Is Whitney Back? Ask Clive

Whitney Houston | Disney Book | George Soros | Amanda Peet | Elaine Stritch

Is Whitney Back? Ask Clive

The rumblings have been coming for some time: Whitney Houston is joining forces again with record company impresario Clive Davis. An announcement is said to be forthcoming.

Davis, of course, led Whitney to her tremendous successes before drugs and excess ruined her.

Houston's last album was recorded for Antonio "L.A." Reid at Arista after Clive's ouster and eventual triumphant return as the head of J Records (and now emperor of all he sees at newly merged Sony-BMG) with Alicia Keys, Rod Stewart and Luther Vandross.

Clive has pulled off many miracles in the past, but a Whitney comeback is sure to be his greatest achievement yet.

She has the pipes, that's for sure. And even some of the songs on that last album — like "Try It On My Own" — were not half bad. But Houston's drug addiction and the public spectacle she made of herself contributed to the album being a complete catastrophe.

Now it's not as if Davis is a saint, or even Oprah. He's not going to rebuild Whitney out of selflessness.

Houston owes BMG/Bertelsmann millions and millions of dollars stemming from the outsized deal Reid got the company into with her two years ago. I'm sure Davis's new partners at Sony looked at this deal and blanched.

But Clive will do it — he always does. Expect to see Whitney at his pre-Grammy dinner in February, followed by an album release and multiple Grammy nominations in 2006.

New Disney Book Could Change Fates

The story of the intertwining fates of Disney chief Michael Eisner, Miramax's Harvey and Bob Weinstein and Pixar's Steve Jobs is not over yet.

Yesterday there were various unsourced reports indicating that the Weinsteins might try to outlast Eisner, who recently announced he would step down in 2006. This would put Miramax right back into business with Disney, where the brothers would prefer to stay.

What these stories didn't report were two quickly forthcoming events that might hasten Eisner's departure, now that he's paved the way.

These two things could collide in about six weeks, making for a very unusual situation.

The first is a book by James B. Stewart called "DisneyWar: The Battle for the Magic Kingdom," to be published by Simon & Schuster. Stewart is the former Wall Street Journal editor whose other titles include "Den of Thieves."

I am told that "DisneyWar" is full of quotes from Eisner that he may not be keen to see in print — not only about the Weinsteins and Jobs, but about a lot of other people connected to the Mouse House.

Then there's the fast-brewing shareholders suit against Eisner, which is about to take off in Georgetown, Del. The shareholders are not thrilled that Eisner paid his former pal Michael Ovitz $140 million in compensation to leave the company after a year and a half of, shall we say, ignominious service.

These things, together with a dismal box-office take in 2004 that included a dozen or so gigantic money-losers, could spell an early departure for Eisner. (Last night Disney premiered a movie called "The Last Shot" that no one had even heard of until this week.)

At the same time, Miramax and Pixar — each of which has had to deal with Eisner's caprice in business dealings — may be able to forge new deals with the studio. The two independent studios represent everything Disney has — hits (Pixar) and Oscars (Miramax) and all it could lose.

My money is on the Stewart book for some real headlines and blow-ups. And the moment of revelation is only seconds away.

The Soros and the Party

Yes, that was billionaire philanthropist/industrialist/Democrat George Soros who walked into the Bryant Park Hotel party last night to celebrate the all-star recording of "Wake Up Everybody."

Soros is a big donor to ACT (America Coming Together), which supported this musical right-to-vote project, but you'd never expect to see him in a dimly-lit crowded nightclub with heavy rap on the stereo.

But then again, there too was Denise Rich, who'd just come from a party at ... George Soros' house. Did they meet rapper Jadakiss? I have no idea.

I know they talked to Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and his wife Tracey, as well as Russell Simmons and Jonathan Lewis. Those four produced "Wake Up Everybody," which is now available on the Internet.

And by the way, Tracey told me that that is not Teddy Pendergrass singing on the new version of his old hit, but a singer called Jaheim who sounds just like him.

Even Amanda Peet Can Forget Some Lines

I've always liked Amanda Peet (Diane Keaton's daughter in "Something's Gotta Give"), but she was particularly cute on Monday night in Warren Leight's quickie one-act play "United" with Billy Crudup and Aasif Mandvi.

After being up all night learning lines that had just been written, Peet went "up" and forgot what she was supposed to say. A script was produced and the show went on.

"OK, OK, I've got it now," she said, burying her head in her arms.

In the very funny play, she goes to pick up her gay brother at the airport, only to discover he's "engaged" to her ex-boyfriend.

The occasion for "United" was the annual "24-Hour Plays" which a bunch of young, well-known actors, writers and directors stage every year for Working Playground, a charity.

Details and Bloomingdale's sponsor the whole thing (they asked me to say that), and you get Peet, Crudup, Fisher Stevens, Christina Ricci, Rosie Perez, Adam Goldberg, Maria Bello, Gaby Hoffman, Brooke Shields, Sam Rockwell, Anthony Mackie and Alan Tudyk — who almost lost it when Perez went "up" as well and he had to fill in the blanks.

"I was terrified," he told me, but I was more interested in the fact that Tudyk — who played a crazy red-headed British knight in "A Knight's Tale" — is a blonde Texan who looks a little like the young Robert Redford. Surprise!

He and Rachel Dratch (of "SNL" fame) played a couple who wanted their friends to share so much in the joy of their newborn that they surreptitiously serve them the baby's placenta in lasagna. It sounds weird, but it was hysterically funny.

Even funnier: Mackie, the great young black actor who's in "The Manchurian Candidate" and "She Hate Me," and his pal, bespectacled Andre Royo of HBO's "The Wire" series, somehow attracted the attention of the American Airlines Theater's house manager, who didn't recognize them and thought they might be up to no good. A little racial profiling in the theater?

"He's been following us all over the place," the pair told me during intermission. If only "She Hate Me" had been a hit....

Stritch: A Semi Emmy Win So Far

I am delighted to announce that HBO's "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty" won an Emmy award Tuesday night at the pre-show held in Hollywood.

Directors Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker and Nick Doob got the honors, as did Frazer Pennebaker and HBO's Sheila Nevins.

D.A. Pennebaker first worked with Stritch some 30 years ago on Stephen Sondheim's "Company." The long relationship has really paid off!!

Other early Emmy winners included Laura Linney (for her terrific work on "Frasier"), Sharon Stone ("The Practice"), John Turturro ("Monk") and William Shatner ("The Practice"). Yes, Sharon Stone has an Emmy Award. It's all good, as they say.

Now, on to Sunday and the Big Show! In the meantime, Happy New Year!