Julia Roberts  | Whitney and Bobby  | Minghella and Maxwell

Julia Roberts: Turning to J-Lo's Ex-Guru?

I was hoping to tell you that Julia Roberts is getting a divorce. Or is pregnant. Or both. Alas, neither is true. Simply, Roberts is happy. Rats! She's happily married, and she's in a good mood. She isn't pregnant. (Marcia Gay Harden is, and she's happy too.)

Julia, with an Oscar under her belt and the box office at her beck and call, is on top of the world. At the premiere of "Mona Lisa Smile" last night, Roberts — who really looked stunning — made a big effort to greet her fans, mingle with the hoi polloi (the little people), and spend some time with the large cast of this sure-fire hit.

"Mona Lisa Smile" is not going to bring in the "Master and Commander" crowd. It's a chick-flick, a date movie, and one that will pack theatres. That's the way it goes.

When finally I got my time with her, I asked Julia — who had a queue of well-wishers cooling their heels — to tell me one secret about someone in Hollywood.

"Everyone's gay," she said. She laughed. She was kidding. Standing with her: Benny Medina, the man who made "J-Lo" a household word, wearing a cashmere sweater and a smile.

"Are you managing Julia now?" I asked.

She laughed. In fact, knowing Roberts, she's likely managing him.

The cast of "Mona Lisa Smile" was all in attendance at the very swell, very packed party at the Plaza Hotel. Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dominic West, Ginnifer Goodwin, and the great Marian Seldes were all busy complimenting and hugging each other. Harden, a shoo-in nominee for Best Supporting Actress from "Mystic River," greeted Tim Robbins, a shoo-in nominee for Best Supporting Actor from the same movie. Jeff Bridges moved around the most calmly, as befits a big star with nothing to prove.

I also ran into Patrick Dempsey, who's defied the odds of a teen star. He has matured, and is now ready, at 37, for leading man status. And Joan Lunden (who has six-month-old twins at home), "Station Agent" director Thomas McCarthy, freshly minted Columbia Pictures co-president Michael Lynton, Time Inc., editorial director John Huey, TV anchor Dan Abrams and his cousin, Virgin Records honcho Josh Deutsch, were just a few of the familiar faces in the crowd.

Julia's longtime former agent, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, who is now her producing partner, was there of course with her lawyer husband, Dan Thomas. It was their eighth anniversary; they were married at the Plaza. Talk about dedication.

Who was missing? "Clive Owen said he'd be here," a disappointed Roberts said of the co-star of her next film, "Closer."

In the game of who's more powerful in Hollywood, you'd think Roberts would have been stationary, accepting visits from her supporting cast. But it was Julia who suddenly crossed the great divide of the Plaza's Palm Court and came to say hello to all the other ladies. She nearly devoured Seldes. Then Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Stiles and Goodwin went into a huddle where they gossiped in a whisper for a full five minutes. Finally, I asked the girls if Julia was a good teacher.

"We're gossiping!" Julia said. In the movie, she plays the girls' teacher, even though no one in history ever had a teacher that looked like Roberts.

"She was a good sister," said the more diplomatic Stiles, who then introduced Roberts to her father.

"She was the lynchpin in the group," Roberts said to Stiles' dad as if giving a parent-teacher report. "We just loved her. She's incredibly talented."

Now where, you might ask, is Roberts' husband, Danny Moder, and where are they spending Christmas? It turns out that Moder — who was a camera man when Roberts met him but was director of photography, second unit, for "Mona Lisa" — is away working on another Revolution/Columbia film, "The Forgotten." But he and Roberts will spend the holidays, Julia says, together with her family. How completely...uh...normal.

Can Whitney Houston Be Saved?

Whitney Houston is in trouble, although this time things might be better than usual.

Houston called the Atlanta police department the night before last and told them her husband, Bobby Brown hit her. She showed police the bruises. According to the police report:
"She further advised that Mr. Brown stated he was going to "beat her a--" and then struck the left side of her face with an open right hand. The victim had visible injuries to her face, which included a bruise on her left cheek approximately one inch in diameter and a cut upper-lip (on the inner, upper left portion of her mouth). The victim further advised that Mr. Brown left the location at approximately 20:25 hours for the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for a flight to Los Angeles. A victim rights pamphlet was issued."

Later last night, Brown was officially charged with battery against Houston by the Atlanta police.

The best thing about this is that Houston finally called the police on him and admitted to what happened. One can only hope this is a first step toward sanity for this monumentally talented singer. Perhaps she's had an epiphany that Brown has all but ruined her life and her career. Maybe she's taking responsibility for herself.

What's happened to Houston is not something I would have predicted back in 1989 when we first met. She was happy, shy and insulated from the real world. Even though it seemed doubtful, she told me she had had a relationship with Jermaine Jackson. The two of them had performed a duet on her debut album.

Back then, abuse of any kind seemed extremely remote in Houston's world. She was surrounded by a loving family. Her focus was on work. But then she met Brown and since then her life has been a regular soap opera. Brown has been in and out of jail. He fathered a child with another woman at the same time that Houston was pregnant with their daughter. And there have been numerous strange incidents, not the least of which was their interview with Diane Sawyer.

Who knows what Whitney and Bobby were arguing about this time? It could be that she realized that her reputation is so badly damaged that even a Christmas album, released a couple of weeks ago, is not a chart-topper. The public is not interested in Houston's work because of her negative publicity. Getting rid of Brown and turning her life around are the only answers to Whitney's dilemma. She could still make a stunning comeback. She is Whitney Houston, for God's sake. But she seems to the only person in the world who doesn't recognize her worth.

Will Minghella Film Talented Mr. Maxwell?

Maxwell, the great post-classic R&B star of the '90s, is about to make his own comeback. I ran into him on Tuesday night at the premiere of "Cold Mountain" where he was a guest of Nicole Kidman. (I bet you're wondering how Nicole got to be friendly with all these musicians. The answer is that her assistant, a terrific woman named Elly, used to work for Madonna and knows them all.)

Maxwell's new album on Columbia Records will be called "Black Summer's Night." He's putting the finishing touches on it and starting to think about a video. Who will direct? "I want Anthony Minghella," he said. Why not aim high? So Maxwell went right up to Minghella and asked him to do it. "And he said 'Yes.' How do you like that?"

The album and the video — with whoever directing it — is scheduled for March.