Believe it or not, the richest little girl in the world is about to become a movie star.
Doris Duke, who gave birthday parties for llamas and sang backup in gospel groups on stage at Madison Square Garden, is ready for her close-up.
Oscar winner Susan Sarandon will play her, and Ralph Fiennes is set to play Duke's butler, Bernard Lafferty, in a new movie directed by Bob Balaban.
Balaban helped create "Gosford Park" and wrote and directed "The Exonerated."
"Doris and Bernard" should be the "Reversal of Fortune" of 2006.
Lafferty was named by Duke as the main heir to her $1.2 billion estate when she died in 1993. Ironically, he didn't live long to enjoy the money. He died three years later at age 51. Theirs was an as odd a relationship as any that Duke had — and there were plenty.
Duke adopted an adult female in her later years named Chandi Heffner, who was the sister-in-law of New York millionaire Nelson Peltz. Balaban tells me that Hefner will not be a character, thanks to some real life legal wrangling.
Duke was also quite close to Imelda Marcos, gossip columnist Cindy Adams and Franco Rossellini, cousin of actress Isabella Rossellini. Franco died of AIDS in 1992.
The Duke story is a wild one. Her father's death when she was 12 in 1924 made her "the richest little girl in the world." He left her $300 million. Duke had several husbands, including one she allegedly killed by running him over. Another husband, the playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, was nicknamed "the pepper mill" for his physical attributes.
Balaban is awaiting a finished script before setting out to make "Doris and Bernard." And by the way, the movie will be produced in conjunction with Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street Productions. You could almost imagine Spacey in the role of the butler if Fiennes weren't already signed.
Doris Duke, by the way, should never be confused with the soul singer named Doris Duke, whose big hit "I'm a Loser" was produced by Swamp Dogg.
In the meantime, Balaban's got an animated series airing on Fridays on IFC called "Hopeless Pictures." It's about as trenchant and witty a show as you can get about the miserable life of a bunch of Hollywood insiders. It's also uncannily funny, although Bob and Harvey Weinstein may not agree. The fictional studio in the show is named for chief Mel Wax's parents, Hope and Les, just as Miramax was dubbed for the Weinstein paterfamilias Miriam and Max.
Michael McKean does a beautiful job of playing Mel, who spends his time cheating on his wife and chatting with his shrink from his car phone. Other voices are supplied by Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Lisa Kudrow, Paul Weitz, Isaac Mizrahi, Paul Reubens and Nora Ephron.
Balaban has a role himself, and infamous movie publicist Peggy Siegal plays herself in a hilarious send-up of, well, Peggy Siegal. There are 10 episodes, and believe me, this is must-see TV.
She's been working steadily for six or seven years, but Rachel Weisz has been more a name in gossip columns than known for acting, so far. But that's all about to change.
Weisz finally gets a breakout role as co-star with Ralph Fiennes in "The Constant Gardener." This is the John Le Carre novel brought to life by "City of God" director Fernando Meirelles.
Get ready for "The Constant Gardener" because you're going to hear a lot about it. On Sunday night in Southampton, Focus Features threw a little pre-premiere for it that attracted the likes of: Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and his writer wife Sally Quinn; Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi; "60 Minutes" creator Don Hewitt and wife Marilyn Berger; Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith with writer Anthony Harvey; Ambassador Richard Holbrooke with his writer wife Kati Marton; a svelte-looking Donna Karan; TravelSavvy editor Jill Brooke; "Hotel Rwanda" director Terry George; famed financier Pete Petersen; Children Television Workshop's Joan Ganz Cooney; and the very refreshed-and-renewed Barbara Walters — the very picture of springtime, as they used to say.
The dinner at Savannah also drew the attention of next door neighbor, Ed Kleefeld, aka "Jean Luc," owner of the incredibly hot Madame Wong's.
Famed literary agent Ed Victor, who's usually in London, also made the scene, as did New York's crusading leader Herman Badillo and writer Lally Weymouth.
Fiennes was a no-show, but Meirelles and Weisz were there to accept a lot of praise for this smart, tensely wound political thriller.
If you liked "The Year of Living Dangerously," "Missing" or "The Quiet American," then this is for you.
Weisz is such a standout as a Brit who moves with her diplomatic service husband (Fiennes) to Nairobi that she could be in line for a best supporting actress nod. And Fiennes does the best work of his film career since "The English Patient" or "Quiz Show."
You should know that Weisz, who's a darker and more enigmatic version of Kate Winslet, is taken. She was accompanied to the party by "Requiem for a Dream" director Darren Aronofsky, who just worked with her on "The Fountain."
That's the movie Brad Pitt was supposed to do, then dropped out of, ostensibly to make "Troy." (No comment.) Hugh Jackman replaced him, and "The Fountain" has great buzz. It may open later this fall.
Weisz has the potential to get very big very fast after people see her in "The Constant Gardener." She's lovely, too, very well spoken and unfettered by celebrity, despite appearing in lots of hit films with many big stars. She even helped produce Neil LaBute's movie "The Shape of Things."
I will tell you this: according to the Internet Movie Database, she was rated No. 30 in Stuff magazine's "102 Sexiest Women in the World" list 2002. My guess is: She'll be in the top 10 if they ever do that list again.
But really, "The Constant Gardener" is no literary flower. Check it out for Meirelles's incredible camera work. As in "City of God," with "Gardener" he has turned conventional beats into his own rhythms and created music all his own. Directors pick material for a reason. See why he chose this.
Donna Karan and pals raised $2 million on Saturday for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Their method: a huge sale of designer clothes and goods in the Hamptons, outdoors in a field. Howard Stern and Beth Ostrosky, plus lots of other celebs and notables, were seen toting away huge shopping bags filled with goodies.
The OCRF was started in 1994 by Sol Schreiber in memory of his wife, Ann. But it's better known now as a tribute to Liz Tilberis, the late editor of Harper's Bazaar, who was the president of the charity from 1997-1999 before succumbing to the illness herself. The whole afternoon was quite a tribute to both ladies.
Check out eBay's continuing action to benefit MusiCares. This organization brings music to schools where programs have been cut. MusiCares raised money over the weekend in the Hamptons with a cocktail party and mini-show by the estimable Toni Braxton in the backyard of a home belonging to Morris and Jaci Reid. The online auction has a lot of goodies in it for music fans.
Last week's story about the fines leveraged against Sony BMG for payola got the recipient of the $10 million award twisted. Once I said Rockefeller Partners Advisory, twice I said Rockefeller Foundation. It's the former. The Rockefeller Foundation has no relationship whatsoever to the Rockefeller Partners Advisory and has not in any way been involved in the settlement.