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Reese Witherspoon Begged Off of 'Walk the Line'

exacReese Asked Lawyer to Stop Cash Movie | Sharon Stone: Sundance Singer? | Rosie Fiddles No More | In Memory: Lou Rawls, Rona Jaffe

Reese's Pieces: Star Asked Lawyer to Stop Cash Movie

Last night, Reese Witherspoon picked up the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actress for “Walk the Line” in an elegant ceremony at Cipriani 42nd St. She recounted the story of how director Jim Mangold told her she wouldn’t have to sing for the role of June Carter Cash.

“Then one day he asked me to come over to his house. T-Bone Burnett, the musical director, was there, and Jim said, ‘Can you sing something for us?’ I immediately called my lawyer and asked him to get me out of this movie. He said it would take a couple of months, and I should just play along. So I did.”

The rest is history. Witherspoon learned not only to sing but to play the auto harp. When we talked, she told me that she has done neither since the movie stopped shooting and that she doubts if she could remember the chords from the auto harp. But she did what she had to, and since she was so convincing that she won the New York critics prize, she will likely win a Golden Globe and be nominated for an Oscar.

She explained her fear of singing during her acceptance speech to a crowd that included Best Supporting Actress winner Maria Bello (“A History of Violence”), “Capote” star Philip Seymour Hoffman and director Bennett Miller (celebrating their National Society of Film Critics wins for “Capote”), director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”), award presenters Ethan Hawke and Edie Falco, director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) with wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, actress Phoebe Cates with husband Kevin Kline and their son Owen, the 13-year-old prodigy who stars in “Squid” and “Walk the Line” director Mangold.

Best Actor winner Heath Ledger -- who’s showing off his newborn daughter to family in Australia -- and Supporting Actor Winner William Hurt, who’s filming -- were no shows.

Reese and Bello made up for their absences. Reese recalled an early trauma of going to an acting camp for teens in the Catskills.

“A guy named Peter” -- a teacher -- “told me, ‘I like you, but don’t sing ever again.’ He totally dashed my hopes of being a Broadway star.” She paused. “Peter, whoever you are, you better not be telling any kids there’s something they can’t do.”

Reese told me that later she’d like to do a musical. But after making a string of hits culminating in “Walk the Line,” she has no plans at all. Her husband, Ryan Phillippe, is off shooting “Breach” (directed by “Flightplan’s” Billy Ray) so she’s at home with their two kids. Their daughter, Ava, 6, knows what’s going on with the awards season, Reese said, but she won’t be coming to any of the ceremonies.

“It’s a personal decision,” Reese said. On the other hand, she said, “She wouldn’t mind me bringing her home some shiny, sparkly award.”

Alas, the New York Film Critics issue just a citation. Unlike the other awards shows to come, this one is actually given by movie critics, and has no sponsor, and no money.

Sharon Stone: A Sundance Singer?

Is Sharon Stone singing a new tune? The “Basic Instinct” star is listed as a performer at the ASCAP Sundance Film Festival Café, scheduled to appear on Wednesday, Jan 26. Other performers on the Café schedule include Judy Collins, Bruce Hornsby, Rufus Wainwright and Michael Penn.

Recently, Stone co-wrote and recorded a Katrina Relief song with Denise Rich called “Come Together Now.” That CD is for sale at cash registers in record stores all over the country. But a full career as a performer? Stone’s PR mistress, Cindi Berger, says she thinks it’s unlikely and doesn’t know where the Sundance listing came from.

But I guarantee you, if she does it -- and Sharon Stone never turns down a challenge, particularly if there’s a potential donation for AmfAR -- she will be the hit of a Sundance festival that already promises cameos around town from Sting and Trudie Styler, Jennifer Aniston, Cybill Shepherd, Robin Tunney, Rosie O’Donnell and Kelli Carpenter.

Rosie Fiddles No More

As for the above-mentioned Rosie: we went to see her final Saturday matinee as Golde in the current Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” The show closed yesterday after a long, good run.

Matinees are never easy, and this one was no exception. An idiot off-duty cop, moonlighting as security at the Minskoff Theater, tossed out an autistic boy who was sitting in a front row. It was a big mess. Let’s hope they don’t hire this guy to police the audience when “The Lion King” moves in this spring.

But about Rosie: she looks terrific, having lost a lot of weight thanks to the rigors of the show. She triumphed during the comedic numbers, particularly a duet with Harvey Fierstein on “Do You Love Me?” which suited her voice to a T. Here’s the thing about Rosie: she has perfect comic timing. Remember her in “Sleepless in Seattle”? She could have a tremendous run in light comedies on film if she wanted it.

Her next theatrical appearance may be in the spring with the Manhattan Theater Club in a play co-starring Danny Aiello. He’d play her father.

I asked her backstage after the show, was she happy the run was over? “No! It’s like summer camp,” she said, “You don’t want it to end.”

We will see her soon enough, though: a documentary she and Kelli made for HBO about their family cruise business will be shown at Sundance. Not bad!

In Memory: Lou Rawls, Rona Jaffe

Two very different people passed away last week, both of whom I really enjoyed. They also died under very different circumstances.

Rona Jaffe was the best-selling author of many popular, deliciously written novels about contemporary New York. She was also a friend of mine, a regular at Elaine’s and a philanthropist who channeled her success into an annual literary award for up-and-coming writers. She was a lot of fun, a great conversationalist and a joy to have known.

In 1958, a year that may sound ancient to some of you, Rona published her “Sex and the City.” It was called “The Best of Everything,” and it really was every bit as big as Candace Bushnell’s more recent book, maybe even bigger. “Best” followed the lives of young girls working in a Manhattan publishing firm, finding and losing lovers and employment.

It went on to be a great, campy movie that totally captured a moment in time. It preceded Jackie Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls” and set the tone for commercial fiction for a good two decades. Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins, not to mention Susann, owed a lot of their success to Rona’s breakthrough.

It’s a sad coincidence that Rona died less than a year after Judy Rossner, the author of “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” They certainly came from the same sensibility. Their books managed to mix trashy fun with just enough literary cough medicine. The result allowed you to relax and enjoy their guilty pleasures. The characters were so well drawn that they became memorable.

Commercial fiction now has none of that. It’s very derivative and redundant. Rona and Judy will be sorely missed, but their work lives on.

I did not know Lou Rawls, the great soul singer who passed away last week at age 72. Like so many others, I admired him though, and just loved his rich baritone voice. His biggest hit was “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” from 1976, on the Philadelpha International label. But Lou had had a lot of other hits. My favorites were “Natural Man,” with a spoken word intro, and “Love is A Hurtin’ Thing.” I don’t know why, but when I hear Lou Rawls’s voice, I think of Bailey’s on the rocks. Yum.

Unfortunately, Lou’s life in the last couple of years was a mess. His wife Nina, depicted as being “at his bedside,” had been married to him for just two years. There was not just a divorce but an annulment in the works. Lou’s daughter, Louanna, was actually at his bedside for weeks, trying to take care of her father while Nina was busy, sources say, attempting to take Rawls’ money.

I’m told a funeral is planned for Friday in Los Angeles. This should be good: Rawls had wanted to be cremated, and there now seems to be a dispute over whether his wishes will be respected. A good fight is brewing over this one.

Lou Rawls also did a lot of charitable work. He started the annual Parade of Stars telethon for the United Negro College Fund in 1979 (you can donate in his memory at www.uncf.org).

Yesterday’s broadcast of the telethon -- a salute to Stevie Wonder -- was pre-taped in September. It was Rawls’ last show for them.

At least in his career he went out in a classy way. Let’s hope his widow -- who but for some legal wrangling would have been his ex -- carries out his wishes and behaves in a manner that befits such a talent. I do feel though that as the days wear on there will be more to this saga. Stay tuned.

And here’s an important PS: Watching the telethon yesterday from his suburban Washington, D.C., hospital room was another soul legend, “Wicked” Wilson Pickett. He’s recovering from a lingering, serious pneumonia, but the famed singer of “In the Midnight Hour” told me -- in his trademark strong voice -- that he’s finally on the mend and sends his best to one and all. He swears he’ll be out performing again soon. Hallelujah!

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