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Has Britney Spears Found Her Howard K. Stern?

Britney Mimics Anna Nicole | Stevie and Smokey Honor Former Boss | Higgins Clark Meets 'The Sopranos' | Laurie Colwin's Fondness for Snoopy

Has Britney Found Her Howard K. Stern?

Is the stage being set for a new version of Anna Nicole Smith’s life and death? Insiders fear that Britney Spears — already described by her family court judge as a drug addict — is busy putting into place her own iteration of the Smith nightmare. She’s even cast Howard K. Stern and Virgie Arthur.

Indeed, Stern, they say, is being played by Sam Lutfi, aka (real name) Osamah Lutfi — and Virgie Arthur’s role — the part of the grieving mom — goes to Lynne Spears.

The story goes like this: very quickly Lutfi, who has little prior experience doing much of anything (see Tuesday's column), has taken over Spears’ life. Like Stern, he’s filled a void as Spears’ svengali, confidant and toady. The only difference is that Lutfi doesn’t have a legal degree and isn’t married to Spears. He has no formal binding connection to her yet.

Meantime, Lynne Spears has morphed into a mother on the outside of her star daughter’s circle. Two weeks ago, Spears volunteered to be the monitor for Britney’s visits with her kids. But Kevin Federline’s lawyer, Mark Vincent Kaplan, thought that was a bad idea. He wanted a non-relative. Sources say that once it was clear Lynne Spears would not be useful to the pop star, Britney cut her loose again.

But it’s Lutfi who now serves as Britney’s buffer against the world. Tuesday, other sources indicated that Lutfi may have some old accumulating and significant financial debts. If true, his vigorous interest in Spears’ life may have an underlying purpose of which Britney is no doubt unaware.

All of this is starting to add up to one big mess as Jive Records counts down to next Tuesday’s release of Britney’s “Blackout” album. Since Spears has no publicist of her own, and Jive is in over its head handling the mounting questions, the label has hired a spin doctor to fend off calls. It’s one more bill that will be charged to Spears when “Blackout” has to be accounted for.

“Blackout” — which Jim Farber pretty much eviscerated Tuesday in the New York Daily News —isn’t even released and it’s got trouble: a group of fans put up a MySpace page Tuesday calling for a boycott of the album until Britney is sufficiently detoxed.

The news made Yahoo News’ front page Tuesday, and prompted comments from Spears fans who agreed with this idea. Yikes!

“Gimme More” may wind up being called “Gimme Less.” “Blackout” is currently No. 25 on amazon.com, thanks to advance orders.

And on top of that: come Friday morning, everyone — Britney, Kevin, the parenting counselor —heads back to Family Court for a mega-hearing.

Stevie, Smokey See Eye to Eye on Gordy

From Britney Spears to real music: Motown giants Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder celebrated the career of label founder Berry Gordy Jr. Tuesday night at the annual TJ Martell Foundation Dinner at the Hilton.

The foundation’s been raising money for cancer, leukemia and AIDS for 32 years, thanks to Sony Music’s Tony Martell, the gentle spirit whose son, TJ, succumbed to leukemia in 1975 at age 21.

Michael McDonald, BoyzIIMen, Rhonda Ross (Gordy’s daughter with Diana Ross) and Natasha Bedingfield also performed, and Martell gave plaques as well to our pal Joel Katz, the dynamite record biz lawyer from Atlanta, and Mel Karmazin of Sirius Radio. (Howard Stern was in the audience to applaud him.)

Katz, the lawyer for the Grammy Awards, gave an unexpectedly eloquent speech about music after an introduction from Universal Music’s Doug Morris. Russell Simmons also spoke, about Gordy. So did Suzanne De Passe, who’s worked with or for Berry for 40 years but looks about 40.

There was someone there from every record company, including Clive Davis, LA Reid, Bruce Lundvall, Charles Goldstuck, the aforementioned Howard Stern and Robin Quivers. But no sign of Warner Music’s Lyor Cohen or Edgar Bronfman, who probably didn’t want to answer questions about losing Madonna.

And while McDonald warbled Gordy’s Jackie Wilson hit “Lonely Teardrops” (he wrote it, in 1959) soulfully and BoyzIIMen wowed us with a medley of Motown hits, it was Stevie and Smokey’s night. They joshed with each other on stage — Smokey said Stevie used to drive him to school. “We just missed Ray Charles,” Stevie joked.

Stevie, accompanying himself at the piano, sang a lovely version of “Joy Inside My Tears” for Gordy. Smokey performed a song he wrote for the night called “My Wonderful Friend.” Smokey prefaced it: “This song is actually about a love affair between two straight guys.” Stevie reminisced about how his early Motown success let him buy things for his late mother.

Each of their voices was dead-on, with Smokey’s falsetto tenor in supple shape and Stevie making his gem of a ballad (from 1976) into a new sounding classic.

I couldn’t help but think that in the future, we will never see Britney Spears or Jennifer Lopez or many of today’s celebrity pop stars do anything remotely like this for the Martell Foundation in the future. They can’t even sing at the World Series, something BoyzIIMen will do at the second Red Sox home game.

And what did Berry Gordy — who’s had his share of controversies over the years — have to say? He was full of vim and vigor and visibly appreciated the night. “Making other people happy made me shine,” he said of his Motown legend.

Mary Higgins Clark Meets Bobby Bacala

The tiny queen of mystery writers, Mary Higgins Clark, wears Chanel suits and speaks softly. Imagine her surprise on Monday night when she shared the stage with larger than life Steve Schirripa, aka Bobby Baccala from "The Sopranos."

“Move ovah,” he joked deadpan as they stood behind the podium ready to give a prize at the third annual Quill Awards. “You’re takin’ up all the space.”

Higgins Clark took it in stride. She’s killed more people than "The Sopranos anyway." She gave Schirripa a withering look, which you can see on Saturday when NBC Universal stations air The Quills, a fast-moving ceremony celebrating books hosted by Stephen Colbert.

More from the show: Tina Brown was set to present an award for Best Business Book to Robert I. Sutton for his “The No A—hole Rule.” She didn’t want to say the offending word, even though it would be bleeped out.

“What should I do?” she wondered aloud. Luckily, she was drowned out by exit music, but she still looked bemused swallowing the title.

The Quills, brainchild of savvy former Variety publisher Gerry Byrne and produced by Al Roker (with the "Today" show's gracious Hoda Kotb on hand too), are the closest publishing types get to their own Oscars. It is not a literary show, although former Time editor Walter Isaacson did win for his biography of Albert Einstein and gave the best speech of the night.

“Someday the book will replace the Internet,” he said drolly, and then explained how the idea of being able to see a book on paper and not on a screen might catch on for its portability if nothing else.

Some of the other presenters include Gay Talese, Sarah Ferguson, Brooke Shields and Tiki Barner, Lorraine Bracco, Jonathan Groff of “Spring Awakening,” Rocco DiSpirito, Dan Rather and Catherine Crier, Oscar nominee Joan Allen and Karenna Gore Schiff, who accepts the award for her father, Al Gore, and his book, “The Assault on Reason.”

Yes, that’s one more award for Al Gore, after the Oscar and the Nobel. Why wasn’t he there?

“He’s in China discussing climate change,” Karenna said. What? Did you think he was home watching “Dirty Sexy Money”?

One of my favorite moments: when the audio version of “To Kill AaMockingbird” won an award and Shirippa said, “Harper Lee could not be here tonight.” No kidding: the famous recluse was probably with J.D. Salinger waiting to see romance writer Nora Roberts win Best Book for “Angels Fall.” Just kidding.

But who knows? Bryne and Roker are so persuasive that Lee and Salinger may yet wind up as presenters next year.

Laurie Colwin: She Also Knew Snoopy

It’s hard to believe, but the great Laurie Colwin — novelist, essayist, short story writer — died 15 years ago today. She was 48, and died in her sleep of a heart attack. All of Laurie’s wonderful books remain in print, including “Happy All the Time,” “Another Marvelous Thing” and her two “Home Cooking” volumes. They all remain little gifts she left behind for us to treasure and admire. Her death was a tragic loss in so many ways.

But here’s something else: Laurie’s long ago interviews with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz —which she taped but never published — are part of the reference material for David Michaelis’ excellent new biography simply called “Schulz.” Michaelis came under attack a couple of weeks ago when Schulz’s family bridled at his descriptions of the cartoonist as depressed and mean.

But Laurie, who was fond of Schulz, always said this about him. And her tapes helped Michaelis reach that conclusion too. She’s credited in “Schulz” for her posthumous assistance and astute observations.

It’s funny to think of Laurie and Schulz chatting, but you can see the connections. She had the same dry sense of humor as Lucy and Linus, our Laurie. And like them, she will never be forgotten.