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Britney Takes Publicity Into Her Own Hands

Britney Spears | Harry Potter | Cat Stevens | Rockers Give It Away

Britney Self-Booked Letterman

Britney Spears — whom I promise we won’t write about much longer — is on a tear.

She’s back with her former manager, Larry Rudolph, after a two-year baby making hiatus. And she may have been back with him for longer than ex-to-be Kevin understood, since Britney is said to recording her new album here in New York right now. (I know this is incredibly exciting. It’s almost like when Bob Dylan did "Nashville Skyline"!)

But how, you might wonder, did the little pop tart arrange her visit the other night to David Letterman’s show? Since her loyal publicist, Leslie Sloane Zelnick, has also been on ice for the last few months, Spears simply had her assistant pick up the phone and call Letterman’s beloved exec producer, Barbara Gaines.

So that’s it, really. Kevin will get half of whatever she earned during their two years of marriage. He’ll get a tad more for signing a 20-year confidentiality agreement. All joking aside, though, he’ll be set for life and have two children for whom no support money will be required. Britney will make another forgettable, fun dance album and clean up in Vegas. And with that, I return them all to the supermarket tabloids! Good luck, kids!

Harry Potter in Hair-Raising Poster

Get ready for a very different take on Harry Potter. Call it "Harry Potter and the Naked Horse Movie Poster."

That’s because the poster for the new London stage version of Peter Shaffer’s "Equus" should be a little startling to fans of the teenage wizard. Actor Daniel Radcliffe, now 17, appears shirtless and equine.

I’ll let his costar, Richard Griffiths, the Tony-winning actor from "The History Boys," describe it for you as he did to me the other night: "Daniel’s chest is super imposed on a horse’s head, and his nipples are the horse’s eyes. Wait till you see it!"

Griffiths — who is now starring in the film version of "The History Boys," which opens shortly — was a guest of honor on Tuesday night when the movie premiered for a variety of guests including famed 1950s siren Arlene Dahl and her equally famous son, actor Lorenzo Lamas. The latter — known for "Falcon Crest" and now on the soap "The Bold and the Beautiful" — is holding forth this week as a crooner at Feinstein’s at the Regency.

A couple of other "History Boys" were present, including Dominic Cooper, who’s getting the big push into Leo land as the heartthrob of the moment. But it was Griffiths' night. He told me that he makes only a brief appearance in the next Harry Potter movie and that the teens in the film "are growing up." But because of the "Potter" shooting schedule, we won’t get to see Radcliffe naked and riding his horse on stage until 2008 at the earliest.

But back to our table at the Plaza Athenee, where Miss Dahl — still stunning at age 78 — was happy to see her son. They come from one of the most married families in Hollywood history — she’s gone down the aisle six times, Lorenzo four times (with one child not from a marriage). Lorenzo’s father, the late movie star Fernando Lamas, had four marriages of his own and left swimming star Esther Williams as his widow.

(Billy Crystal used to imitate Fernando Lamas with the lines — "You look mahvelous" and "It’s better to look good than to feel good" — neither of which the elder Lamas was ever credited with saying.)

Lorenzo Lamas is one of those Hollywood figures you don’t necessarily think is real, but he is, and turned out be articulate, funny and bright. We asked him about Jane Wyman, the Oscar-winning actress who played his imperious grandmother on "Falcon Crest" and was the first wife of Ronald Reagan.

"She’s a recluse," Lamas told us of the 92-year-old actress. "She has terrible arthritis. But she was amazing to work with. She was Hollywood royalty and an Oscar winner [for "Johnny Belinda"] but never asked for anything all those years. She kept to herself."

And Wyman, he noted, never once spoke about Reagan. "And he was president the whole time we were on."

Cat Stevens Coming to America

Cat Stevens is coming home, sort of. I am told that Greek-Brit Steven Georgiou, now known as Yusuf Islam, has been granted a visa and will enter the United States in mid-December.

All I can say is, it’s about time.

Yusuf — that’s what he wants to be called — was involved in an embarrassing incident in 2004 when he and his daughter were denied entry into the U.S. because his name was found on a "no-fly" list. How utterly ridiculous, since it turned out the person in question was someone else.

Let’s put it this way: Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam is an unlikely terrorist. Since his conversion to Islam, he may have had odd ideas, but none of them are threatening or dangerous.

Evidence of this can be found easily on Yusuf’s first new record album in 30 years. "An Other Cup," which hits stores in about 10 days, is full of hopeful flowery lyrics, gorgeous melodies and Bach-inspired orchestrations. If you listen to it with eyes closed, "Cup" could easily be 1974’s "Buddha and the Chocolate Box."

Yusuf knows, however, that anti-Muslim feeling in the U.S. easily translates into panic. Maybe that’s why he has cleverly covered the Animals’ old hit, "Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood." He is not unaware of an acceptance problem.

But really, there’s nothing on "Cup" that could offend anyone and plenty of love and peace for everyone. Old Cat Stevens fans won’t be disappointed, and the curious will find themselves just whistling along. Believe me, the lyrics are no more incendiary than George Harrison’s "Hare Krishna" doodlings from 35 years ago. One of the songs sort of echoes Carole King’s old classic "Been to Canaan." This is what we used to quaintly call "hippie dippie."

Yusuf wisely stays away from controversies of any kind on "Cup." The nine songs with lyrics include a couple of knockouts — "I Think I See the Light" and the opening number, "Midday (Avoid City After Dark)." They each have majestic sweep, and Yusuf uses horns and strings in a conventional manner. If anything, he sticks to what he knows, and it works.

When he visits America next month, I hope Yusuf will get a fair airing on TV like "Regis" and "Ellen." If he plays his cards right over the next few months, he might even get that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction he clearly deserves.

Rockers Give It Away

If you’re a rock star and you’re in New York this week, charity event planners are calling.

Last night, fundraisers for the Children’s Tumor Foundation (www.ctf.org) got a thrill when Sting surprised them at their Rainbow Room dinner with lutenist Edin Karamazov. He was last minute replacement for Phoebe Snow, who called in sick.

Luckily, actress Joanne Woodward, who’s connected to the charity through her daughter, knew Sting through husband Paul Newman’s The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The call was made, and — presto! — two lutes appeared. The duo performed two numbers from Sting’s "Songs from the Labyrinth" — the No. 1 classical CD in the country — and "Fields of Gold," which caused shrieks of joy from the very pleased audience.

And here’s something about Sting and the lute, which I noticed during his Monday appearance on "Regis and Kelly": the 16th-century songs and minimal instrumentation give his voice new places to go. The result may not be to your liking if rock is the only way you want to hear Sting. But by challenging himself with this unusual project, the pop star has gained a lot and is able to show off a new suppleness in his singing.

But Sting wasn’t the only rocker out there this week. On Monday night, Rob Thomas, who’s bigger now as a solo act than he was in Matchbox Twenty, tried to get Dustin Hoffman to join him on stage at Jazz at Lincoln Center when he did acoustic versions of "Ever the Same" and "Lonely No More." But Hoffman looked a little, shall we say, scared and begged off by turning white at the idea.

The occasion was a fundraiser for Music Has Power, an autism charity that honored Dr. Oliver Sacks. Patty Griffin also performed, as did classical violinist Timothy Fain, who joined Thomas on "Lonely." Thomas continues to impress — he’s like Sting Jr. now — as the consummate rocker, composer and mensch of his generation. And, unlike some others (hello, John Mayer, John Legend) if he hears himself writing a song that’s already been written, he rips it up, instead of ripping it off!