January 11, 1999 12:00 PM

Robin Williams, who stars in Patch Adams, based on the true story of a medical student who tries to inject more humanity—and humor—into doctoring, showed how big his heart really is when director Tom Shadyac’s mother, Julie, died during filming last summer. (The movie, which grossed $25 million its opening weekend, is dedicated to her.) Shadyac’s father, Dick, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, says that Williams “couldn’t have been nicer. He came to see us, and he said, ‘Take the time you need.’ ” Five days later they were back to work.

Gwyneth Paltrow‘s father, Bruce, will begin directing her this month in Duets, a movie about a traveling band of karaoke singers that was originally supposed to pair Paltrow with former boyfriend Brad Pitt. His replacement is yet to be cast. Also starring is Maria Bello (ER, Permanent Midnight), who tells me that to prepare for the film, the cast went to a karaoke bar in Los Angeles. Paltrow, she says, sings great.

Say, is that really former Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd playing a Buffalo, N.Y., beer distributor who wears a Fargo-esque hat with ear flaps on NBC’s Jesse? You betcha. An upcoming episode casts Ladd as an old schoolmate of Jesse’s dad, John (George Dzundza). “Most people have no idea I can do comedy,” says Ladd, 47, one of whose first jobs was in a short-lived 1972 comedy-variety series, The Ken Berry “Wow” Show, with Steve Martin and Teri Garr. “If it had been a hit,” says Ladd, “I’d have been a comedienne.”

Vintage-clothes horse Cameron Diaz was disappointed on a recent shopping trip to Decades, a retro-chic couture store she frequents in L.A. Diaz came in looking for a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress from the ’70s, only to be told by owner Cameron Silver that he’d just sold such a dress to Courteney Cox Arquette for $200. (Cox’s fiancé David Arquette, purchased a butterscotch leather jacket.) As a consolation prize, Diaz picked up a vintage Pierre Cardin stethoscope necklace and a Kenneth Jay Lane wrist cuff from the ’60s.

At a private L.A. dinner for the cast of the film Down in the Delta, star Alfre Woodard was lamenting her too-brief Dec. 11 visit to The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she was all set to talk about the film. “Just when they got to me, Peter Jennings came on,” says Woodard, with the latest impeachment bulletin. Preempted, she was left all dressed up with no chance to promo. “I’d bought a new dress for the show,” Woodard noted in mock lament, “and now I can never wear it again!”

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