nominated for “Notes on a Scandal.”) Judi, who won a best supporting for “Shakespeare in Love,” where she herself played Queen Elizabeth I, is a bit sidelined for Oscar publicity by a bad knee which hampers her getting around at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s musical version of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Judi will wind up there Feb. 10 and consider flying over for the Oscars.

I’VE BEEN called a bitch–and a lot worse–for years. And you know what, so what? People who think that aren’t going to change their minds. And I wouldn’t dream of sending them to therapy to ‘rehabilitate’ their feelings. How absurd.” That’s Sharon Stone on the Isaiah Washington/T.R. Knight “Grey’s Anatomy” controversy. … I chatted with Sharon last week before she arrived in NYC for her AmFAR honor at Cipriani 42nd Street, and a round of theater and partygoing. The star was in great humor, and displayed her typical generosity of spirit. Complimented on her performance in the movie “Bobby,” she says, “Isn’t Demi Moore great?” Complimented on her performance in “Alpha Dog,” she says, “What about Justin Timberlake? He is a real acting find. That was a difficult role, and he did it so well.” Mention Rupert Everett and she immediately whoops, “Oh, I love him. What a fantastic talent.” … Stone will soon begin filming “Elliott Rocket” with Jimmy Fallon and Lucy Liu in Florida. “I’m looking to find a man closer to my age,” she laughed before doing a dead-on impression of a gravel-voiced Miami yenta, poolside. (“Get mommy some suntan oil, dolling.”) … The Good Citizens Drop-Out Project (or Planet Hope Minnesota), provides winter coats for needy kids. On Feb. 21, she’ll host a benefit gala in Hollywood. “Everybody has to contribute a prom dress or a tux and no matter what, bring cash.”

THAT QUEEN of the deep South, Paula Deen, is America’s butter-drenched chef and now her memoir is coming out in April titled “It Ain’t All About the Cookin.” They already have a first printing of 300,000. Paula, who is like a goddess from Atlanta to Savannah, picked the excellent Sherry Suib Cohen as her collaborator and they’ve included some shocking truths. Such as Paula’s motto: “There ain’t but four ingredients in Southern cooking — the pig and all its parts, butter, mayo and cream cheese.” Only a few years ago, she was destitute, suffering from agoraphobia. Today she has two shows on the Food Network and five best-selling cook books.

… catch Tony Danza giving the role of Max Bialystock in “The Producers” an Italian twist. Tony is more or less playing it straight and he is delightful. His co-star, Tony-winning Hunter Foster, is also brilliant as the timid accountant who becomes embroiled in a scam. … Until this performance by Danza I had never understood a word of the portion where Bialystock lands in a prison cell and re-sings an entire version of the show. But Tony makes it real. It sings.

THE MISS America of 1971, Phyllis George, has been working to help restore the cachet of the institution. Once a Miss America passes into history, we usually forget about her. But not Phyllis George. Phyllis herself had an abortive shot at becoming a CBS anchor, went on to be the first lady of Kentucky when she wed Gov. John Y. Brown, hustled Kentucky folk art all over the U.S., ran a Chicken By George business which she sold to Hormel and also owns Phyllis George Beauty cosmetics and skincare. Reporter Howard Fineman said on “Hardball” that Phyllis will move back to Kentucky to run either for the Senate or possibly for governor of the Bluegrass State. So far, Phyllis isn’t denying the rumor. … If you pick up a bottle of 2004 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, you’ll notice a fetching watercolor decorating the label — pine trees in Provence. This was dashed off by none other than Prince Charles, who has turned into quite a nifty artist. Previous labels have featured works by Dali, Bacon and Picasso.

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

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