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Ben, J-Lo: Could They Still Be a Couple?

Bennifer  | 'Godfather' Pals | Madeline Albright  | Stax Stars | 'Diner' Gem

Ben, J-Lo: Could They Still Be a Couple?

Do you care? Associates of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez say the hapless pair are still a romantic couple. It's your decision whether to believe it or not.

Of course, the associates have more at stake here than we do. Ben and J-Lo together are still potential money in the bank. Separately they are whatever they were.

Here's what my source insists: "They aren't getting married right now, but they are still definitely a couple. He's gone to check on the house he bought in Georgia. (They did not buy it together.) She's in Miami. They will meet up there. All the reports you heard about him being in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel were untrue."

Is this wishful thinking on the part of a 10 percenter? Or are this unlucky-at-love couple still planning to go ahead with their nuptials after a cooling-off period?

One person who heard this conversation last night, another source whom I trust, just shook his head.

"Not on your life," he said. "It's over."

Stay tuned, my friends. We may yet be facing Ben and J-Lo II. In a summer of sequels, this would be the ultimate, don't you think?

'Godfather's' Coppola, Duvall Meet Up Down South

Even though they couldn't see eye-to-eye while making "The Godfather, Part III," actor Robert Duvall and director Francis Ford Coppola are still great friends.

The pair recently met up, Duvall reports, in Argentina of all places. "I was down there with my wife and he was scouting locations for a new movie. He says it's going to be futuristic."

We were up at that Central Park Conservancy dinner thrown by Time Warner, until yesterday known as AOL Time Warner, on Monday night.

That would be Coppola's long-in-the-planning "Megalopolis," which this column reported on some time ago.

Coppola was a producer of Duvall's movie "Assassination Tango," which should be coming to video soon.

Duvall, currently starring in two movies — "Open Range" and "Secondhand Lions" — says he can't believe that he's busier now than ever.

"All of a sudden, I have a lot of work," said the Oscar winner (for "Tender Mercies").

Is he surprised that "Open Range" found an audience? Not really.

"People love westerns," he said. "I hadn't done one since 'Lonesome Dove'. Do you know that she" — he pointed to his beautiful companion Luciana Pedraza — "has never seen 'Lonesome Dove?'"

When I told him that he was certainly the main attraction of "Open Range," Duvall brushed off the compliment. "You should see what we do in 'Secondhand Lions,' me and Michael Caine. It's good, it's not sentimental."

What's next?

"A TV director wants to remake 'The Old Man and the Sea'," he says, "so we're looking into that."

In the meantime, he and Luciana split their time between homes in Virginia and Buenos Aires.

Madeline Albright's All Right

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright is all right with me. She was the calm center of a swirling crowd of media bigwigs the other night when Miramax Books threw her a publication party at the Four Seasons. The occasion was her memoir, "Madame Secretary" which hits stores shortly.

Dan Rather, Harry Evans and Tina Brown, Richard Reeves, Lynn Sherr, George Plimpton and Carl Bernstein were among Albright's guests. Bill Clinton, rumored to be making an appearance, declined at the last minute.

The hardest stories in the book for Albright? "My divorce, and the discovery of my ancestry."

Albright, raised a Catholic, found out that she is fully Jewish, the child of Jewish parents and grandparents, all sides.

"My parents were Czech, and they were protecting me because of the war," Albright said.

Subsequent to her discovery, she's been to Prague several times studying, among other things, her genealogy.

I thought that with the combination of Catholic and Jew she might have some thoughts on Mel Gibson's coming film, "The Passion." Alas, she had not been following the saga.

"That sounds too complicated for me," she laughed when we tried to relate recent events. Indeed, the newly minted bestselling writer is off on a big book tour. Even Mel will have to wait.

Stax Records Stars: No Chips on Their Shoulders

Sam Moore, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas, Booker T. & the MG's and the Bar-Kays are all living (very well, thank you) stars whose heydays were recorded on Memphis' great Stax Records.

But don't confuse them with the new Lay's Potato Chips that just went on sale called Stax.

It turns out Frito-Lay, the Texas chip maker, knew there was a Stax Records, according to a spokesman I spoke to the other day. But Charles Nichols says, "We did our due diligence. There's no trademark infringement. We're calling them Lay's Stax."

Hmmm. Well, R&B stars are used to this kind of legal mumbo-jumbo. Says my pal Joyce Moore, wife of Sam, whose "Soul Man" was one of the great Stax hits: "All they forgot to do on the chip can is punch a center hole."

Calls to film producer Saul Zaentz, who owns the Stax Records trademark, were not returned at press time. But here's an idea I propose to Frito-Lay: Why not have the Stax stars in your commercials? It would make more sense than current pitchman Dana Carvey (no offense, we like him) and the tie-in would get a lot of positive press. I can just hear Sam now: "Hold on, I'm chewing, hold on, I'm chewing!"

Barry Levinson's 'Diner' Sequel a Real Hidden Gem

Director Barry Levinson has written a novel called "Sixty-Six," which carries on the stories of the characters from his great movie "Diner."

How do I know this? Not because the publisher, Broadway Books, a division of Random House, told me. No sir. And not because Broadway Books has Barry featured on its Web site; he's only a famous director, so why bother?

Levinson himself told me about the novel, which evidently Broadway Books — in the grand tradition of the dying publishing world — is keeping top secret until it's time to send it to the remainder table.

I was a book publicist 20 years ago and all I did was send books to columnists and bug them to write about the authors. But I was the exception to the norm, and I see that not much has changed.

In four years of writing this column I've received maybe a dozen books from publishers, a couple by accident. So little effort is made by publishers to get books into the hands of people who could help them that you wonder why people just don't self-publish and skip publishers altogether.

(You'll notice no book publicists ever cross over to the movie business. They wouldn't last a week!)

Anyway, let's all read Levinson's book if we can find it. And here's another one: Scott Spencer's "A Ship Made of Paper." Don't ask me how I finally got a copy of this terrific novel by the author of "Endless Love" and "Waking the Dead," but trust me, it wasn't from the publisher.