Oprah-backed indie opens Nov. 6

LEE DANIELS is a guy I was once seated next to at a Vogue dinner party arranged by the giant fashion plate, Andre Leon Talley. After five minutes, I realized he had been a driving force, as a producer, who helped Halle Berry win an Oscar for “Monster’s Ball.” He was as impressed with his “overnight success” as I was!

Recently, not having seen Lee in ages, I wrote a story about his surprising next triumph — as director and producer of the $3 million movie “Precious.”

The Lionsgate movie, opening Nov. 6, won three awards at Sundance. And it won Oprah’s backing. It stars young Gabourey (“Gabby”) Sidibe as the tormented teenager whose father impregnates her, whose classmates bully her and whose witch of a mother beats her. (Lee says the latter role is that of a classic villainess, acted by award-winning comedienne Mo’Nique “in a way that makes you ask ‘whatever happened to Baby Jane.’ “)

Lee was full of raves for another actress, Paula Patton, who plays a lesbian who intervenes on behalf of the abused girl. Mariah Carey, who is one of Lee’s pet talents, has a role here also, and Lenny Kravitz plays a nurse.

“Did Oprah really back this film all the way?” I ask Lee who is kidding around on the other end of the phone. He settled down: “Indeed she did. She connected to it with bells and whistles and is an executive producer with Tyler Perry.”

Daniels is a guy on the verge, concerned that he makes the right choices. He says he is looking forward to working with Berry again. He is being offered big money to make big films, but wants to be sure he is doing the right thing, “because we never had money to do movies like this before…though this one cost us only $3 million.”

Lee is doing the right thing, I think. At least, he agreed to take me to dinner with Carey, a long admired mutual friend, and with Kravitz, on whom I have had a big crush since being introduced to him in Orso one night whereupon he rose, crushed me to his chest and gave me a big kiss.

I’m such a pushover!

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NATALIE COLE shows herself as a writer in her article for Jason Binn’s magazine Los Angeles Confidential — this issue is Binn’s debut as editorial director.

Natalie, a ten-time Grammy winner, writes movingly of her bouts with addiction and illness: “Whatever horror stories you have heard about chemo is true. It is absolutely one of the most debilitating and difficult experiences that could ever happen to a human being. … Trying to perform was a real challenge. Just picture an IV hanging from a wardrobe rack in my dressing room in Japan as I tried to prepare for two shows in a night!”

The singer has no qualms discussing “my younger, hell-raising days. I was an active drug user and heroin was my drug of choice.” (Doctors feel that needle-use brought on hepatitis C and Natalie’s recent kidney failure.)

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THIS WEEK kicks off the advent of the HBO movie “Grey Gardens,” starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange as the little and big “Edie Beales” and Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. (It airs Saturday at 8 p.m.)

“Grey Gardens” is an extraordinary work of art about the media-covered fallen socialite cousins of Jackie, living in East Hampton as they careened toward their wrecked and useless lives. I didn’t think I could stand to know one more thing about them. (Remember, it has already been a famous documentary and a Broadway musical.) But this movie is excellent. The protagonists are pitiful but you can’t help extending your sympathy.

Tonight, HBO throws the big premiere of “Grey Gardens” at the Ziegfeld Theater. (Dinner and congratulations follow, at the Pierre Grand Ballroom.) The Misses Lange and Barrymore will preside.

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