Brown, Peterson turn the page

WHEN I was still out dancing around, before I broke two bones in my foot traveling to the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, I was at one of Joe Armstrong’s famous get-it-all-together lunches. The media expert, sometimes called “The Mayor of Michaels,” celebrated the coming books of two of his favorites — Tina Brown and Holly Peterson. (Joe worked for Tina in the days of Talk magazine and Holly is also a former Tina employee, now a contributing editor for Newsweek.) Tina and Holly have both recently emerged from, “finishing book hell.” Tina’s super investigative work titled “The Diana Chronicles” comes out this summer as does Holly’s first novel, “The Manny.” “The Manny” is already a sensation on Amazon since it was published in Great Britain and Europe last month. “Diana” is Tina’s take on the tragic British princess. Holly’s “Manny” is about a New York child caregiver described as “a nanny of the male persuasion.” Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher already bought movie rights to this sexy saga about rich East Siders. Burr Steers is busy writing the screenplay. (Steers wrote and directed the highly-acclaimed “Igby Goes Down.”) There is hot expectation for this fiction and the movie to follow. Tina wasn’t able to speak at this lunch because she had laryngitis. “I feel like a sexy Helen Mirren,” she whispered and when Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner asked what she’d learned about Princess Diana while writing the book, Tina managed to tell us that she’d discovered just how daring, brave and courageous Diana was in the days before her death. ” Nobody else had ever challenged the British Royals in the way she did.” Kathy O’Hearn was in from Washington where she produces ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Sunday morning show just as she once produced for Tina on CNBC. Editor Susan Mercandetti of Random House was with us; about to have the No. 1 book in the nation in Lee and Bob Woodward’s hit, “In An Instant.” (Susan noted how proud she was that the Woodwards had “managed to change the debate about how we treat our wounded veterans.”) There was Jon Meacham, the new editor of Newsweek, and he said so many fabulous things that I found myself quoting him for days after.

THE KENNEDY dynasty goes on apace. The popular writer Gail Sheehy is working on a book about the Bouvier women of Grey Gardens in Long Island’s East Hampton. Maybe she’s calling it “Jacqueline Kennedy’s Curious Family” or maybe not. We’ll call it that until she decides. Meanwhile, “Grey Gardens,” the musical, continues to sell out at the Walter Kerr Theater and I don’t think there are many people on the old Rialto as it were, who don’t believe that this show’s star Christine Ebersole will win another Tony for her multiple Bouvier roles. Then Drew Barrymore is producing and starring in her own movie version of these weird women’s lives, along with the great and talented star Jessica Lange. One person who will figure prominently in the Sheehy book is John Davis who was Jackie’s cousin and a man who early on wrote his own bestselling biography “The Bouviers.” John was the first writer ever to expose the mastermind behind the JFK assassination in his now iconic tome called “Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy.” But these days John’s literary agent Marianne Strong and many family members are worrying about the way this onetime Fulbright scholar is being managed by his ex-wife and her friends, rather than by medical professionals. Mr. Davis is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and he needs care, not exploitation.

GWEN STEFANI is to perform on the 20th anniversary of the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, happening March 3lst in Hollywood. This event has grown so much in size and importance that it is now known as the “Mini-Oscars.” But there is nothing “mini” about the talent it attracts. Aside from Stefani, hip-hop artist Akon will be there and Justin Timberlake, “Mr. Sexyback” himself will host. As you know, the big moment on these awards comes when the celebrities get “slimed.” Everybody from Tom Cruise to Queen Latifah to Will Smith has had this very messy honor. They’ve all loved it. Superstars are just kids at heart?

“I AM here tonight because my friend Ann Richards couldn’t make it. … But she has a really good excuse,” said I, opening the Texas Hall of Fame Awards in Austin last weekend. This remark got the kind of friendly laughter Ann would have approved of. Movie people were tripping all over one another and there were big stars galore at this Texas Monthly magazine-sponsored event in an airplane hangar in the Mueller Airport. Yes, more than 900 folks hunkered down to eat chicken fried sirloin steak and drink margaritas while they toasted the memory of the late governor because she had helped movie-making become a fact on “The Third Coast.” (Austin isn’t on any coast, really, but it is the hub of film activity and has produced many local auteurs that were being feted — the festival’s originator, director Richard Linklater, director-producer-writers Elizabeth Avellan and Robert Rodriguez of “Spy Kids” fame, director Morgan Spurlock and musician Stephen Bruton.) Then there were some r-e-a-l-l-y big names who had somehow been in a Texas-linked movie or been born in Texas or had seen a movie about Texas. Let’s just name Bill Paxton, Lily Tomlin, Anna Deavere Smith, Betty Buckley, Carla Gugino, Phyllis George, Thomas Gibson, bike champ Lance Armstrong and two of the Dixie Chicks who won an AMD Soundtrack Live Award and spoke eloquently about their differences with our current president. And there was the glorious Ann-Margret, togged out in red-fringed leather and a black cowboy hat, accepting the Tiffany and Co. Star of Texas Award. She still looks the same as when she co-starred with Elvis, danced and sang in the 1963 “Bye Bye Birdie” and continued to dazzle audiences ever after. Her breathy, soft speech brought back many memories, especially after they ran a clip of A-M doing her stuff in “State Fair” in 1962, partly filmed in Dallas. IT WAS a privilege to host and introduce people who were dressed in floppy hats, cowboy boots, jeans and black cocktail dresses. An eclectic crowd applauded the backers — Time Warner, Public Strategies and Tiffany & Co. The festival audience was also entertained with many rare clips of Ann Richards at her best, including the great moment when Matthew McConaughey mauls her at a podium and, as he leaves, she quips, “I’ll have what he’s having.” At the end of the evening, the Hall of Fame presented Ann’s daughter, Ellen Richards, with a $10,000 check for the newly established Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. “I want these girls to have a place where they can soar and go as high as they want,” said Ann in establishing this school just before her untimely death last September. You can help out by visiting www.austincommunityfoundation.org.

Well, I have to confess I had my best moment offstage with an old friend from my own hometown — Fort Worth’s Bill Paxton, who is now the star of HBO’s controversial series about polygamy in offshoots of the Mormon religion. Bill was there with his parents, Mary Lou and John Paxton. In the episodes of “Big Love,” which have knocked the TV critics for a loop, Bill plays a normal, all-American kind of guy who runs a successful hardware chain in Utah. But he maintains three wives and has many complications, including a demanding sex life that drives him to Viagra. I asked Bill what’s up with “Big Love,” which comes back on HBO in August. “We are going to be bigger, crazier, more complicated and greater than ever this year,” said the star who enveloped me in a muscular embrace that made me remember how many times I’d seen him in the altogether on the TV screen in bed with his “wives” Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin. Later I asked his mother how she feels about Bill’s chosen profession and his sexy character? “Well, I told him I didn’t mind seeing his backside, but I draw the line at frontal nudity. I’d have to take Bill out of the family Bible if that happens.” Daddy John standing by, murmured, “I didn’t know we had a family Bible.” Bill just laughed and laughed. This guy is one great actor. They film “Big Love” in Santa Clarita just above L.A. and he thinks right now his performing life is ideal. “In the coming season we are being joined by the Country Western singer Emmylou Harris plus the fabulous actors Bonnie Bedelia and Ellen Burstyn.”

(Email Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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