Howard K. Stern and his lawyer, Ron Rale, have been playing an aggressive game with Larry Birkhead since the body custody hearing ended last Thursday. The two men, of course, are claiming paternity of dead celebrity Anna Nicole Smith's 5-month-old daughter Dannielynn.
The winner of the baby would get access to the child's possible multimillion-dollar inheritance (thanks to Smith’s clever marriage to dead billionaire J. Howard Marshall). They would also get the baby.
Sources tell me that following Judge Larry Seidlin’s atrocious performance on the bench Friday, Rale and Stern strong-armed Birkhead into a secret meeting that excluded Debra Opri, Birkhead’s attorney. Opri was said to horrified when she learned that Birkhead allowed Stern and Rale to “rale-road” her client into such a meeting.
“Larry is very peace and love,” says my source, “while Debra is very aggressive. Sometimes they disagree about what to do.”
The meeting, I’m told, is what led to the footage of Stern and Birkhead leaving court arm-in-arm last week.
What’s clear, though, is that Stern and Rale are working full time to split Birkhead and Smith’s mother, Virgie Arthur. So far, the pair have aligned themselves with one another. Arthur is fighting to have her daughter buried in Texas, while Seidlin has ordered Smith’s body turned over to the baby’s court-appointed attorney guardian. The guardian agrees with Stern that Smith should be buried in the Bahamas, next to her recently deceased son, Daniel.
Opri can’t be happy with Birkhead’s tendency to ignore her advice. According to sources, she’s been paying all his expenses on this crusade to recover a baby he believes is biologically his.
Birkhead’s finances, meantime, are an issue.
“He lives in a crummy one-bedroom apartment in Burbank,” says a source. “If he gets the baby, he’ll need a much better place, and one with security.”
Eddie Murphy did not like losing the Academy Award for best supporting actor to Alan Arkin Sunday night. He split the show — exit stage left! — as soon as Arkin’s name was announced.
Murphy didn’t stay to see Jennifer Hudson win best supporting actress in "Dreamgirls" or his fellow castmates Hudson, Beyonce, Keith Robinson and Anika Noni Rose perform the show’s nominated songs in a stellar staging by "Dreamgirls" director/writer Bill Condon, who wasn't an Oscar nominee.
That may have been the problem with "Dreamgirls" all along, as I’ve suggested before. Much as the movie depends on a song called “We Are a Family,” the cast could not be marketed that way.
From the beginning, Murphy acted as a loner. He was the lone holdout at the Cannes Film Festival last year when 20 minutes of the movie was shown to distributors and press.
Other than Murphy’s early departure, the 79th Annual Academy Awards went pretty much without a hitch. The only real confusion was what seemed to be the constant changing of the order of the awards presented.
Usually, the program received by the audience shows the order, but on Sunday night, none of it was followed and awards were skipped around. Add to that the huge number of technical awards given out at the start. The result was a downstairs bar area that hasn’t been this packed in years!
There are actually two bars on the orchestra level of the Kodak Theatre. One is very large, and that’s where Quincy Jones headed, with an entourage, not too long into the show.
The other is a small buffer between the large bar and the entrance to the rows near the show’s stage. That’s where Clint and Dina Eastwood hung out with Yours Truly for a convivial chunk of time, and where Sacha Baron Cohen brought his fiancée, Isla Fisher, and his parents, who were visiting from London.
“He gets his looks from his mother, and his brains from her too,” quipped Borat’s dad. Cohen’s mother laughed. The father, my friends, is a card. Cohen got the funny bone from him. (Mr. Cohen wore a hat that Borat would have loved!)
Clint had several observations about the Oscars and even told me who some of his votes had been. But he swore me to secrecy.
One performance we discussed: Jackie Earle Haley from “Little Children.”
“He has an amazing face,” Clint said. “If I were going to make another Western, I’d cast him.”
At the ever-so-swanky Governors Ball on Oscar night, the Eastwoods took up the hottest position in what is a huge ballroom, with Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw and Francis Ford Coppola.
The Oscar cast’s writer Bruce Vilanch proudly told me after the show, “The three directors —Spielberg, Coppola, George Lucas — got real laughs.”
Coppola, who’d been nervous on the red carpet, admitted he had good comic timing after all!
Dina Eastwood raised a champagne glass at the Governors Ball.
“I’m not bitter,” she said. “But winning is better!” Everyone laughed.
Spielberg, who produced Clint’s extraordinary “Letters From Iwo Jima,” was effusive in his praise for his friend.
“No one ever tried to do anything like it before, to make the two movies [the other, 'Flags of Our Fathers'] about the same issue, and to tell the story from the Japanese side,” Spielberg said.
Spielberg, by the way, tells me that production on “Indiana Jones 4” begins June 18.
Meanwhile, back in that tiny Oscar bar at the Kodak Theatre, gorgeous "Dreamgirls" choreographer Fatima Robinson came running in just before the show started. She didn’t have a seat in the auditorium, even though she’d directed several of the numbers.
“I gave my seats to my guests,” she said. At that moment, Hudson’s agent, our old pal Nicole David, breezed by.
“I have an extra!” she declared. “I don’t know how good it is, but you can sit there.”
The bar filled up pretty fast. Clive Owen watched with great interest while his movie, “Children of Men,” lost an Oscar.
But newly installed Endeavor agent Robert Newman cheered on “Pan’s Labyrinth” as it won its three awards. (Endeavor is the hot place to be right now.)
And Mickey Rooney made a rare appearance, waiting for wife, Jan, outside the ladies’ room. Rooney is a little fragile, but he’s still got it. (Sorry Leo, Tobey, etc., but if you want to see a hot young kid who was a "playa," just look at Mickey’s Andy Hardy movies. No one got around town like him!)
So what does the Mick think of Hollywood some 80 years after his first credited role at age 7?
“Everything has to change, there’s nothing wrong with that. Do you know that I was in 'Night at the Museum'? I’ve got two more movies coming!”
And who does he like in the contemporary field?
“Meryl Streep, of course. And that Leonardo DiCaprio is very good, and he’s very well spoken.”
Mickey looked anxiously for Jan to return.
“She’s wonderful,” he said. And despite some headlines last year that the couple was in financial trouble, they say they’re fine.
When I had asked them earlier on the red carpet if everything was ok, Rooney’s eldest son, who was walking with them, said enigmatically, “That was me.”
Ah, Mickey. It isn’t easy getting old. But he’s doing it with style!
The ladies room area was getting crowded. With Murphy’s award lost and the reclusive Hollywood comedian back in his “n-orbit,” director Condon quickly hustled Hudson through the big bar and into the ladies’.
“We’re a little nervous now,” he said.
Hudson emerged, rubbing cream into her hands and into me. (OK, she was nervous, so I didn’t tell her I don’t like hand cream. I don’t moisturize. I was born in 1957.)
“Are you good?” she asked.
“Are you good?” I replied.
“I am!” she said. “Let’s do it!”
And not only did Hudson win, but she gave a great speech, and then stole the whole musical segment from Beyonce.
When the winner of best song went to Melissa Etheridge, there was a little gasp in the audience. But between the three "Dreamgirls" songs canceling each other out, and the night belonging to Al Gore, the deal was cinched.
Did anyone hear Etheridge thank her wife? These were not your grandma’s Oscars.
By that time even I had decamped from the bar and was back in my seat to see the two big standing O's of the night: One for Gore, who was treated like Douglas MacArthur returning from Korea, and the other for Martin Scorsese’s back-to-back wins — at long freakin’ last — for best director and best picture.
Harvey Weinstein, who’d gone to war for Scorsese on “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator” to get him just those awards — couldn’t have been happier. He and lady friend Georgina Chapman jumped to their feet each time.
The only other more excited guy in the room was actor nominee Ryan Gosling, who kind of got short shift in this mix for his stunning performance in “Half Nelson.”
I liked his enthusiasm — he led both standing ovations. Or it could be that he’s just younger and it’s easier to get up quickly?
Vanity Fair’s annual soiree at Mortons wouldn’t be complete without a little unusual fun. The tent-like building set up by the party organizers was so full around 12:30 a.m. Monday that I actually feared for my life.
Just about everyone from the show was there, with some added extras coming and going: Madonna and Guy Ritchie were spotted, as were Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise (“They stayed a minute," someone said).
But it was more like 1:30 a.m. when Peter O’Toole, age 74, and his daughter got up and started disco dancing to the deejay. I believe the song was Madonna’s “Holiday.”
O’Toole looks a little fragile himself, but he still cuts a mean rug. Paparazzi hustled over to shoot this moment, and I can only hope O’Toole — who was athletically twirling his partner — was OK the next day!
The Vanity Fair party quickly divided like a high school cafeteria into cliques.
The main one — the cool one — was commandeered by Oprah Winfrey. She had BFF Gayle King, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, Mary J. Blige, Suzanne de Passe and Kanye West in her inner circle, with appearances by Jamie Foxx, Regina King, Forest Whitaker and his knockout wife, Keisha (best gown of the evening, selected by star stylist Philip Bloch), as well as Chris Tucker and his brother Darryl, not to mention two young beauties: Sanaa Lathan and Gabrielle Union.
Adjacent to Chez Oprah: the Al Gore contingent, where the former vice president took pictures with Jon Bon Jovi and Leonardo DiCaprio, and basically bathed in the limelight of winning an award no one will take away from him today!
Immediately behind him: A whole conversation pit with Larry David, his wife Laurie Lennard (who co-produced the Gore doc), the “Inconvenient Truth” director Davis Guggenheim and wife Elisabeth Shue, as well as producers Lawrence Bender and Scott Burns, who had the heavy task of escorting one of my favorite actresses, Radha Mitchell.
And then, for a while, there was just what seemed like chaos: Queen Latifah chatting with Macy Gray and coordinating with Spike Lee to go see Prince’s show down at Teddy’s at the Roosevelt Hotel. (My friend Norah Lawlor quipped: “Is Prince is in the business of giving after parties now?” Answer: Yes.)
Rachel Griffiths and husband Andrew came by to say hello, while Troy Garity and fiancée Simone Bent talked about their upcoming September wedding.
Newly minted pop star James Blunt wandered by, having just performed across the street with Elton John at his annual AIDS fundraising bash. They did “Tiny Dancer.” How did it go, we wondered?
“I pulled it off!” he crowed.
Naomi Campbell strutted past. She wore a metal dress, designed by Azzedine Alaia, that was composed of gold ball bearings. It swayed and clanked. Someone said she came with Sean Penn.
“Look at that!” a well-known actress exclaimed. “She’s the only person in the world who can wear that dress!”
Just beyond, I ran into Kid Rock, who was hitting on a gorgeous maybe-Latina brunette. We talked about his loyalty to late Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, to whose funeral in Turkey he flew. Listening to the story of Rock’s goodness, the brunette got a little closer.
“You don’t have to help me!” Rock said, with a sly smile. “I’m doing OK.”
Will he be at Ertegun’s April 17 memorial in New York?
“I AM the memorial!” he said. Rock — whose actual name is Bob Ritchie — for all of his celebrity persona, is aces.
More pop stars: The infinitesimally wonderful Aimee Mann and husband Michael Penn, perched on a settee in the middle of a crowd. I nearly stepped on them.
“I’m on crutches,” Aimee said. “Foot surgery.”
Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman surveyed the room, too.
Suzanne Somers made her annual visit. The Band’s Robbie Robertson, record producer Richard Perry, James Taylor, Liv Tyler with husband Royston Langdon hung out with Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines worked the room with “Heroes” husband Adrian Pasdar, Bette Midler was spotted and several people swore they saw Prince in person, just fleetingly.
You understand, dear readers, none of this is real. It’s just the Vanity Fair fantasy, and it may have been more than ever because this, sources say, was the last round up at Mortons after 13 years.
The restaurant made famous for its Monday nights of stars and Hollywood execs is being evicted by its greedy landlord at the end of the year.
“He wants to put in retail shops,” a source told me. “He asked for triple the rent.”
Apparently Peter Morton offered to buy the building outright, but his attempt was declined.
Will Mortons relocate? It’s too early to say. But everyone in town is bidding for the party, including the Bev Hills Hotel, the Four Seasons and undoubtedly Wolfgang Puck.
So just to tell you a few more names of those who may be among the "Departed" (get it!): Martin Scorsese did his victory lap at Mortons last night, and there were appearances by Harvey Weinstein, Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal, the aforementioned Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher, Djimon Hounsou, Martin Landau, Gael Garcia Bernal, Guillermo del Toro, Adriana Barraza, Joy Bryant, Penelope Cruz, Kirsten Dunst, Jerry Seinfeld, Joey Pantaliano, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Craig, the immortal Fred Willard, Sidney Pollack, Sharon Stone, Brett Ratner, Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham (she will not go away, sorry), Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Sean Combs, Ed Zwick, Vince Vaughn, Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet, Catherine O’Hara, Chloe Sevigny, Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon — separately — Jesse Bradford, Amy Adams, Jessica Biel, James Franco, Faye Dunaway, Tobey Maguire and Jennifer Meyer, Wyclef Jean, will.i.am, Eve, Melissa Etheridge, Michael C. Hall, and – in an unlikely cameo — Leonard Cohen.
The parting shot: “Departed” screenplay winner William Monahan, standing by himself for a minute, holding his Oscar at one of the cocktail tables.
Was he happy? You betcha. Was he overwhelmed? I guarantee it.