Britney's Other Kids Suffer, Too; Denzel's 'Debaters'; Samantha's Star

Britney's Other Kids Suffer, Too

It’s not just Sean Preston and Jayden James, Britney Spears’ biological children, who are victims of her unraveling.

You can pretty much scratch from existence the Britney Spears Summer Camp for Performing Arts. Starting back in 1999, Spears — through the Giving Back Fund — sponsored 75 kids for five nights at a sleepaway camp on Cape Cod.

The kids were from inner cities and were underprivileged. Spears, who was just cute then, usually showed up at the end. The kids got instruction in music and dance.

But the camp’s Web site is gone, and so is the one for the Britney Spears Foundation. The Giving Back Fund no longer mentions it on its Web site, either. The last session was in 2005, just before Spears went into her downward spin.

The camp probably wouldn’t be such a hot idea now for teens. Britney’s been labeled a negligent mom, a drunk and a drug user. She also forgets to wear undergarments in public. And, oh, yes: Her teenage sister is pregnant.

On the other hand, the campfire stories would be pretty amazing!

By the way, all of Spears' scandals haven’t helped sales of Kevin Federline’s one and only CD. "Playing with Fire," featuring the track "Dance With a Pimp" — yes, the kids are now in his custody — is at sales rank No. 116,924 on Amazon.com.

Denzel's 'Debaters': Smart Talk

Is there some debate about Denzel Washington’s "Great Debaters"?

I’ve been recommending this film to everyone I know, especially urging junior high and high school kids to see it without fail. This is the story of all-black Texas Wiley College’s legendary 1935 debating team and how it triumphed over Harvard in a historic competition.

Sometimes, you know, these movies based on historic events take liberties with the truth. Everyone’s still smarting over the liberties in Ron Howard’s beautifully rendered "A Beautiful Mind," which dropped certain factual points to make a good story. It won Best Picture anyway.

But if you read the book it was based on, you get a much less sympathetic picture of John Forbes Nash, the character whom Russell Crowe plays.

"The Great Debaters" suffers no such trouble, although at first I was a little curious about its roots. From the beginning, Washington and the filmmakers were clear: The movie was fiction, inspired by the story of real-life poet laureate Melvin Tolson (played by Washington).

Tolson led the Wiley team to its victory. His courage and ingenuity were the subject of an American Legacy story in 1997 by Tony Scherman. The article was the genesis of the movie.

The film is historically accurate based on Scherman’s original story and actual events, even though some have suggested it isn’t. I guess I loved the kids who play the young debaters so much that I wanted them to be real.

Alas, only one is totally true — James Farmer Jr., played so beautifully by Denzel Whitaker. The other two are composites inspired by real people. Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett) is a nod to Henrietta Bell, a founding member of the Wiley team who is still alive and well in Texas. Henry Lowe is based on Henry Heights, Tolson’s lead debater.

What’s really exciting about "Great Debaters" is that Farmer was very much a real person. He graduated high school at 14 and went to Wiley the next year. Before he was 20 he founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was one of the original Freedom Riders.

His memoir, "Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement," is considered seminal reading. Farmer’s own story could make a great movie.

Washington and screenwriter Robert Eisele (who deserves an Oscar nod for adapted screenplay) did an amazing job incorporating so many complex elements into the film. No, the big debate shown in the movie at Harvard University didn’t take place there. That last competition was at the University of Southern California.

But Wiley had to debate Harvard to get there, and they did so handily. I don’t see any problem with that. For dramatic purposes, Harvard has a more formidable ring than USC. The latter would have made it sound like a beach movie.

Harvard, by the way, likes "The Great Debaters" a lot. Writing in the Harvard Crimson on Dec. 14, Daniel B. Howell gave the movie four stars. His criticism?

"It’s a commercial product," he wrote. "Spike Lee it ain’t."

In this case, I say, thank goodness. Howell concludes: "It not only makes for an entertaining two hours, it’s intelligent."

You can’t beat that.

Samantha's Star

Elizabeth Montgomery finally got a star on the Walk of Fame on Friday in Hollywood. The beloved "Bewitched" star, who played Samantha Stephens in the series, died in 1995 at age 62.

She was nominated for four Globes and nine Emmys and never won one of them. Just imagine: Her strong competition in 1969 was no less than Barbara Feldon for "Get Smart," Diahann Carroll in "Julia," and the winner, Hope Lange "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir."