Maher’s guests keep it ‘Real’

HOPE YOU didn’t miss Bill Maher’s “Real Time” show this week with Chris Rock, Dan Rather, Martha Raddatz, Jason Alexander and GOP candidate Mike Huckabee as guests. This outing, in repeat tonight, has the frisky group discussing a host of important issues. The zingers come like the arrows of the hit movie “300.” You can’t stop laughing. (And crying, over spilt milk.) In paying tribute to Dan’s career, Jason admitted he didn’t know much about Martha’s life. Well, she is the ABC White House correspondent who has gone to Iraq and Afghanistan repeatedly (13 times) and braved so many dangers. Don’t miss her new book from Putnam — “The Long Road Home.”

And speaking of TV repeats, Larry King’s interview with Heather Mills the night after she bowed on “Dancing With the Stars” was illuminating and probably won the about-to-be ex Mrs. Paul McCartney some fans… THE TV sitcom “30 Rock” has a brand new character in that very young actress Elaine Stritch, who is now playing the heck out of being Alec Baldwin’s mother. Elaine says, “It’s a relief to stop dealing with my own life — as in ‘Elaine Stritch at Liberty’ — and just deal with being Alec’s mom.” … What kind of guy do you have to be to sleep over at Scarlett Johansson’s place, stay up late, watch movies, devour junk food? (Actually, this isn’t an item about Woody Allen.) You have to be a boy, age eight. Nicholas Art, who stars with Scarlett in the upcoming “Nanny Diaries,” was invited for just such an evening. Reaction from Art’s male relatives? Youth is wasted on the young … Laura Bell Bundy will begin previewing the musical version of “Legally Blonde” on April 3. (She plays Elle Woods, the seemingly dim, actually clever law student in the role Reese Witherspoon made platinum at the box office.) Before she was “Legally” a Broadway star, Laura toiled as a bartender at NYC’s famed DaTommaso. Now, the owners pour for her — and it’s always champagne… Next for “The Devil Wears Prada” producer Wendy Finerman? Why, it’s the chick-lit novel “The Next Thing on My List” by Jill Smolinski. This is about a girl attempting to complete her list of “Twenty things to do before my 25th birthday.” Wendy nabbed the novel which comes out next month for a New Line film … Dominick Dunne has signed on with Vanity Fair for another stint and is off to L.A. to do the thing he does best — cover a trial. This time it’s Phil Spector’s.

RECENTLY, WE wrote that the 1972 movie, “Lady Sings the Blues,” good as it was, didn’t really tell the truth about Billie Holiday. We suggested that the great singer’s story was still ripe for revival, and that Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson might be fine and mellow as Holiday. Well, we get results. Jay Weston, who produced “Lady,” saw our item and sent a note: “Although the movie was an enormous success, I have always wanted to go back and do a more authentic version of her story. Recently, we developed a wonderful new treatment about the true love affair that Billie had with the black DEA agent who eventually had to arrest her. “I was lunching at Fred Segal’s the other day and Jennifer Hudson walked by and I suddenly realized she would be perfect … so we are now pursuing her. Thank you for that mention and suggestion. It was very helpful.” Anytime, Jay. As for the rest of you, go out and get all you can of Billie Holiday’s recordings from her years at Verve. Her once-light voice was rough and cracking, but the interpretations were genius. Nobody, but nobody, sang the blues like Lady Day.

KIRK DOUGLAS writes in his latest book “Let’s Face It (90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning)” — “This is my last.” I doubt it. And so does Kirk. After he opened the door to his suite at the St. Regis, offered scotch or vodka and settled down on a plush couch, he taps the cover of his book and says, “I wrote that in there, but maybe not.” Kirk Douglas was (and is) an icon of the movies, but more recently he has become an icon of vitality, survival, durability and the wisdom and wit that age can bring. The title of his book refers to facing death, but also to facing life in all its random waywardness. “I dedicated this book to my grandchildren, so they will know something about me, what I was, how I felt, how one always has to go forward, no matter how hard you think it is. I think if you live long enough, and I certainly have, you have an obligation to younger people. Us alter cockers have to speak up, the world is in a mess, and we made it, maybe our children and grandchildren can do a better job.” You will find some tales of friends and films gone by in his book, but this is no wallow in nostalgia. Kirk lives in the here and now. He radiates inspiring energy. Kirk Douglas, the movie star, was rarely vanquished on screen (or if he was, as in “Spartacus” he died nobly.) In life Kirk has not been vanquished either, but he admits he’s come close. His devastating stroke in 1996 caused him to think of suicide, “and even after I realized suicide was so selfish, I was pretty depressed, moping around. But my wonderful wife, Anne, would come into the bedroom and say, “Get your ass out of bed and go work with your therapist.” Douglas smiles, “She is a wonderful woman. So wonderful I married her twice.” (Their wedlock is 55 years young and going strong.) But nothing crushed Douglas more than the death of his long-troubled son, Eric. He writes movingly of Eric and heartbreakingly of the constant agony of wondering, “Could I have done more … where did I go wrong?” There is plenty of humor in “Let’s Face It,” including a hilarious imaginary conversation with God, in which the irritated deity says, “Young people blow themselves up and expect 72 virgins in heaven. Do they think I run a brothel here? Choose life.” Kirk says, “Everybody thinks I’m such a religious Jew. But I’m not, really. I am interested in religion and how it’s so badly used, people hating each other because they say their religion is better than your religion, and it’s here, too, in the United States.” Of the Bible, Kirk says, “many wonderful stories there and we can learn from them, but do we have to believe they really happened? I mean, how come God stopped being so talkative all of a sudden?” Kirk signed his book to me and then said, with a reference to my recent broken foot, “This is the 801st book I’ve signed today. When they brought the boxes in earlier, I said, ‘You’re kidding, you want me to sign all these?’ What do they think, that I’m 85?”

(Email Liz Smith at

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