Rod Stewart: No. 1, at Last, From the Get-Go

Rod Stewart: No. 1, at Last | Bette Midler | 'Three Kings' Doc Will Air| Lauren Bacall

Rod Stewart: No. 1, at Last, From the Get-Go

Rod Stewart's new album, "Stardust: The Great American Songbook Volume 3," is No. 1 this week with 250,000 copies sold.

Are you listening? Rod Stewart — "Maggie May," the Faces, "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," etc — has never had an album enter the charts at No. 1 until this week. Not in the 450 years he's been a pop star.

"In fact," points out the real hero here, Clive Davis, "his last number one album was 25 years ago. Only Elvis and Santana may have had longer stretches in between."

Davis, of course, created this Great American Songbook idea after famed producer Richard Perry came to him with some demo tracks he and Stewart had worked on.

Perry had played me those tracks in the summer of 2000 while he was visiting a mutual friend's house in the Hamptons. It was around the time Rod had just been dropped by Warner Bros. after three decades, had moved to Atlantic Records and had gotten dropped by them, too.

Davis isn't the only hero in this saga, though. So too is Rod's manager since 903 B.C., Arnold Stiefel, who's guided him around more hairpin turns than Mario Andretti .

I remember around 12 years ago congratulating Arnold for resuscitating Rod with "Rhythm of My Heart," a single that brought him back from the near-dead. I mean, really, these people should be on "ER" or start a psychic network.

Clive, who put Rod on his J Records when he started it in 2001, couldn't be happier.

"It's a great time and you have to know to enjoy it while it's happening," he said.

Alicia Keys has a hit with Usher and her own hit, Gavin DeGraw continues to grow in sales, Mario is Davis's latest breakthrough singer, Angie Stone has a terrific album out and sometime next year Davis will release a CD by Jamie Foxx — probably in time for Foxx's Oscar nomination for "Ray."

Then of course there's Whitney Houston, on her way back. Clive is excited that writers and producers — having seen Whitney's great performance in Las Vegas — are sending in material for her.

Bringing Whitney back after everything she's been through — there'd been nothing left for Davis to do except exhume Judy Garland. And, listen, don't put it past him!

Bette Midler Eyes Success

Better Midler needs $100,000, folks. She wants to spruce up a bunch of New York areas called the Success Gardens.

"There's an oil tanker sitting in one of them," Bette told me last night at her annual Hula-ween fundraiser for the New York Restoration Project at the Marriott Marquis. "And it's going to take 100,000 [dollars] to move it."

Midler sported an unusual headpiece for the evening, of course, that sort of looked like a wax pilgrim hung on a round band of leaves.

"I bought it downtown," she said, with a sparkle in her eye.

Over the years Midler has gotten a diva-ish reputation, but down deep I guess she's still the mischievous Divine Miss M.

Bette, by the way, shares a duet with Stewart on his new album. You're on a No. 1 album, I told her.

"I've had a few of those," she replied, with a smile. The Stewart duet, as I guess everything is these days, was accomplished by digital connection. (If only such a thing had existed in the old days, Simon and Garfunkel would never have had to see each other!)

Billy Crystal, who doesn't like to do publicity very much, graciously agreed to come conduct a silent auction for Bette's charity. He also did all the photo/interview stuff before the evening began. So what does he think of Chris Rock as Oscar host?

"He's going to be all right. He's got good material. He knows the crowd."

Crystal has more important things on his mind, such as a one-man show called "700 Nights" that opens on Broadway December 5.

"It's pretty much sold out," Billy replied when I asked how it was going.

Get your tickets, if you can, now. Previews start in late November.

'Three Kings' Doc Will Air Election Eve

IFC, the Independent Film Channel, is going to air David O. Russell's documentary "Soldiers Pay" on Monday night, aka. election eve.

Russell, you may recall, made the 35-minute film to be on the DVD of his 1999 movie "Three Kings." But when Warner Bros. saw it, they said no, and even chucked plans to re-release the excellent "Three Kings" to theaters for a limited run.

I saw "Soldiers Pay" early last month, and I can tell you that this is something not to be missed. The short film is composed largely of straight-on interviews with soldiers from the current war in Iraq and from Desert Storm in 1991.

They have eye-opening anecdotes about their tours of duty, and if you're one of the people who sports a "Support Our Troops" yellow sticker on your car, watching this film is vitally part of that movement.

Russell interviews soldiers both pro and anti-war, as well as Iraqis, Democrats and Republicans. He says: "The soldiers uniformly report how ill-equipped American forces are, not even having proper gas masks or water supply or flak vests — while private Halliburton contractors, former soldiers doing exactly what our troops are doing — earn huge salaries and enjoy vast privileges and the best equipment available."

And then, of course, there's "Three Kings," one of the "new classics" that somehow got overlooked when it was released five years ago.

It features great performances by George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Nora Dunn, Ice Cube, Jamie Kennedy (yes, the same one who had that annoying show on TV) and "Being John Malkovich" director Spike Jonze.

And yes, by the way, Russell is the writer-director of the current comedy, "I Heart Huckabees," which couldn't be more different from "Three Kings" and "Soldiers Pay."

Bacall Puts the B in 'Birth'

With a sweep of hair, a lingering stare and the sexiest husky voice in movie history, Lauren Bacall steals Jonathan Glazer's odd new movie, "Birth," from a lot of younger actors, including Nicole Kidman, Arliss Howard, Danny Huston and a kid named Cameron Bright .

She knows it, too, because Bacall made the premiere last night three hours after getting off a flight from London, where she's working on a new film.

Bacall is maybe the last legend of all real Hollywood screen stars. This partially due to the fact that she started in the business at age 19, and is now — it's public record — 80 years young.

Her astonishing debut was in Howard Hawks 's "To Have and Have Not," and the list of films that follow — including "Key Largo," "The Big Sleep" and "How to Marry a Millionaire" — is cinematic gold. It just doesn't get any better.

(Full disclosure: I have a personal affinity for Bacall. As a very young woman, my late grandmother baby-sat the little legend in another lifetime when she dated Bacall's uncle.)

I was at the Oscars in 1998 when Bacall was the odds-on favorite to win Best Supporting Actress for Barbra Streisand's "The Mirror Has Two Faces." She lost to Juliette Binoche as part of the sweep for "The English Patient."

This year, the Academy can rectify that decision by giving Bacall a nomination and a win for "Birth."

In a room full of strange people and far-fetched plotting, it's Bacall who's the breath of fresh air. She has a toss-away line at the end of the film that is just hilarious, and sums up just about everything. I won't give it away — you'll have to see it.

Glazer, the director, does her no disservice when he zooms in close on Bacall's face. She is really a lion in winter, the Katharine Hepburn of this generation.

There's a calm and confidence that exudes from her aura. It's very Zen, which is almost counter-intuitive considering the glamorous and grand life she's lived, including marriages to Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards .

But it's also about making it to the beginning of your ninth decade, of agreeing to be the voice of Fancy Feast cat food when you once asked Bogie if he knew how to whistle. That's a face of wisdom that still retains a nice, sarcastic bite.

You gotta love her. Let's get it right this time.