GWYNETH IN LOVE
No wonder Gwyneth Paltrow has suddenly become best pals with Stella McCartney, daughter of Paul. According to a friend of the golden girl's, Gwyneth has quietly been seeing Stella's cousin, 28-year-old lawyer Lee Eastman. The two were introduced at a dinner by a friend of Gwyneth's from Spence and have been spending a lot of time together, says the source, who adds that the actress is "thrilled he has nothing to do with the film business." But the pair still have plenty to talk about. Paltrow and Eastman come from the same Manhattan-private- school-East Hampton-summer-home background. Lee is the scion of the very visible Eastman clan, who have recently been in the press not only as McCartney's in-laws but also as wave-makers in the art world. Père John Eastman was recently appointed lawyer of the Francis Bacon estate, and grandfather Lee counted Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning among his clients. Neither Paltrow nor Eastman could be reached for comment.
THE REEL SKINNY ON ANNE HECHE
Not everyone in Hollywood who's already seen Steve Martin's Bowfinger thinks Heather Graham is playing Anne Heche. But preview audiences in New York are counting up the similarities. Graham plays an eager starlet fresh off the bus from Ohio who gets a role in Chubby Rain, Bowfinger's film-within-a-film that stars Eddie Murphy. The blonde tries to serial-date her way to stardom, eventually ending up with the producer, who's played by Martin. But by the time the film's over, she's already set her sights higher: Graham walks into the Chubby Rain wrap party with a woman "who's introduced as one of the most powerful lesbians in Hollywood," according to one filmgoer. Heche was herself an ambitious young actress from Ohio who once dated Steve Martin and eventually moved in with the woman who was about to come out on network TV, Ellen DeGeneres. Her split from Martin "marked the start of Martin's personal and professional crisis," the Washington Post reported last year. Has Martin finally had his revenge? A New Yorker who's seen the film insists that Graham's character is clearly "patterned" after Heche, while two Hollywood pros swear that the resemblance never occurred to them. "We have no idea as to whether it was based on anyone or not," insists Imagine president Michael Rosenberg. "You'd have to ask Steve Martin, who wrote the screenplay." Martin, through his spokeswoman Michelle Bega, is emphatic in his denial: "The character is not in any way based on Anne Heche. It would be extremely insulting to Ms. Heche to imply that she slept her way to the top, and it would be very wrong for anyone to suggest such a connection." Heche is too busy for questions right now: She's in postproduction on "Miss Conception," a segment of HBO's If These Walls Could Talk 2 that she wrote and directed, and that stars DeGeneres.
ESCAPE ARTISTS CONVENE AT VENICE BIENNALE
Already known for her smoky voice and steamy entrances, Lauren Bacall recently made a fiery exit from the villa she was staying in during the Venice Biennale. Bacall, Dennis and Victoria Hopper, and Dean Stockwell were sleeping at the home of Count Giovanni Volpi -- where the actors are shooting Oscar-nominated director Robert Dornhelm's film The Venice Project -- when an electrical fire broke out in the library. Stockwell's been credited with discovering the blaze and waking his fellow guests, sending Bacall dashing through the halls in her nightgown. The film's publicist says that everyone headed immediately to the garden except for Victoria Hopper and co-producer Kara Meyers, who lingered to toss pots of water on the flames, in vain. But a source says that some of the VIPs experienced a truly anxious moment as they waited for someone to find the keys to the villa doors, which were locked from the inside. A Venetian fire brigade finally arrived -- by boat -- and extinguished the flames. No one was injured in the fire, but the source says that production on the film was put on hold for a day because some key players were affected by the smoke: "Everybody still has a sore throat," says the source. The Venice Project also stars Frederique van der Wal as a depressed starlet and features Steve Martin, Stockard Channing, Parker Posey, and model Zofia.
RON'S BARKIN IS WORSE THAN HIS BITE
When you're a celebrity, interacting with fans goes with the turf -- unless you're dating Ron Perelman, that is. Ellen Barkin was out in East Hampton last weekend, shopping and frolicking with her intended. The two seemed genuinely happy, Ron submitting himself to a clothing makeover and Ellen flashing a rock the size of a small child. But when they got to Nick & Toni's Saturday evening, the actress, who is a frequent fumer, periodically got up to take a cigarette break on the porch. Trying to remain friendly to her public, Barkin, dressed all in pink, chatted with fellow smokers. But when the Revlon scion caught a glimpse of her in conversation with an attractive single man, he quickly hit the deck and ordered her back to her seat. The chastened Barkin returned to her place at the table, where the two were dining with Martha Stewart, Larry Gagosian, and Ron and Ellin Delsener, and tried to make amends by alternately hugging him and rubbing his back. It must have worked. Soon after, he reclaimed his territory, squeezing her for all the restaurant to see.
TINA'S TALK GOES HUNTING FOR COVER
The talk of the town is what'll be in Tina Brown's first Talk magazine. Michel Comte shot Hillary Clinton for the cover, and Brown was at the White House on June 3, leading to speculation that she was interviewing the First Lady herself. But a Talk spokeswoman cautions against placing "any bets too early." Early on, Brown's minions were calling Hollywood publicists to wrangle possible covers. But Brad Pitt was already committed to three for Fight Club (W, Premiere, and Rolling Stone) by the time Talk chimed in. The cover was dangled in front of Leonardo DiCaprio, though the teen heartthrob never even heard about it. "The first issue of Talk doesn't coincide with the release of his next movie The Beach," reports DiCaprio's press agent. "So I just said no, and we could discuss it for the right month December." Other stories that have been assigned -- like "Civilians Who've Slept with Celebrities" and Lyndall Hobbs (Al Pacino's ex) on having a baby -- could give Cosmo a run for its money.
RATHER LIKE LOSING A RIGHT HAND AT CBS
Exactly why Dan Rather's longtime assistant abruptly quit is a matter of some conjecture within Black Rock. Bill Madison left CBS once before, to pursue graduate studies, according to a network spokeswoman. But this time, Madison seems to be gone for good. He resigned just a few days before a party at the Metropolitan Club for Rather's Deadlines & Datelines, in which Madison gets his own paragraph in the acknowledgments ("I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge Madison's efforts in whipping my prose into shape," Rather writes, singling out his "knowledge of the arts . . . and his sharp sense of humor"). The word is that Madison left after a big blowup with Rather in an airport, according to one well-placed network source. But CBS spokeswoman Kim Akhtar insists that Madison simply "resigned" to pursue "his own interests." Rather can use all the help he can get: The CBS Evening News, third-ranked among the major networks' flagship news broadcasts, is having a particularly tough time in the New York market. Last Tuesday, it got a 3.5 Nielsen rating (NBC had 6.1, ABC 6.5).
STILL WATERS; STILL LÉPINE
A PUBLISHER WRITES: Some of the nation's best writing never makes it into The New Yorker but instead is squandered on staff memos. Last Tuesday, senior editor Charles Michener sent a delightfully snarky e-mail to practically everyone associated with the weekly. Pronouncing himself "disturbed" by publisher David Carey's "cheerleading, transparently promotional, and entirely unnecessary introductory letter" that went out to the current issue's advertisers, Michener carped that "surely . . . our readers don't need to be told . . . they're about to read 'imaginative, diverting, comic, moving, make-'em-laugh, make-'em-cry young authors.' (Where does this stuff come from? The old poster-copy department at MGM?)" Editor David Remnick allows that "sometimes I could live without the phenomenon of universal e-mail. But people here can always say what they want."
ICONIC CLASSED: John Waters's Pecker gets him into all the best places. Come July, it's leading him right into the Paul Mellon Distinguished Fellow slot at Skowhegan, the renowned artists' residency program on 300 acres in central Maine. The Railroad Square Cinemas in nearby Waterville will screen Pecker, Waters's 1998 satire of the art world, on July 22. The next day, the director will deliver a lecture and critique students' work at the program, whose alumni include Ross Bleckner, Ellsworth Kelly, and Alex Katz. Reached by phone on his way to the Provincetown International Film Festival last weekend, Waters said he was "excited" about teaching at Skowhegan (previous Mellon lecturers have included choreographer Bill T. Jones and Yale professor of African studies Robert Farris Thompson). "I'm quite flattered they asked me," said the Divinely inspired auteur. "It's prestigious, and I always love the irony of prestige."
MADISON AVENUE'S HAIR WARS: Competition for prime salon space on Madison Avenue is so fierce that the lease on Kim Lépine Hair Salon, at 673 Madison, was pulled from under Lépine a day before she was to renew it. "We were ideal tenants. They never had a problem with us," says the startled stylist, whose bi-level beauty emporium was snatched up by London-based Toni & Guy. But the battle between the salons is not over. Lépine has commandeered a new spot directly across the street, at 667 Madison, complete with private bay windows and its own elevator. Not only will the two salons compete for business, but it seems their turf war did not end at 673. Though a Toni & Guy rep denies it, a source close to Leonard Stern, who owns the new space, says another representative for Toni & Guy made a counteroffer to Stern for 667 as well. Fortunately for Lépine, Stern considered their verbal agreement binding, though no lease had been signed. Says Stern, "We had a handshake. That counts for something, doesn't it?" As if.
Additional reporting by Ian Spiegelman.