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Bill Clinton: 'Zelig' for Hire?

Bill Clinton | Kate Winslet | Borat

Bill Clinton: 'Zelig' for Hire?

Is Bill Clinton becoming as ridiculously ubiquitous as Woody Allen’s famous “Zelig” character? Last night, Clinton was triple booked for personal appearances around New York, and I’m told he was even paid for one.

Clinton had been long touted as one of two honorees at the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research annual dinner, along with longtime record-industry exec Clarence Avant.

The Martell Foundation, until now, has been a leader in cancer research and a mainstay of the music industry since Sony exec Tony Martell named it for his late son, T.J., 31 years ago.

Clinton, however, was not able to sit for the performers who were on tap last night: Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige and John Mayer.

According to several sources, he was only scheduled for an early appearance with heavy-hitter donors in the VIP room at the Marriott Marquis followed by a short speech (many longtime Martell supporters, however, were reportedly kept out of the room in favor of fat cats, causing even more unhappiness with the charity’s CEO, Peter Quinn).

By 8:50 p.m., Clinton was due at a United Nations function across town at the Waldorf-Astoria with Kofi Annan and Dean Kamen, the guy who invented the Segway scooter. In between and after, Clinton had “personal engagements” written into his agenda.

So what’s going on? Is he running for president? It was less than a month ago that he had an all-star birthday party fundraiser in Toronto. Then came his Global Initiative. Last Friday he appeared for a couple of hours at the Robert Kennedy Memorial dinner. Coming up is a Clinton weekend Oct. 27 and 28, including a Rolling Stones concert in New York.

Why all the activity? “We don’t know,” said a source in his office, who sounded truly mystified. “He’s just busy.” Clinton’s spokesperson could not confirm or deny anything.

Clinton’s in-and-out scheduling with Martell is in stark contrast to that of former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush. Two years ago, the Bushes were also honored by the foundation, and stayed even through the first part of a performance by Stevie Wonder.

The Bushes and Clinton do have one thing in common, however. They were each paid for showing up at Martell in the first place.

Two years ago, the Foundation caved in and donated $1 million to former President Bush’s library foundation so that he and Barbara would come and accept an honor (an entry in the Martell federal tax filing, according to guidestar.org, shows a “special event expense” of $1,732,505 under the heading “Other Expenses on Books But Not on Return”).

But some Martell insiders felt burned, they said. “Bush’s people were supposed to turn over their Rolodexes and invite many big givers. But they didn’t,” a source said.

Clinton, according to my sources, received a similar donation from the Martell Foundation last night for his library.

Times have changed for the once popular Martell Foundation. Back in the days when there was a record industry, Martell used to honor the head of a label. In turn he would bring his acts to perform. The best one ever was for Clive Davis years ago, and he featured Aretha Franklin.

But since all the consolidation, and lack of album sales, Martell has changed its focus. This means that Martell is now resorting to paying lecture fees to big-ticket speakers to ensure an audience. This is far different from the original Martell plan to raise money.

Of course, last night’s record industry honoree was Avant, a former president of Motown and owner of many publishing catalogs including that of Bill Withers (“Ain’t No Sunshine”). Neither Withers nor any other classic R&B artists from Avant’s resume were scheduled to perform or appear.

Two of the artists who did appear were part of the Universal Music Group. Crow, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, records for A&M. Blige, on Geffen, was expected to deliver a tuneless rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Sony artist Mayer was simply promoting a new album.

Kate Winslet's Revolutionary Idea

It’s all about done. Kate Winslet and director-husband Sam Mendes are going to make a film version of Richard Yates’ amazing and often forgotten 1961 novel, “Revolutionary Road.”

Kate will star, Sam will direct and apparently some actor has already agreed to play Frank, the husband of Kate’s April.

Of course, some might think that Mendes and Winslet have already made “Revolutionary Road.” Two of their most notable projects — Mendes’ “American Beauty” and Winslet’s current “Little Children” — are amazingly similar in tone to the older work.

“Revolutionary Road” is about an unhappy couple in the Connecticut suburbs whose marriage implodes.

For two people from England, the Mendeses are certainly interested in New York suburban life — at least on screen. In real life, Kate and Sam and their two kids live an unpretentious life in very urban Manhattan.

Last night, at the premiere for “Little Children” at the Museum of Modern Art, Winslet said she had to get home once the movie started so she could relieve Mendes from babysitting duties. “He has a meeting at 8:30,” she said. “We have to trade.”

But don't Hollywood folks hand off their kids to nannies and others, seeing them only on holidays and graduations? I asked Winslet. She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind (just kidding, Kate!)

Watch for Winslet to be a strong contender for Best Actress in the Oscar race.

“It’s amazing to me that Sarah, the character I play, has no idea how she got to the suburbs, wound up in this marriage or got this child,” Winslet said last night.

Winslet cannot relate, thank goodness. As she said, there’s nothing suburban about her. “My parents were adventurers,” she said. “We went everywhere.”

The glittering premiere also featured director Todd Field (“In the Bedroom”) with his 17-year-old daughter, plus Winslet’s castmates Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich, Phyllis Somerville as well as Mary McCann.

Ironically, the first three are sort of the heart and soul of the movie — Haley is a pedophile, Somerville is his mother and Emmerich is obsessed with Haley. Still, the trio is almost self-contained, and their work is outstanding.

“I always thought our characters were a couple,” Emmerich said, with a laugh.

Haley is tipped for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, along with Chazz Palminteri from “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” Adam Beach from “Flag of our Fathers,” Jack Nicholson from “The Departed” and one or two of the actors from “Bobby” like Laurence Fishburne or Freddy Rodriguez.

But where’s Haley been? Until last year, when he made “Children” and “All the King’s Men,” Haley had been absent from films since 1993. His most famous roles came during his teen years, in “Breaking Away” and the “Bad News Bears” movies.

“I moved to San Antonio, when I met my wife, and just cooled out,” he said. “Now I’m back.”

Just in the nick of time.

Borat Goes Sondheim; 'Quills' Thrills

Get ready: The word is that Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Borat and Ali G, will play the Italian tonic salesman and barber Adolfo Pirelli in Tim Burton’s film version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”

Pirelli is only in two scenes, but his grisly death is a major plot point in this flawless musical. Cohen is far taller than the usual stage Pirelli, but could be quite funny. Johnny Depp is already set as Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street.

Now, if Burton were smart, he’d call on Imelda Staunton ("Vera Drake") for Mrs. Lovett. The above-mentioned Haley would make an excellent Toby, Pirelli’s assistant …

The second annual Quills Awards were given out last night at the American Museum of Natural History. The show airs Oct. 28 on NBC stations with Lester Holt as host and Dana Delany, Donald Trump, Stanley Tucci and Judd Hirsch among the presenters. Fantasia made a cameo appearance and belted out “Summertime” for musical enjoyment.

Some of the famous writers you’ll see include Liz Smith, Dominick Dunne and Nora Roberts. Director David Frankel and writer Lauren Weisberger got a special award for making a terrific movie out of her novel, “The Devil Wears Prada.” Kudos to former Variety publisher Gerry Byrne, who’s made the Quills into an institution after one year!