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October 30, 2000

Bill Gates, Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Timothy Hutton, O.J. Simpson, Jenny McCarthy, Anne Heche, and more . . .

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Simpson Claims Ex Is on Fantasy Island

O. J. Simpson's ex-girlfriend has a funny way of going on the lam -- that is, according to Simpson. Through his spokesman, Simpson tells us The National Enquirer's claim -- that his on-again-off-again gal pal Christie Prody went into hiding after telling the tabloid that O.J. described the 1994 murders of his wife, Nicole, and Ron Goldman to her in vivid detail -- is untrue. Enquirer editor Steve Coz told the Daily News recently, "Christie Prody is in fear for her life. She's in hiding." But Simpson insists that after that report came out, Prody called four times asking him to visit her in Jamaica. Coz denies Simpson's claim, adding that a second interview, which hits stands today, will reveal "she's still in terror of O.J." Coz would not confirm whether Prody had been to Jamaica, but he told us that Prody's back from wherever she was and is still keeping herself scarce -- "though she's not in such extreme hiding as she was."

Disney: Forgetting the Titans

Disney's Remember the Titans may look like just another schmaltzy Cinderella tale, but the action behind the scenes is less upbeat. According to an industry source, four of the real-life football players the film is based on are fuming at how they were treated by the megacorporation and have contacted L.A. entertainment lawyer Harris Tulchin to help them settle the score. Tulchin confirmed that he is representing the ex-jocks -- Darryl Stanton, Lewis Lastik, Julius Campbell, and Thomas Jones -- who say they were taken advantage of by Disney. Tulchin points out that the players' names and personalities as well as facts about their private lives were used in the film without adequate compensation. "These are four average guys who didn't know the specifics of how to deal with a film studio," says the attorney. The players, Tulchin says, thought they would at some point be rewarded financially, especially after making personal appearances at early screenings of the film. He adds that numerous letters of complaint sent to Disney's lawyers did win his clients "a modest monetary gift," but "not nearly the amount that should have been paid to them considering their stories are the basis for some of the film's main characters." Tulchin has yet to file a formal complaint of commercial exploitation, saying, "I'd prefer to handle the matter out of court, but I'm not sure that's going to happen." Lawyers for Disney did not return calls.

No Straight Talk for Anne Heche

Attendees of the Hamptons International Film Festival had about as much luck with Anne Heche as Ellen DeGeneres has lately. The actress was scheduled to be a speaker at the festival, but she canceled at the last minute. According to a source close to the event, Heche -- whose flick Auggie Rose was featured at the fest -- was all set to be the main attraction at a Q&A session with film fans called "A Conversation With . . ." but backed out of the gig only a week before to work on a movie in Toronto. Fortunately, festival organizers salvaged the event just in the nick of time when they got Danny Aiello to say yes. You can still hear the sighs of relief.

Show Will Go On for Schimmel

Comedian Robert Schimmel's Fox sitcom looks to be back on track after the funnyman was sidelined by cancer. Schimmel -- whose decidedly blue humor has won him a cult following as well as such big-name fans as Howard Stern -- was set to do a half-hour comedy series inspired by his life with Simpsons executive producer Mike Scully. But the plan had to be put on hold last summer so he could undergo treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Now the disease has been declared in remission, Schimmel's friends tell us, and the sitcom is back in play. "He has one more chemo session at the beginning of November," says Schimmel's Warner Brothers rep, Bob Merlis. "When he recovers, he'll be ready to go for it." According to Scully, the show is now scheduled to go into production in February. Meanwhile, Scully shared his feelings with us about his pal's recovery: "I think the important thing is America will have another sitcom."

Gourmet Does a Double Take

Knowing how damn picky foodies can be, the folks at Gourmet decided to run two different covers of their current issue. While an unimposing medley of mushrooms graces the cover of issues sent to subscribers, newsstand editions boast hunky Union Pacific chef Rocco DiSpirito. A publishing source tells us that Condé Nast head Si Newhouse deemed the DiSpirito cover inappropriate for the magazine's readership and forced in the fungi at the eleventh hour, a claim editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl dismisses as baloney: "We were already planning a piece on DiSpirito, and when the photos came back, they were so great that I decided to put him on the cover. But when I first took the job here, I put a person on the cover and subscribers wrote in saying they preferred the food covers because they use them to wallpaper their kitchens. So it was only logical to do the two." Have any of these temperamental readers called in about the issue? "Some people have," Reichl admits, "but only to say they liked the Rocco cover so much that they wanted it themselves." We called DiSpirito for his opinion of the situation: "Would I have liked to be on all million or so covers? Yeah, I would have," the chef confessed with a laugh. "But I hear the newsstand copies are selling better than ever."

Miss Universe University-Bound?

How will Miss Universe fill her days when her reign is over? She'll trade in her tiara for a stack of textbooks, of course. Miss Universe 2000, Lara Dutta, was recently spotted on the Washington Square campus of New York University inquiring about the journalism department's broadcast curriculum. Dutta has talked about going back to school in the past, but she has always leaned toward filmmaking as her intended course of study, saying she wanted to make documentaries about her native India. Why the change of heart? Perhaps the beauty has her ballplaying beau Derek Jeter in mind. Female sportscasters are more common these days, after all, and according to a source, Dutta has already interviewed for television positions, but she's been told she lacks the journalism background needed before she gets in front of the camera. Good to know that she won't be just a talking head.

High Comedy for Jenny McCarthy

Comic genius is all about timing, and if you're in Jenny McCarthy's latest project, so is knowing how to operate complicated pot paraphernalia. According to a source on the set of her upcoming film The Perfect You, a scene in which McCarthy and Sopranos star Drea de Matteo get high using a bong proved a bit difficult for De Matteo. "They had to do big hits," says the tipster, "and Drea didn't know how to use the bong, so someone had to teach her." McCarthy, though, proved herself an old hand at the task. "Jenny fired up the bowl like a pro," says the source. "She didn't need any coaching."

Additional reporting by David Amsden and Abbey Goodman.

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