December 21, 1998 12:00 PM

Popularity Contest

Las Vegas gets chock-full of chart toppers at this year’s Billboard Music Awards


Courtney Love and the rest of the members of her band Hole were actually relieved when Madonna, who was to open the Billboard Awards show Dec. 7 at the MGM Grand’s Garden Arena in Las Vegas, canceled at the last minute because of illness. After all, said Love, puffing away on a cigarette and wearing a velvet halter by designer Hunger World, “it makes more room to not worry about the fashion thing.” The fashion thing was on other minds, too. Asked about her habit of wearing as little as possible, Mariah Carey rolled her eyes, pointed to her neck, and said, “Should I be in flannel up to here?”

Garth Brooks, on the other hand, was up to his neck—in awards: He won six, including Country Artist of the year, bringing his Billboard total to 24—tops in the business. Shania Twain was Female Artist of the Year, and Celine Dion’s Titanic soundtrack got the Album of the Year at the awards, which—since they are based on sales and radio airplay—are perhaps the best test of popularity. James Taylor, accepting the Century Award, for lifetime achievements, said, “I spent years complaining about the business side of what we do; tonight I’m proud to be part of this business.” And the group Semi-sonic found just the right note to end the show—their hit “Closing Time.”

A puppet, a pauper…a G-man?

A ring-a-ding fling with a married dame landed Frank Sinatra in a New Jersey jail in 1938. He beat the rap—seduction—and apparently held no grudge against the law enforcement community. In fact, by 1950, according to 1,275 pages of previously secret FBI documents about Sinatra released last week, Ol’ Blue Eyes was offering his services to the FBI, telling agents that he could do some good for his country “even if it affects his livelihood and costs him his job.” The low-down on other highlights: Powerful newspaper columnist Walter Winchell once told the FBI that Frank paid a doctor $40,000 for a phony 4-F draft rating that kept him out of WW II. That was a lie, the feds determined, although a pussycat Frank was not: One memo notes that he hit a security guard over the head with a chair at the Sands casino in Las Vegas in 1967. Other newly released memos look into links with organized crime and the Communist Party but offer no concrete evidence.

McCartney’s paper chase

It was 30 years ago today—give or take a few months—that Paul McCartney’s handwritten lyrics to the title song of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band disappeared from his London home. Last August, New York City memorabilia dealer Gary Zimet offered to sell them back to the former Beatle for $550,000. “I figured he’d pay a mint for them,” Zimet says. He figured wrong: McCartney last month filed suit, saying the lyrics were stolen, and asked the courts to bar Zimet from selling the lyrics to anybody else. Zimet—who had a hand in trying to sell the John Lennon-Yoko Ono album that Lennon signed for his assassin Mark David Chapman—insists he obtained the lyrics legally from a relative of Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. Rubbish, says Davies, who told PEOPLE the lyric sheets he once had are in the British Library, where the Queen has just had a look at them, “in a case next to the Magna Carta, Beethoven and Shakespeare.”

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

You’re a pop star, a rebel. You’ve seen sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll up close and personal for years. Now you’re a dad—so where do you send your child during his or her formative years? To a veddy proper British boarding school, of course, and a life of winged collars, coattails and cricket. The British press reported last week that Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall—taking time out, apparently, from their domestic drama—just pre-enrolled their 1-year-old son, Gabriel Beauregard, in the prestigious Stowe School (where this year’s tuition is $25,000), the alma mater of entrepreneur Richard Branson. Simon LeBon of Duran Duran sends his daughters to the Newton Preparatory School in southwest London, as does ex-Boomtown Rat Sir Bob Geldof. But rumors that this tony trend is spreading to America are, so far, just that: Reports that Madonna was scoping out Cheltenham Ladies’ College for her girl, Lourdes, 2, and that Michael Jackson’s boy Prince, 22 months, was destined for Stowe, have been denied by both parents.



It was only 6:30 p.m., but there was Conan O’Brien making funny about his high school experience. How was his high school experience? “I was beaten constantly,” he said. Actually, it can’t have been that bad; O’Brien, Class of ’81, did his schtick at a fundraiser for Brookline (Mass.) High School that also drew Mike Wallace (35) and Michael Dukakis (’51). The shindig, at the home of philanthropists Sandy and David Bakalar, raised $460,000, including $10,000 gifts from both O’Brien and Wallace, for the 156-year-old school. Guessing that many of the elder alumni don’t watch his show, O’Brien said, “A lot of you are going, ‘Who the hell is that—the kid from Happy Days?’ ”

Hard Guy Software

Cough up $49.95, and Bruce Willis will run, jump or fire a flamethrower at your command. But only on a video screen. Thanks to Activision, a California-based software company, the real-life action hero is now a digitized star in the PlayStation game Apocalypse. Technicians scanned Willis’s body and voice into a computer, creating the 3-D character Trey Kincaid, “a pistol-packing nanophysicist,” according to Activision. It’s the first time a video adventure has been designed for an actor as popular as Willis, who says he was “blown away” by the experience. His compensation—”a multimillion-dollar package” that includes equity in Activision and a cut of Apocalypse profits—sounds pretty exciting too.



Jack Nicholson’s longtime girlfriend Rebecca Broussard has relocated with their two children so that the 61-year-old Oscar winner can sell the Beverly Hills house they were living in, for $2.5 million. The contemporary-style five-bedroom, four-bathroom house—built in 1957 and owned by Nicholson since 1991—includes two living rooms, a den, swimming pool, patio and terrazzo-tiled floors. Nicholson continues to live in a nearby home, which he has owned since the 1960s.

Whose Cat Suit Is It, Anyway?

So where’s the great and powerful Oz when you need him to settle a dispute? Two collectors each say they have the original costume worn by Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion, in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. One, bought for $2,400 at a 1970 MGM studio auction, may fetch $500,000 when put up for bid Dec. 12 by Profiles in History, a Beverly Hills dealer. But collector James Comisar has another cat suit, found a few years ago in MGM’s garbage. He claims his is the real deal, the other a backup; the auctioneers fervently disagree. Cat fight!

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