Hilary Duff Gets the Last Laugh

Hilary Duff  | Cate's 'Fabulous'  | Bebe Buell | Simon & Garfunkel

Hilary Duff Gets the Last Laugh

She may only be 15 years old, but Hilary Duff has Disney by the mouse ears.

The teenage phenom has the number one album in the country this week, and it's on Disney's moribund Hollywood Records. The last time Hollywood Records had a hit, let alone a number one, either Queen Victoria was governing the British Empire or "Oklahoma" was debuting on Broadway.

Duff is also the star of Disney's "Lizzie McGuire" franchise. But she almost wasn't earlier this summer when talks between the studio and Duff's mom/agent broke off during a disagreement over money. Disney chief Michael Eisner had put former ABC boss Bob Iger in charge of renegotiating Duff's deal after the success of "The Lizzie McGuire Movie." But the two sides fell out over a reported $500,000 bonus that Duff's side wanted whether or not the "Lizzie McGuire" sequel did well.

Ultimately Eisner asked both sides back to the bargaining table, and Duff wound up getting what she wanted. Now Duff's "Metamorphosis" record has made it to number one after two weeks and sales of about 300,000 copies.

Hollywood/Buena Vista records had gone so long without any presence in the music industry it might as well have been out of business before Duff's homerun hit. (Is it possible that Fastball was their last mildly successful product?)

The result is a story that sounds like a Disney live action family film: perky pre-teen stands up to big bad greedy corporation and wins. Now all Disney has to do is solve its problems with Pixar, the Steve Jobs-owned animation house that makes movies like "Finding Nemo" and "Toy Story," and Disney will be able to pop champagne corks.

Cate Blanchett Defines 'Fabulous'

It takes a superstar to educate the new generation of actors. But that's exactly what took place last night when legend -- and I do mean legend -- Lauren Bacall met up-and-comer Cate Blanchett. The occasion was a dinner in honor of Blanchett for her new movie, "Veronica Guerin."

Blanchett -- who just signed on to co-star in Wes Anderson's "Life Aquatic" with Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston -- is on her way to Montreal to play Katharine Hepburn in the Martin Scorsese movie, "Aviator," about Howard Hughes.

Originally Nicole Kidman was set for the part, but that didn't work out and now Blanchett is in it. Luckily, Bacall knew the late, great actress and was able to give Cate -- Oscar nominated for "Elizabeth" in 1998 -- some pointers.

"She wore her hair up," Bacall said, "and she was very athletic. She had only a trace of a Hartford accent, so don't worry about that," she told Blanchett, and rattled off several more reminisces to the awe-struck Australian actress.

"You're fabulous," Bacall told Blanchett, responding to her performance as murdered journalist Guerin.

"You're the definition of fabulous," Blanchett shot back, hugging the Hollywood icon.

The talk turned to the red carpet at the Oscars, which Blanchett first blanched at back in 1999, but now has it down.

"I was nominated for one Oscar and I lost it," the regal Bacall said. "But I got more publicity for losing it than for winning it."

Bebe Buell Gets Grace

Let's not ever say that 50-year-old women are over the hill. Despite several local New York anchorwomen getting the boot recently (Jane Hanson, Diana Williams, Michelle Marsh), non-immature women are the stars of this decade.

Bebe Buell just proved that. A Ford Model in the 1970s, Buell -- who is also the mother of actress Liv Tyler -- appears in an eight-page fashion layout in the new issue of Grace magazine. The photos were so successful that editor in chief Ceslie Armstrong is promoting Buell to the cover for the November-December issue.

Last night, Armstrong feted Buell and husband Jim Wallerstein (who fronts the group Vacationland) at a swanky dinner at New York's new Flatotel on West 52nd Street. Bebe, wearing an Isaac Mizrahi black suit with white pilgrim cuffs, could not explain how she still looked so good without any plastic surgery.

Living well, I guess, is indeed the best revenge since Buell quit New York two years ago for seaside living in Maine. Now rumors are that a major fashion house is interested in signing her to a long term for marketing their clothes to "real" women.

Simon & Garfunkel Patch It Up

Saying "this is probably the last time" they will ever do this, Paul Simon announced with his singing partner Art Garfunkel their first tour together in 20 years.

This is the same 30-city tour I told you was being planned back on June 28. But Simon and Garfunkel, friends since childhood but also bitter enemies at times, appear to have finally made peace with their turbulent relationship.

They sang four old songs together this afternoon at an intimate press conference at New York's Bottom Line nightclub when they made the tour announcement: "Old Friends," which is the name of the tour; plus "The Boxer," "Homeward Bound."

Simon referred to the duo's long estrangement during a short question and answer period. "We're fine now," Simon said in response to a question from Parade Magazine's Sandy Kenyon.

"We've had a deep, buried affection for about a decade," said Garfunkel.

Simon also added, "We had a friendship that was estranged. But it was just squabbles. That's all."

Mark McEwen, the radio personality and former CBS Morning Show anchor, emceed the session.

Simon said, responding to my question, that the pair would probably do only three songs from his post-group career: "American Tune" and "Slip Sliding Away." The latter, he said, he always thought of as a Simon and Garfunkel song from seven years later. They will also perform their 1976 revival hit, "My Little Town," which some consider their best record.

Otherwise, the content of the Old Friends tour will consist solely of the songs from Simon and Garfunkel's landmark five albums released between 1965 and 1970.

One reporter asked them if they were worried that young people did not know who they were; the reporter had been at their old grade school in Queens during the morning but found no fans. Last February I reported that MTV declined to interview the pair after they picked up their Grammy for Lifetime Achievement; a producer said they were too old.

"Our first responsibility is to our generation," said Simon. It's likely they will find new fans once the tour begins, however. Their voices together still produce a magical sound that has never been duplicated.

So how will they do this thing and not wind up in the usual fights? Sitting in the front row today, ominously, were five of Simon's high-priced attorneys; Garfunkel was without legal representation.

For one thing, the pair has enlisted neutral publicists and managers. Simon, for the first time in perhaps 20 years, is not working with his trusted friend, Dan Klores, as a spokesman. Simon's brother, Eddie, who created The Guitar Center back in 1972, will, however, be producing the tour with Jeff Kramer of OK Management and Larry Jenkins.

"I've known Artie since I was five years old," Eddie told me before the press conference. "He gave me the money to start it."

They're also using neutral band members, including the famed drummer Jim Keltner.

"It's a seven piece band and I'm the eighth," said guitarist Simon.

"And I'm the ninth," Garfunkel inserted. "The voice is an instrument."

"I sit corrected," said Simon.