Madonna | Martha StewartImelda Staunton

Will Madonna Seek $anctuary With a New Label?

The rumor of the week in the record business is too much fun to pass up, especially with Howard Stern making similar headlines.

I told you months ago that Stern was seen at Sirius Satellite Radio's Rockefeller Center studios. It was no surprise to this column that he finally announced a deal with them this week.

Now, Madonna may be setting up to be an entrepreneur again. At first, the Web site  HitsDailyDouble.com suggested that Madonna and her manager Caresse Henry — whose other client is Jessica Simpson — would be heading to Sanctuary Management and Records. This would mean leaving behind Warner Music Group, the only home Madonna's ever had.

When I first mentioned this to one of Madonna's key former associates at WMG, he laughed, "Madonna going to Sanctuary? She's bigger than they are."

HitsDailyDouble retreated from its position a bit by saying that Henry might join Sanctuary Management, but Madonna would stay put at Warner. Hmmm....

If you don't know, Sanctuary is a management company and a record company run out of England, where the boutique upstart has about eight albums on the charts.

It also has a book-publishing arm and has gotten into merchandising for its clients, who include Destiny's Child and Beyoncé, Ray Davies of The Kinks, The Who, Mary J. Blige and, since Tuesday, rapper Nelly.

Andy Taylor and Rod Smallwood started the company in 1976. Among those in charge is Peter Asher, a longtime favorite in the business who managed and produced James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, and Linda Ronstadt at different times.

His sister, Jane Asher, was Paul McCartney's girlfriend in the ’60s, and Asher had a hit of his own in 1966 as Peter and Gordon with McCartney's "A World Without Love."

In just the last few days though, something is definitely different about Sanctuary. Is Madonna coming as an investor or an artist?

A key Sanctuarian was coy with me yesterday, but little changes may portend bigger ones.

For example, Sanctuary has suddenly a very clean and informative Web site that lays out its entire business, including its annual report. Is the company preparing for an upsurge of interest? Is it because of Madonna?

It's not such a far-fetched idea. Madonna has little reason to stay at Warner Music Group at this point.

She's sold her interest in Maverick Records to them, and her most recent album, "American Life," was a dud. Her catalog remains with Warner, but eventually she could bring it to a place like Sanctuary for re-issues with outtakes, B-sides and an eventual boxed set.

Sanctuary is essentially a British company, and one small enough that Madonna — an Anglophile — could have some control over as its franchise artist and investor.

What about Henry? Well, Sanctuary relies heavily on its management business, so Henry — who really only has two clients — would fit right in.

Madonna might also be able to bring her longtime flack Liz Rosenberg with her. Rosenberg, who is paid by Warner Music Group, essentially works just for Madonna when she's not helping out with Cher.

Neither Madonna or Cher is what you'd call an "active" Warner artist. Those would be Linkin Park and Green Day.

So hold on to your hats, folks, because if the Sanctuary/Madonna rumor is true, it will be a thunderbolt in a business that's foundering. The record industry needs new ideas badly, and no one has a flair for shaking things up like Madonna.

Martha Stewart's Last Night Before Jail

No, Martha Stewart did not put in appearance last night at the Four Seasons for her longtime publicist Susan Magrino's wedding party. Stewart was at home preparing for her five-month jail term, which begins today.

I thought it was kind of amazing that while Martha was packing her toothbrush, Victoria Gotti was posing for paparazzi all over the place at the Four Seasons. Even as we speak, federal agents are digging up the outer boroughs looking for the remains of her father's victims.

Victoria keeps pictures of her dad, the late mob boss John Gotti, in range of cameras for her A&E reality show, so it's not like she's disowned his legacy.

Most people at Susan's party would have died — not literally — to ask Victoria about her father's current gift from the grave, but they were too scared.

I've known Susan Magrino for about 20 years, since — as we like to say — we were six years old. We worked at Random House at the same time, but Susan was such a good publicist that she managed to "make" two of her authors there household names: Stewart and Dominick Dunne. The rest is history.

Last night was a hot night in New York for parties. Sir Harold Evans celebrated the publication of his new book, "They Made America: Two Centuries of Innovators From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine," with a sellout show at the Broadhurst Theater, followed by a private party at the nearby Time Hotel hosted by his wife Tina Brown.

Elsewhere, former "Interview" magazine editor-in-chief Bob Colacello had his own party for his new book about the Reagans.

At Fresco, Jill Rappaport of the "Today" show welcomed Alec Baldwin, Christie Brinkley, Matt Lauer (with his sister and mother), Court TV CEO Henry Schlief, Memphis Film commissioner Tommie Pardue, Robert Wagner and Jill St. John to her publication party for "People We Know, Horses They Love" — already No. 6 on Amazon.com!

It was all good, but really, Susan — who studied party-giving under Crown Publishing's Nancy Kahan — won the night handily.

My colleagues Richard Johnson, George Rush and Lloyd Grove were there, as well as media types from all over town: Dunne, Michael Lynne of New Line Cinema, Terry McDonell from Sports Illustrated, Nancy Novogrod from Travel & Leisure, famed book publisher Betty Prashker, No. 1 celeb photographer Patrick McMullan, the great novelist Tama Janowitz and lots of authors, writers and fabulous foodies from the restaurant world, like Richie Notar, who runs Nobu.

Four Seasons owner Julian Niccolini outdid himself for Susan, who was celebrating her marriage to Charles Dunning with lobster salad, succulent lamb chops and sushi from heaven.

For Susan it was like a bar mitzvah and the comeback scene from "Hello, Dolly!" all rolled into one.

Meanwhile, one sad satellite truck sat outside the Four Seasons on Park Avenue, ready to pounce should Martha arrive. It was not to be.

Oscar Actress Update: 'Vera Drake,' Anyone?

The very fluid situation with the Best Actress category for the next Academy Awards continues to be fluid.

I've already told you that Annette Bening in "Being Julia" is a slam-dunk nomination. Gwyneth Paltrow might be the same for "Proof," but the word is that Miramax may not release the film this year. That would be a shame, because Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins and Hope Davis are so good in it.

But there are five spots for nominees, and the head-scratching has begun. There's movement to get something for Laura Linney, either in "P.S." or "Kinsey."

Then there's the question of whether Meryl Streep's terrific turn in "The Manchurian Candidate" is big enough and not merely a supporting performance.

The new name, though, is a dark horse we should all keep in mind.

British actress Imelda Staunton as Vera Drake, in the movie of the same name, is causing buzz in every screening room. Staunton is like a new-generation Judi Dench (she's 48) in that she's worked hard but under the radar of the media in theatre, films and TV over in Britain.

She always garnering raves and awards, but never the press. We'll keep an eye on her now. She may completely reclaim the name "Imelda" from its association with shoes.