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August 7, 2000

Julia Roberts, Whit Stillman, Busta Rhymes, Randolph Duke, and more . . .

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Julia: Mexican Standoffish

The relationship may have seemed picture-perfect, but it looks like the heat between Julia Roberts and Benjamin Bratt has cooled. According to a source close to the couple, people working on her latest flick, The Mexican, have been wondering why Bratt hasn't shown up on the set to visit. "At this point, they haven't seen each other in months," says the source. "It's not necessarily over, but it's certainly at a crisis point." And one film-industry source says that Roberts has found other interests on the set, which, this source adds, may have something to do with the fact that she rebuffed a recent attempt of Bratt's to visit her after he had wrapped his latest film, Miss Congeniality, in Texas. While Bratt's rep wouldn't comment, Julia's denied the rumors: "They're very together," she said.

Post Employs Some Highbrow Whit

Barcelona director Whit Stillman is taking a short break from the dreary world of moviemaking to get into the real action -- gossip reporting. Stillman will be sweating it out this week as a fill-in scribe at the New York Post's "Page Six" while the column's editor, Richard Johnson, is strapping on his water wings for the surf at Ibiza. Stillman, who's in town to promote The Last Days of Disco -- a novel based on the screenplay for his last film -- promises not to pull any punches during his stint. "I've got a lot of dirt on film critics that I think it's important to get out there," he says. "Does anyone know that The Village Voice's J. Hoberman's real name is Jim? What's that about?" For his part, Johnson assures us that Stillman's celebrity status will not afford him any privileges among the staff of his page. "Gossip is much too dangerous a game for amateurs," he says, "so Mr. Stillman will have to be closely monitored." The veteran scandalmonger also predicts that Stillman will be just the first in a line of high-profile guest reporters to come: "Maybe they'll develop a deep sense of sympathy for us after they've been lied to by publicists and threatened by lawyers." Don't count on it.

For Busta, Hot Dish, Then Dessert

If you happen to be dining with Busta Rhymes and he sneaks away to freshen up, don't expect him back too quickly. The dreadlocked rapper ducked out of a meal at Blue Water Grill recently to rendezvous with a slim vixen in one of the private rooms downstairs, says a source. The stealth liaison was foiled when a manager checked his security-camera monitor and saw the two slipping behind a closed door. He gave a polite knock, but no answer was forthcoming. He then tried the knob and discovered the door was locked. "Man, you gotta wait a minute," Busta barked at the manager. Moments later, the rapper emerged and made his way back upstairs to his table. When asked about the incident, the rapper's rep denied the story, saying Rhymes had never even been to the eatery: "It must of been a Busta Rhymes look-a-like." Scary thought.

Randolph Duke: Paranoia By Design

What is it about the Hamptons that makes people nervous? When designer Randolph Duke had a party at his Bridgehampton estate recently, guests like Calvin Klein and Ross Bleckner received invitations printed in a photo-sensitive ink that disappears after two days and cannot be photocopied or faxed. Why? A rep for Duke says that the Cold War-style invites were used to dissuade crashers and prevent the fashionista's address "from getting into the wrong hands." Since the U.S. Postal Service couldn't be trusted with the top-secret mission, the invitations were delivered by hand. A friend explains Duke's strange security consciousness: "Invitations stay in someone's house, they leave it in their rental car, or they blow away on the beach. And then it's done!" Duke can breathe easy . . . for now.

Irina Steppes Out; Elliot Dukes it Out

Don't move, don't breathe -- another supermodel has turned to acting. Siberian stunner Irina Pantaeva recently returned from Belarus, where she's starring in a German flick called So Weit die Füsse Tragen (As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me). Pantaeva plays a woman who helps an escaped German POW cross the steppes after he breaks out of a World War II Russian prison camp. Pantaeva, the author of 1998's critically lauded memoir Siberian Dream, says that learning her part in the epic -- to be released in the U.S. around Christmastime -- was no trouble at all: "When I was given my script, I took one look and I instantly knew all my lines."

VINTAGE BLUES: Rudy Giuliani's bad luck is rubbing off on his best pal, Elliot Cuker; his classic-car company, Cooper Props, has been slapped with a lawsuit. Fellow car lover Michael Greenstein claims Cuker mishandled his 1964 Lincoln Continental when he rented it last year for a photo shoot. Cuker ignored a terse letter from Greenstein's lawyer seeking $2,370 in damages and now faces a small-claims suit. Cuker, meanwhile, insists the battery was acting up when he first picked up the car. "I never had anything like this happen to me," Cuker tells us. "He's not getting a dollar."

Additional reporting by David Amsden and Brooke Gosin.

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