Brits ready to conquer Oscars

THIS YEAR we could echo that great statement made from horseback by Paul Revere — “The British are coming! The British are coming!” — because our Anglo friends will be dominating the Academy Awards Sunday night, just as the Brits dominated the Golden Globes a few weeks back. By my count there are at least 11 nominations for English persons to be considered this time around. And this is nothing new. British talents have become an integral part of the American Academy Awards over the last 30 years. There has only been one year, 1985, without a single British nominee among the four acting categories. This year the Brits have an embarrassment of riches at the top in Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, as well as Kate Winslet and Peter O’Toole, competing for acting Oscars. We have two British directors — Stephen Frears for “The Queen” and Paul Greengrass for “United 93″… three British screenwriters, Patrick Marber of “Notes on a Scandal” and Peter Morgan for “The Queen,”as well as Sacha Baron Cohen for “Borat.” (The latter has four co-writers) Then there is “The Queen” itself, up for best picture and there are other nominations for original score, costumes, editing, etc. There’ll be classy accents all over the Kodak Theater stage. When the Brits put on their own version of the Oscars recently, the BAFTA awards, they nominated lots of American movies, actors and craftsmen, but the wins went mostly to their own. The other day in London when they offered up the Olivier Awards, which deal with theater –Americans did better. U.S. creators of “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Caroline, or Change,” as well as “The Crucible” swept the field. But at least two famous American performers — Kathleen Turner and Frank Langella, who were expected to win, did not. And the ultra-nominated Broadway hit “Spamalot,” also went down to defeat. We won two wars against the British but we have to let them have their way with us sometimes.

I SHOULD probably just go stand in the freezer and freeze this moment right now,” says an ebullient Eddie Murphy when he talks to Barbara Walters for her Oscar night special on ABC. Eddie Murphy has always given Barbara good interviews and this one is no exception. He performs, he’s sincere, he’s low-key, he’s dignified, then he’s also on-fire funny, feigning outrage at her questions about his being “a recluse,” and having suffered a professional slump in the past. (He does point out, seriously, that only a couple of his films have ever really “failed” with the public.) Don’t miss this show on Feb. 25, Sunday night. It also includes this year’s Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres offering up one of her best past lines: “What would bug the Taliban more than to see a gay woman in a suit, surrounded by Jews?” Then there’s Jennifer Hudson, young and bubbly. Her segment includes a clip of her singing “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” — a song the “Dreamgirls” producers consider so special, they don’t feature it in any trailers for the movie. But they did it for Barbara. The best part? My friend Helen Mirren looking better at 61 than she did at 20. She shows a down-to-earth girlish vulnerability and says that while making “The Queen,” she fell in love with Britain’s monarch. Helen says she thinks the best of times is now. She does admit she’s not calm about the prospect of the Oscar. But she says she’ll continue to embrace the adventure of life.

THE STAR of the Broadway play “The Little Dog Laughed,” one Julie White, who plays the cynical agent, trekked into Michaels one cold mid-noon wearing fabulous green Tony Lama boots. She instantly confessed that her only thrill about the play closing this weekend is it means she won’t have to wear those killer Monolos onstage as she has been doing eight times a week. Julie White has a shock of flaming hair and great big soulful eyes. If you missed her play, maybe you remember her as the character Mitzi Dalton Huntley in “Six Feet Under,” where she portrayed a Texan. Why, she is a Texan, growing up in Austin, now making her home in Hollywood with her good looking husband, Chris Conner. Yep, he’s an actor; you saw him recently on “Grey’s Anatomy.” I asked Julie if she’d had any bad moments after the cognoscenti and critics took up her play and moved it to Broadway. “No, my only problem was relatives coming up from Texas and I had to explain to them beforehand that ‘Little Dog’ had dirty words in it and sometimes naked men kissing. Most of them took it pretty well.” Julie’s star comedy could just enjoy a revival either in L.A. or in London. Meantime, as mean as Julie is onstage, she isn’t disappearing like the Wicked Witch of the West. She has four movies coming — “The Astronaut Farmer” with Billy Bob Thornton, “The Nanny Dairies” with Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney, “Michael Clayton” starring George Clooney, and another movie “Transformers.” (Asked to explain this last, she said,”All boys know about this; let’s don’t examine it further.”) How does it feel to have four films stacked up and circling? “Well, it’s either feast or famine. Now they are all coming out one on top of the other. I always hope for the best and expect the worst.”

ALONG THE old Rialto they’re chuckling about telegrams found recently in the New York Public Library collections. Here’s one from Roz Russell to her producer husband Freddie Brisson on May 13, 1954 when “The Pajama Game” first opened: “If the show curtain fouls and the watches don’t light/If Paige warbles flat and the costumes are a sight/If Haney breaks a leg and Foy blows a cue/Don’t throw up in the lobby/Cause I still love you. If the press has laryngitis/And Raitt sings ‘Carousel’/If Meyer has to stand up/Tell them all to go to hell/If the critics say the show stinks/And print that you’re to blame/Take a plane and hurry home dear/We’ll play our own Pajama Game!” AND THERE’S an even better one from the distinguished former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, circa 1959. “May your bare a– always be shining.”

WINNING THE Oscar long denied him, except for the honorary lifetime achievement award he received, is paramount for Peter O’Toole this time around. They say if O’Toole, now 74, fails to win, “he’ll be livid, as he’s been nominated eight times … he wants an Oscar for his work in a film.” In this case, it’s the independent British sensation “Venus” … JUDE LAW, one of the busiest men in film, may not be up for anything like an Oscar, but the French love him. They are making him a chevalier, or knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, which only 200 people a year receive…. Joel Grey opened his latest photo exhibition with Patrick McMullen as his host at the Stevenson Galley on West 23rd. It runs through Wednesday. I asked Joel about a recent outing on TV’s doctor show “House.” He laughed. “What an episode. They put me through every horrible test and agony you can imagine. I’m hoping this means maybe I’ll skip such a medical experience in real life.” Joel just performed in Florida with his long-ago “Cabaret” co-star Liza Minnelli. He gives us this Liza alert: “It was wonderful. She is in fantastic shape. Her reviews have been out of this world.”… CURTAIN UP at “The Drowsy Chaperone” finds the character called “Man in Chair” dropping the needle on his pet cast album. From the crackle of his hi-fi the charmingly funny Tony-award winning musical bursts to life. Now for the first time in almost 20 years, a vinyl cast album has been cut and a limited number of these vintage-style collectors items can be had at the Marquis Theater or at ……ANDERSON COOPER has made himself worth millions to CNN, but just plain folks also like to throw money at the young broadcaster. “Lunch With…” was one of the items auctioned for Bailey House last week. Anderson went for $21,000. Let’s hope he stays for dessert at those prices. Bailey House, helping fight homelessness and HIV/AIDS, managed to whomp up somewhere near $700,000. ……ART BUCHWALD, the late great humorist, is going to be memorialized at the Eise
nhower Theater in the Kennedy Center on March 5. If you want to attend, call 202-393-6680. Speaking of Washington, someone I know in New York was asked what he thinks about the nation’s capital? He sniffed: “Why, the women there don’t even wear jewelry.” I guess if the women in Washington did wear jewelry, their politico husbands might find themselves under investigation ……BETTE MIDLER tells me her New York Restoration Project will find and build a little park in honor of the late Governor of Texas, Ann Richards. This week, the project, which will cost in the range of $250,000, received a $10,000 kick-off gift from Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner. So if you’d like to remember that un-native New Yorker — Ann — do send along a contribution to 31 West 56th Street,10019. Incidentally, Bette’s Restoration Project has partnered with the DelGreco outdoor furniture line. Making hay while the sun shines to make NYC look good… FRIENDS ARE trying to honor another real New Yorker, the late writer George Plimpton. There is a plan for remembering the Sports Illustrated veteran who wrestled with Hemingway, wrote poems with Muhammad Ali, put out the Paris Review and played with the Detroit Lions. They hope to put up a bronze statue. Check with…. DON’T MISS the Cafe Carlyle cabaret debut of Judy Collins who has been everywhere, done everything, seen it all, experienced it all, survived it all. Her pristine talent remains; her virtuosity with a song, at the piano or with guitar. She’ll share with us through March 2…. ARE YOU one of those “My Fair Lady” fanatics? On March 7-10, the New York Philharmonic presents Lerner and Loewe’s masterpiece in concert at Avery Fisher Hall. How can we resist Kelsey Grammer as Professor Higgins? Brian Dennehy as Alfred Doolittle? Kelli O’Hara as Eliza?

(Email Liz Smith at

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