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Will Smith Gets Jiggy at Ellis Island

Will Smith | Michael Eisner | Gossip Bits and Bites on Rye

Will Smith Gets Jiggy at Ellis Island

My late grandmother, Frieda Friedman, passed through Ellis Island back in 1913.

It turned out last night that actress-singer Jada Pinkett's grandfather was also processed through America's gateway of immigration back in 1924.

Jada, however, didn't know this piece of her family history until her aunt told her at the premiere of husband Will Smith's "Hitch," which took place at the Ellis Island Museum.

"We looked it right up on their computer, and he was there," Jada said, beaming. "It was the last year Ellis Island was open."

In fact, everyone at the premiere learned about Pinkett's ancestry when Smith announced it from the stage of the after-party. He was rapping and holding forth with his childhood pal, DJ Jazzy Jeff.

"It was the white side of her family," he joked during "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It."

"There is no white side," Jada laughed later on the ferry ride back to the mainland. "That's just Will."

The premiere of "Hitch" was one of those events about which you heard non-stop griping for days from the invitees.

"Who wants to go there in this weather?" was a constant refrain.

The party turned out to be one of the best of the year, however. It was very elegantly put together by event coordinator Ronnie Davis.

Peggy Siegal came on crutches. Missy Elliott — all smiles and looking cute — marshaled her manager and posse for the trek.

Beautiful Eva Mendes, Smith's co-star, not only danced the night away, but also autographed many color pics of herself for Radio Man, the troll-like, semi-homeless, bike-riding, ghetto-blaster-wearing good-luck charm who is an omnipresent guest at the entrance to Hollywood premieres.

"This is the guy from MTV," he told the ravishing actress, who's sort of this century's model of Sophia Loren. "He's making a movie about me."

"He is? I wanted to do that," replied Mendes — expletives deleted.

"Take care," Radio Man said as Mendes gave him a peck on the cheek. "Get some rest."

"Rest? No rest tonight," shouted Mendes as she scampered to her car.

She and the rest of the "Hitch" crew were on their way to Bungalow 8 despite a sleet storm.

Now, just a little bit about Smith who, after all, is the star of the movie. He told me that doing a romantic comedy, with no car chases, explosions or aliens, made him feel "naked."

Still, between action-adventure, romantic comedy and rap-stand-up comedy, it seems that he can do anything. And he loves his wife.

At the end of one rap, he whispered into the mike, "I love Jada."

I know: He's too good to be true. But studio publicists even admitted that Smith, unlike most stars, is no diva — or is it divo?

"He can take care of himself," they said.

So the only bad news is that Smith conceded to me he has no more annual Fourth of July movies up his sleeve.

In recent years, he's starred in one after another blockbuster that opened on that holiday weekend.

But "Hitch" is all for 2005 so far, and the movies he has lined up do not feature aliens or robots.

Eisner Goes to the Sahara

If you're sad that the Michael Eisner-Michael Ovitz shareholders' trial is over ,and you're feeling some withdrawal, don't fret.

There's a nice new scandalous trial cooking for the spring. And like the former circus, this one also features an Eisner.

The new "series" co-stars Breck Eisner, Michael's son and a sometime movie director. The subject of the trial is a Paramount movie Eisner just made called "Sahara," starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz.

Clive Cussler, the best-selling writer of the novel upon which the movie is based, is suing the producer, Philip Anschutz, for $10 million plus damages.

Cussler is claiming that he had the right to approve or disapprove the final script for "Sahara." He says that he disapproved, but the producer made it anyway.

You may know Anschutz's name as the producer of the ill-fated recent remake of "Around the World in 80 Days." He has a movie company called Walden Media, but in reality he made his billions from sports franchises after his father made millions in Kansas oil prospecting.

One look at the "Sahara" credits is quite amusing. There are over 15 producers listed. The script is credited to four people, but I am told that over a dozen versions came and went. The actual writer of the script that Cussler hated is, so far, not credited at all.

Fun stuff, huh? A jury will decide this spring if Cussler's rights were violated by Anschutz's company.

But here's the good part: It seems that when Walden Media started up, Anschutz hired away an executive named Cary Granat from Miramax's Dimension Films. Bob and Harvey Weinstein were angry and sued Walden.

My sources say that at some point in the proceedings, Disney's Michael Eisner, who distributes Miramax's films, interceded. He asked the Weinsteins to drop their suit, according to sources. Suddenly the suit went away.

Shortly thereafter, Disney entered into a series of deals with Walden. Among them: Breck Eisner, Michael's son, was hired by Walden to direct "Sahara," a film with a budget of $130 million plus.

Eisner's previous credits include two very small indie films, which were never released, and three TV episodes.

Bette Midler and HBO's 'Taxi' on Rye

Bette Midler and husband Martin von Haselberg commanded a table of eight Wednesday night at Elaine's.

Bette looked great. She's so tiny that you might miss her, but she has a wide, distinctive smile.

When I asked her how her daughter Sophie was enjoying school and what she was working on, Midler got a little twinkle in her eye. She held her hand out like a microphone.

"But, how are you doing? What are you doing? How's your family?" she asked.

I may ask her to fill in for me during a vacation week.

Also at Elaine's: Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Kennedy ("Ironweed") with his beautiful wife Dana. At another table: Star Jones and new husband Al Reynolds.

No big-name stars, really, at the premiere of HBO's excellent new "Taxicab Confessions," but lots of corned beef, tongue and brisket. That's because HBO had the clever idea to do the premiere at the famous Katz's Kosher-style Delicatessen on Houston Street in New York City.

Katz's hasn't changed much in 50 years. It's a big cafeteria-style place where you get water from a fountain at the back. A sign hangs from the ceiling: "Send a salami to your boy in the army." Belching is frequent, and required of customers. But oy! The brisket was particularly delicious.

On the way out, as we waddled joyfully, one of the waiters observed, "Yes, you had a good night. The brisket was very good tonight, very juicy. Better than usual, and it's always good."

The same can be said of "Taxicab Confessions."

Julianne Moore hosts a screening of Robert Altman's "Three Women" next Tuesday at Soho House. It's her favorite movie. It was mine too, when it came out in 1977. Altman will be there, I'm told. Julianne starred in his "Short Cuts" and "Cookie's Fortune."

And big news for the aforementioned Mendes: She has just signed to co-star with Nicolas Cage and Wes Bentley in Mark Steven Johnson's "Ghost Rider."

On Monday: Grammy predictions (vote for Alicia Keys, kids), plus Oscar-nominee interviews and yes, more Michael Jackson. And don't forget to watch Geraldo Rivera's interview with Michael this Saturday and Sunday at 10 p.m. on FOX News Channel.