Stephen M. Silverman
January 18, 2005 08:40 AM

PLANNED: Clay Aiken, 26, is returning to the studio in the coming weeks to begin assembling his third album and his first since last year’s Merry Christmas With Love, reports. But first, the American Idol star, who just completed a holiday concert tour, says: “I’m gonna take a little bit of time off in January. That’s what I promised myself. We’ll see if I end up doing it or not. I really don’t like to sit down, do nothing for too long. We’ll probably start working on the album some time in March, and I’m looking forward to hopefully spending a little bit more time on this next one and really picking songs that I like and working with producers that I like to make it all work.”

DONATED: Golden Globe Desperate Housewives winner Teri Hatcher is giving the silver Donna Karan dress she wore to Sunday’s ceremony to the Clothes Off Our Back Foundation, which is holding a fund-raising auction for victims of the Dec. 26 tsunami. So far, Hatcher’s dress has a bid of $3,000, while Kinsey nominee Liam Neeson’s Armani tuxedo has hit $1,500. The sales event, started in 2002 by Jane Kaczmarek of Malcolm in the Middle and her actor husband, Bradley Whitford of The West Wing, is scheduled to end Jan. 30.

BOOKED: Samuel L. Jackson, 56, will return as host of the 20th annual Independent Spirit Awards on Feb. 26 (the day before the Oscars), after previous stints in 1996 and 1997, reports Variety. “We are looking forward to him putting his personal stamp on this landmark year,” producer Diana Zahn-Storey said. The event, held on the beach in Santa Monica, will be broadcast live on IFC. John Waters has hosted the past few years.

SCHEDULED: Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has confirmed that he will direct and co-produce an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestselling 2002 novel The Lovely Bones after he completes his remake of King Kong, which he is now shooting, according to published reports from Down Under. LOTR screenwriter Philippa Boyens will furnish the script, which is about a 14-year-old girl who has been raped and murdered telling her story from heaven. The Lovely Bones is due for a 2007 release, while King Kong starts ripping things up this Christmas.

DIED: Virginia Mayo, 84, a Goldwyn Studios star in the ’40s and ’50s whose leading men included Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope and Danny Kaye, died Monday at a nursing home in suburban Thousand Oaks, Calif., following a year of declining health. Her most notable films, in roles that capitalized on her honey blonde beauty (as well her characters’ lack of fidelity), were 1946’s top Oscar winner The Best Years of Our Lives and 1949’s White Heat, with James Cagney. A Missouri native, Mayo (born Virginia Clara Jones) married former vaudevillian Michael O’Shea in 1947 and never remarried after his death in 1973. She is survived by a daughter and three grandchildren, the Associated Press reports.

ANGERED: Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers is being criticized for suggesting at an economic conference Friday that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers, prompting Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist (and Harvard grad) Nancy Hopkins to walk out, The Boston Globe reported. In a statement released Monday, Summers said his remarks were misconstrued as suggesting that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of math and science. “I did not say that, nor do I believe it,” he said.

RECUPERATED: Entertainment Tonight and The Insider fashion commentator Steven Cojocaru underwent a successful kidney transplant for polycystic kidney disease on Friday and is recovering in a Los Angeles hospital, USA Today reports. The former PEOPLE writer received the lifesaving kidney from a friend and said he hopes this example “sends an inspiring message to others about the importance of organ donation.”

DISTANCED: The Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington wishes to alert the world that HBO’s Da Ali G Show star Sacha Baron Cohen, who passes himself off as “Borat of Kazakhstan,” is an imposter, reports The Washington Post. “Sacha Baron Cohen has nothing to do with Kazakhstan. He does not represent Kazakhstan. He does not speak for Kazakhstan. He doesn’t even look like a Kazakh,” says embassy press secretary Roman Vassilenko. Last week, the British-born Cohen posed as Borat at a rodeo in Salem, Va., and mangled the national anthem before a crowd of 4,000 booing people and called on President Bush to “drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq.”

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