OUR FAVORITE singing/dancing/glamour-puss/Oscar-winner/survivor and genuinely nice human being, Cher, has been lying low recently. This is nothing new. For all the flamboyance of her image, she is a sensitive and introspective woman, given to pondering the big “Why?” And perhaps not always happy at the answer. From era to era, she seems to restore herself during sojourns from the public eye, returning with new vigor. (Not like a phoenix, but more like a sphinx rising from the ashes.) One of the things I love about Cher — and miss when she’s out of touch — is that she speaks spontaneously and truthfully, but never tells too much. She’s so appealingly earthy, frank and funny you think you’re seeing her soul. But you’re only seeing what she allows. The real woman is far more interesting and complex. Anyway, soon fans of Cher will have one, perhaps two offerings. There’s a book coming next fall, “Cher: The Television Series,” which is an exhaustively researched, highly entertaining look at the star’s sensational 1975-76 solo variety hour. This was after the “Sonny & Cher” show dissolved and their iconic marriage came screeching to a halt. It’s a labor of love from writer Josiah Howard. There’s also a rumor that has Cher thinking about doing a “Duets” type album, recording her classic Sonny & Cher hits with new singers. Interesting idea! I suppose it’ll depend on how sentimental Cher is about those old songs. On the subject of Sonny, one thing for sure, his sudden death in 1997 offered up the one true glimpse of Cher’s inner self, unvarnished and unprotected. Her funeral eulogy stands as the star’s most emotional public appearance — though she did not realize it would be made public — real and raw. It rose above the voyeurism of watching a famous person undone by grief. (When she got to the part about Sonny being like the Reader’s Digest’s “Most Unforgettable Person” she was sobbing, and so was I.) But I prefer to think of Cher as she was during the three years of her famously extended “Farewell Tour” from 2003-05. There she was full of fun, ironic, laid back, giving 1,000 percent and never seeming to break a sweat. (Not even on her fabulous elephant!) Her apparent nonchalance always reminds me of … Fred Astaire! Really. She makes grueling hard work look easy. And, unlike some pop divas, she gives fans what they want — the hits, the hits, the hits. No deep thoughts. And plenty of sequins. Everybody goes home happy. Cher is a star who knows her audience and her stuff. Whatever she’s planning — that big Vegas stint still looms—all I can do is paraphrase “Shane’s” great line: “Cher, come back…come back!”
THE OTHER eve at the Waldorf when the U. of Illinois gave Mike Wallace their Lifetime Achievement Award, the venerable TV star of “60 Minutes” was seen onscreen responding in an interview to the famous World War II navy hero — saying, “Bullshit, Admiral Halsey!” Then when Mike stepped up personally to the podium to heap praise on his friend and producer, Don Hewitt, he got a bit fulsome, causing Don to yell from the audience, “Bullshit! Admiral Halsey!” The house came down… BILLY ZANE is perhaps still best known as the villain of “Titanic,” trying to come between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Now he is said to be on NBC’s short list of actors to star in a TV re-do of the old Robert Loggia series, “T.H.E. Cat.” (Zane’s not formally on board, but he is honcho Ben Silverman’s top pick.) Well, since NBC has had a nice recent success with “Bionic Woman,” why not continue mining the past?… RALPH FIENNES is the talk of the West End for his coming star turn in the play “God of Carnage,” written by Yasmina Reza. You recall, Reza had the play “Art” on B’way several seasons back starring Alan Alda and Victor Garber mystified playgoers flocked to it in droves. This will be Fiennes first comedy. It opens in March…. WE TOLD you a month ago that the eternally gleaming matinee idol George Hamilton would be writing his memoirs. We knew because he told us so. But now it’s official. Hamilton’s book will arrive late in 2008 from the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster. He is receiving help dotting I’s, crossing T’s and paring down his innumerable anecdotes from William Stadiem, of “Marilyn Monroe: Confidential” and the Frank Sinatra bio, “Mr. S.” Both were incredibly juicy reads. I doubt that there will be anything in George’s book of which he won’t approve. His storytelling skills are superb and based in witty, wise understanding of his own, and others’ foibles… I’VE SEEN only a scrap of Mike Nichol’s coming film “Charlie Wilson’s War” but I can tell you already that it is one great looking movie. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts seem to be at their best but the other positive thing I can say about this comer is you can actually understand what the actors are saying. No mumbling and no den of incomprehensible chatter as people walk away or toward you. This one looks to have the masterful Nichols touch in a grown-up creation for adults. I can hardly wait to really see it … SO IF Kirstie Alley — still looking great in the Jenny Craig spots — is going to star in an upcoming “Ugly Betty” episode, what will she do? Why, play a zaftig, tough-talking, modeling agent who berates all the wafer-thin girls who are her clients. Kirstie is trying to lure her “Look Who’s Talking” co-star and loyal friend John Travolta into also taking a cameo bit in the “Ugly Betty” episode.