Russell Crowe, looking happier and more relaxed than ever, turned up last night at Vanity Fair's elegant pre-Golden Globes party at the Sunset Towers/Argyle Hotel in West Hollywood. It was a most unusual low-key gathering, very much the antidote to three days of hard partying.
He told me that after taking off some time to be with his wife and toddler son, he's ready to make a big movie. And it's all set: He will do an untitled picture with Nicole Kidman, directed by Baz Luhrmann, the man who guided Kidman through the delicious hit "Moulin Rouge."
"It's like the Australian version of 'Gone with the Wind,'" Crowe told me. "That's the way Baz describes it, anyway. It's set in the Australian country in the early 1930s. Baz will have to build a whole community where we're going to shoot, since it's a very remote area. He'll have to put up around 260 people. It's just like what John Ford used to do with his Westerns."
The script is by Luhrmann and fellow Aussie Stuart Beattie, who also wrote the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, "Collateral" and "Derailed." The studio is 20th Century Fox, which is a cousin to FOX News. Like most family members, we have to find things out about our relatives from complete strangers!
Crowe told me that he'd already made a pact with his wife Danielle, now pregnant with their second child, regarding his work schedule.
"I told her I'd give her 12 months at home, and then I'd take 12 months to make a movie." He will be at her side, presumably, when she gives birth in July, even if the film is well into production.
You may recall that Crowe and Kidman had previously announced an Australian film that they would do together called "Eucalyptus." The project quickly fell apart.
Crowe said, "Nicole shouldn't have put her name on that so fast. It was too small, too fragile a project to sustain all that pressure. It was billed like it was going to save the Australian independent film market."
That's what did it in, Crowe concluded.
Is this a new, happy, anger-managed Russell Crowe? Perhaps. He did seem much less encumbered, jolly and eager to talk. Maybe that's because his performance in Ron Howard's "Cinderella Man" — a film that was released badly in the spring of 2005 — is still being talked about as a possible Oscar contender.
Crowe told me that the performances in that film of which he was most proud were those of Renée Zellweger and Paul Giamatti.
In fact, Russell told me that when they were shooting "Cinderella Man" he got on the phone with Giamatti's then-ailing mother and promised her that Paul would be properly recognized for his work this time after being snubbed twice — for his marvelous work in "American Splendor" and "Sideways."
Giamatti has subsequently been nominated for a Globe and a SAG award. An Oscar nomination is inevitable.
As for Zellweger, Crowe told me: "She really nailed that part. She's incredible in the movie."
Crowe was not the only Academy Award Best Actor at the Vanity Fair shindig. Adrien Brody, winner for "The Pianist," was close at hand, and this year's probable winner Philip Seymour Hoffman was not far away.
Also spotted in and around the Art Deco-inspired space with grand views south into the Los Angeles night: Naomi Watts, Keira Knightley, Dan Aykroyd and Donna Dixon Aykroyd, Dennis Quaid, Amy Adams (the hot young star of "Junebug"), Terrence Howard, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Cillian Murphy, David Spade, Gabrielle Union, Matt Dillon, director Michael Mann, Arianna Huffington, Sony Pictures Classics' Michael Barker and Tom Bernard and Harvey Weinstein.
Red Buttons, who will turn 87 on Feb. 5, sharp as a tack and walking with unprecedented agility, still has wisps of his trademark carrot-colored locks.
An Academy voter and winner of the 1958 Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor (in "Sayonara"), Buttons (real name Aaron Chwatt) has seen most of this year's films and will be voting if he hasn't already in several Oscar categories.
Did he like "Brokeback Mountain," I asked?
"I knew from Catskill Mountain," quipped the entertainer, who started out on the Borscht Belt, without missing a beat. "And we all liked each other very much."
Luckily, Ang Lee — the "Brokeback" director — didn't hear that. He was also at this early afternoon tea, held atop the Raffles L'Hermitage Hotel rooftop, in honor of "Memoirs of a Geisha" star Ziyi Zhang. Lee directed her in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."
Anyway, lots of Academy voters showed up to meet Zhang, including the brilliant and beautiful Jacqueline Bisset, Joanna Cassidy, Stella Stevens and Connie Stevens (no relation), plus the eternal Dan Melnick, now almost 74, whose credit include not only "Roxanne," "Footloose" and "All That Jazz," but the first mainstream gay romance movie, "Making Love," which featured no sheep or cowboys.
Buttons and Stella Stevens, who co-starred with Shelley Winters in "The Poseidon Adventure," reminisced about their great friend who passed away over the weekend.
Winters, a real Hollywood legend and star, the genuine article, was 85 and a two-time Oscar winner.
"She was very serious when she was preparing for a role," Buttons told me with a tear in his eye. The pair had remained friends for decades. "She'd play somber music in her dressing room to get ready before she shot a scene."
Soul superstar Lou Rawls' funeral could have been made into a reality special. At the very least, Robert Altman should have filmed it.
The 72-year-old singer had requested cremation, according to his children and friends, but his widow Nina Inman — half his age and married to him for exactly two years — opted for the most opulent coffin I've ever seen, a mahogany number appointed in shiny silver. It was held up on pedestals at the front of West Angeles Church here in Los Angeles.
You know an event must be wild when the rhetoric of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who presided, seems sedate. It was all Jackson could do to keep control of the proceedings, which took place in a huge, packed chapel. He and the church's own leader had to remind the crowd several times that we were in a place of worship.
The on-stage performers included Stevie Wonder, Andrae Crouch, Joan Baez — all known to the public. But three others really stole the show. Original members of the Soul Stirrers, Willie Rogers and L.C. Cooke, brother of the late Sam Cooke, literally lit up the room with "A Change is Gonna Come" and a couple of gospel numbers.
Lou Rawls had performed with the Stirrers at the start of his career and famously had been Sam Cooke's back-up singer on many of his early hits.
Willie Rogers told me later he lives quietly in Hammond, Ind. I hope they know they have an American icon in their midst. He was astonishing.
The other surprise of the two-and-a-half hour service was Jesse Jackson's daughter, Santita, who sang "The Greatest Love of All" and conjured up a concoction of Jessye Norman and Aretha Franklin at their best.
Jesse watched her with some bemusement from just off center stage and noted, I think, how shocked the crowd was that his daughter doesn't have a bigger career. Later, he said, "The funny thing is no one else in our family combined can carry any kind of tune."
All I know, is between Willie Rogers, L.C. Cooke and Santita Jackson, the Lou Rawls funeral was like an amazing version of "American Idol."
But the funeral was also kind of psychedelic. Nina Rawls Inman issued an expensive booklet to the guests that featured a bio of the husband who was, according to my sources, trying to annul his marriage to her at his death.
It made no mention of Rawls' only two legitimate children, Lou Jr. and Louanna, who sat sort of scrunched into one row in the center of the church with Rawls' many cousins who'd flown in from Chicago. Neither of them was given a chance to speak.
There were plenty of other speakers who took the stage, however, including a doctor almost no one knew who claimed to be Lou Rawls' best friend. He sported Oakley sunglasses propped up in his dyed blonde hair and seemed to be qualifying for the Kato Kaelin Award in this story. We'll be hearing more about this guy shortly as Rawls' estate is probated.
The doctor, who rambled on forever about himself, surprised everyone by claiming that he'd been working on some kind of book with Rawls. He also summoned to the pulpit the 1-year-old boy whom Rawls adopted with Inman last year — even though Rawls allegedly tried to cancel the adoption.
When the child was carried up on stage he was accompanied by a burly bodyguard, hired by the thrice-married Inman. That may have been a funeral first.
Among the celebrity guests: none other than the one and only Little Richard, who looked pickled or laminated — take your pick. He did not perform.
Kenny Gamble, the writer-producer who brought Rawls mid-career success with "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine" looked kind of shocked as the weird service lurched from standing ovations to applause to hissing when the widow took the mike.
Singers Freda Payne, Florence La Rue (of the 5th Dimension) and Billy Vera also paid their respects to Lou Rawls, as did Aretha Franklin's longtime musical director H.B. Barnum, famed Stax songwriter David Porter and legendary "Soul Man" Sam Moore.
But I still haven't gotten over one oddity of the day: the appearance of "Baywatch" star David Hasselhoff, who apparently had formed a friendship with Rawls some years ago.
When he arrived, someone asked him, "Where is your wife?"
Hasselhoff, wearing sunglasses, replied curtly: "She's always late. She'll be here."
Of course, she never arrived. As we all learned later that day, Hasselhoff had just filed for divorce that morning and was later counter-served by the former Pamela Bach in what looks to be as acrimonious a proceeding as the potential one between Lou Rawls' children and his putative widow.