Dana Giacchetto | Whitney's Dad  |  Paramount's Woes  |  Happy Birthday, Liz Smith   

Leo's Money Man Out of Jail

Believe it or not, Dana Giacchetto has been sprung from prison. The con man money manager — who bilked dozens of Hollywood stars for millions and played three card monte with their finances — is out. He was released to a halfway house in the Bronx on Jan. 30, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Giacchetto, who will get his formal walking papers on July 28, is now in a work release program. He can come and go as he likes during the day while he looks for work. What kind of work that might be is unknown since the Securities and Exchange Commission has blocked him from ever handling anyone's money again.

Giacchetto had clients like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Tobey Maguire and the rock group Phish — just to name a few. Wanting to appear as high-flying and rich as his clients, he threw lavish parties at his SoHo loft and traveled all over the world with his celeb pals. He even had a pet parrot that posed for pictures on his shoulder.

But Giacchetto's firm, The Cassandra Group, was a house of cards waiting to be toppled. When clients started asking where their funds were, he would pillage one client's account for another one's benefit. Eventually, this caught up with him. But not before he appeared to attempt to flee the United States on an old passport after his initial arrest. That plan landed him in jail, where he's been since April 2000.

The wide path of destruction caused by Giacchetto in Hollywood could make a book if anyone could stand to deal with it. His charmed even the most serious sorts including uber agent Michael Ovitz, whom Giacchetto convinced to go into business with DiCaprio and Diaz's talent agents Rick and Julie Yorn to form the now defunct Artists Management Group. Ovitz called Giacchetto a "life advisor" in one article, a quote that may never be lived down. In the time since Giacchetto went into jail, AMG took off, crashed and burned.

Also hurt in the Giacchetto wake was Rick Yorn, who still manages DiCaprio although now with another agency, called The Firm. Yorn was sued by Cassandra Group's bankruptcy receiver for $1.3 million. The receiver alleged that Yorn had received the money from Giacchetto as part of a stock deal that never happened. Rather than face the suit, Yorn paid the money back.

There is still an amazing amount of hostility toward Giacchetto at Creative Artists Agency because of the suicide of wunderkind agent Jay Moloney. Many at CAA believe that Moloney, who had a drug problem and was manic depressive, was pushed over the edge by Giacchetto's using of him to run a faltering company.

Then there are the company names that came and went: Iridium, a Motorola stock that went belly up; Digital Entertainment Network, a half-cocked Internet scheme whose founders have since fled under suspicion of pandering; and Paradise Music, a video production company that never took off but which Giacchetto used to further his own schemes.

So stay tuned. It will be interesting to see what Giacchetto's next move will be.

Whitney Houston's Father Passes Away  

I was very saddened to hear that John Houston, Whitney Houston's dad and Cissy Houston's former husband, passed away Sunday. He was 82 years old. He also leaves his sons Michael and Gary and their devoted wives, Donna and Pat.

Lately there had been a lot of talk about John Houston suing Whitney for millions of dollars. In fact, Houston had come under the sway of an associate who led him in that direction. When I first met John, in 1989, he was a devoted and loving father and a person of much interest. I doubt that suing Whitney was his idea.

Before Whitney became a star in the early '80s, John Houston had been the manager for his wife's group, The Sweet Inspirations. The group sang backup on countless hits, including many classics by Aretha Franklin.

They also had their own hits, and Houston booked them and toured with them. He told me about many hair-raising experiences with the Inspirations, collecting their money from greedy club owners and getting them in and out of "all-white" hotels in the South. It wasn't easy, but he did it.

Whatever the last confusing years of his life were like, Houston will be remembered as a pioneer in rhythm-and-blues. He helped provide "sweet inspiration" for generations to come. My condolences to his family.

How to 86 a Movie in 10 Days  

It's not a good time for Paramount Pictures. You know, for example, that it's a bad time when Variety, the trade publication, pans a Paramount movie.

That's exactly what happened last week when reviewer Robert Koelher wrote: "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days will soon be known in the trade as 'How Not to Write a Romantic Comedy.' This is the kind of movie that was doomed on the page, both by an inherently problematic premise and ill-conceived character motivations."

Variety, of course, usually gives Paramount movies a pass even when they're terrible. Variety's controversial editor-in-chief, Peter Bart, once worked at the studio as an exec and maintains close ties there.

For example, in a story I reported some years ago for The New York Observer, several Variety staffers cited Bart for the positive review of the terrible The Godfather: Part III.

Bart is also close to the former head of Paramount, the charming Robert Evans, who executive produced How to Lose a Guy with his partner Christine Peters. Evans also never gets a bad review from Variety. In fact, the documentary about him, The Kid Stays in the Picture, has had lots of support from Bart.

So we can draw the conclusion that How to Lose a Guy is not even as good as the trite Maid in Manhattan or Two Weeks Notice — cookie-cutter romances that conquered the Christmas box office.

Indeed, it must be pretty bad.

Not that there'd be any other way of knowing. Paramount, after a big success debuting The Hours in New York, made sure that columnists and reporters were barred from Sunday night's local "premiere" screening of How to Lose a Guy.

They called the event, which included a party for 1,000 single people culled from some dating service, a "non-premiere." Yikes!

What's worse is that the ad that ran in Sunday's New York Times Arts & Leisure section was full of the usual Paramount junket quotes from people you've never heard of. One such quote referred to stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey by their first names: "Matthew and Kate are the next Tom [Hanks] and Meg [Ryan]." Again, yikes!

Hudson, who already has an Oscar nomination under her belt, had better start making some better choices for her career, or she'll wind up in the land of fine actresses who became almost-were's (Bridget Fonda, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Minnie Driver, Mira Sorvino).

Even if How to Lose a Guy has a decent first weekend and then fades, Paramount has more problems coming up. Their only big release for summer is Lara Croft and the Cradle of Life: Tomb Raider 2.

Now, the first Tomb Raider was so bad it hurt. Tomb Raider 2 is set to be another jumble of script writers trying to make sense of a video game.

Star Angelina Jolie apparently gave the writers lists of things she wanted incorporated in the story for her character. So, as if it were Mad-Libs, the writers have tried to include these points and connect the dots thusly. That should be fun.

Meanwhile, Paramount studio head Sherry Lansing continues to deny that she's leaving her post to head up any number of charitable organizations.

You know what? Lansing has done yeoman service. (Or is it yoe-woman?) She supervised some big hits (Forrest Gump. Titanic) and made a boatload of money for parent company Viacom. Sumner Redstone, Viacom's head, loves her. If she leaves it's because she's had enough.

Who can blame her? The minute The Hours cleans up with Oscar nominations next week, Lansing will probably say goodbye. She'll leave with her head high, and knowing Hollywood, she won't be gone for long.

That still leaves the whole How to Lose a Guy situation. Much of that, I am told, can be laid at the feet of producer Lynda Obst. Even though How to Lose a Guy has an upfront credit that puts Obst third after Evans and Peters, later in the crawl — which is more important —she gets top billing.

Obst, who wrote a funny book about Hollywood called Hello He Lied, has unfortunately made a lot of bad movies because she's insisted on being part of the creative process. One Fine Day, Someone Like You, Hope Floats, Abandon, Contact and The Siege were all manufactured in her factory. A former journalist, Obst is a trenchant observer of the scene but may not have the skill to execute fully-realized films.

Obst's next project is supposed to be another comedy called Jack and Jill, with a good script by Hunter Richards. Hugh Jackman (who flailed around in Someone Like You) is said to be signing on to replace Nicolas Cage, who dropped out somewhere along the way. Naomi Watts (The Ring, Mulholland Drive) was supposed to co-star; no one seems to know if that's still on.

Jack and Jill has apparently gone though the mill over at Paramount, with Obst firing writer Richards, hiring someone else, then re-hiring Richards. If they don't straighten this out soon, Jack and Jill are going to come tumbling down the hill on opening day.

Liz Smith's 80th 

Finally, and on a more uplifting note, Happy Birthday to my friend, Liz Smith. She turned 80 yesterday. Boy, she doesn't look it or act it, does she?

I'd like to say Liz is my "colleague," but I'm not there yet. Liz is the gold standard in gossip and entertainment writing. She's also comported herself with grace, wit, and style — Southern style, the old-fashioned kind! Her charity work is tireless and her love of New York is immense.

Congratulations, Liz! You are the Energizer Bunny, but with better clothes!