June 28, 1999 12:00 PM

New Love in Bloom

Business tycoon Ronald O. Perelman is worth $6 billion and owns a Manhattan townhouse, a Palm Beach mansion and a 57-acre Hamptons estate. But is he happy?

Apparently so, thanks to a blossoming romance with actress Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love, The Big Easy) that looks quite like an engagement. She wears his ring, and they date each other exclusively. Nothing is official, sources say, because Barkin’s divorce from actor Gabriel Byrne—they split almost six years ago—won’t be final for at least five months, and Perelman is battling over custody of his daughter Caleigh, 4, with his former wife, Democratic party fund-raiser Patricia Duff.

Meanwhile, Barkin, 45, and Perelman, 56, have been seen strolling arm in arm in the Hamptons. And that seems to be enough for now.

SUMMER VACATION

Who: Actress Keri Russell

On Break From: TV’s Felicity

Plans: “What am I not going to do on my hiatus. I’m traveling everywhere. I already went to Ireland, and I went to Hawaii.”

Why: “I’m just going to do crazy things [appropriate to] my age.”

A Dress Code Drama

Martha Stewart’s pink pants make White House traditionalists see red

Focus

There is no skirting White House protocol when it comes to attending state dinners. Just ask Our Lady of Domestic Perfection, Martha Stewart, who created a storm in a teacup by wearing pink cropped pants to a June 8 affair honoring the president of Hungary. “I admire Martha Stewart tremendously,” says Letitia Baldrige, social secretary during the Kennedy years. “But I think she needs to read other people’s books on how to dress properly for such an occasion. A state dinner means a long dress to the floor.” The Washington Post dismissed Stewart’s Ralph Lauren outfit as “summery, but perhaps not the most appropriate attire for a state dinner.”

Stewart begged to differ. “Martha felt it was appropriate,” said her spokeswoman Susan Magrino, “and she said a number of people complimented her on it.” Besides, Martha’s outfit wasn’t as inappropriate as the Band-Aid masquerading as a minidress that Melanie Griffith wore to a White House dinner in 1991, creating a similar fuss. “We’re doing a little number from Gypsy Rose Lee,” Griffith’s husband at the time, Don Johnson, said when people began to notice that she was dressed, well, differently. “She’s going to do the strip, and I’m going to do the soft-shoe.” And the pink pants were certainly more interesting than the stolid business suit that Mikhail Gorbachev wore to two White House black-tie dinners in 1987 and 1990.

Of course, not all gaffes are wardrobe-related. Gorbachev’s successor, Boris Yeltsin, caused a stir at a state dinner in his honor by spontaneously dancing with a tablemate before protocol dictated he should. And Lyndon Johnson’s White House social secretary Bess Abell recalls Joan Crawford’s showing up “deeply into the sauce” and creating such an impression that LBJ was prompted to ask, “Who put Joan Crawford on the guest list?”

So why should anyone be upset by Martha’s short pink pants? “The White House is different,” says Baldrige. “It’s like a church to me and should command the same respect.”

Whatever Happened to ‘Auld Lang Syne’?

Planning to welcome the New Year with a song? Looking for just the right number? Something…millennial? Perhaps British pop star Robbie Williams’s recent hit Millennium would suit. Or you could play a tune from the new Backstreet Boys album, Millennium. If neither strikes your fancy, there’s word that Michael Jackson, with help from songwriter Carole Bayer Sager, is working on a tune about—now wouldn’t you just know it?—the millennium.

Sager, for one, doesn’t worry about the competition. “We don’t have a monopoly” on the M-word, she told the music Web site Launch, “and the inspiration is the same for all of us. We are coming up on a special year that we’ll never see again.”

Jackson’s millennium song, says Sager, will celebrate the future. Those not wanting to let go of the past will always have Prince’s 1999.

A Ribbeting Classroom Debate

About things amphibious, Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t ambiguous. When Annie Guest, her 12-year-old daughter, decided she didn’t want to dissect a frog in biology class, Curtis took up People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ anti-scalpel cause and even put a bumper sticker (“Proud Parent of a Student Who Won’t Dissect”) on her Mercedes. Does this sort of thing get the National Association of Biology Teachers hopping mad? Not really. The group—vastly influential in the frog-dissecting business—advises members to be sensitive to student concerns, but also notes that “no alternative can substitute for the actual experience of dissection.” Their view: Much can be learned from a frog, even after it croaks.

Hollywood à Go-Go

“I don’t really have any feel for the go-go dancers,” said Jake Lloyd, 10, as he watched slightly clothed women watusi, frug and pony at the L.A. premiere of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Lloyd, who plays Anakin Sky-walker in the new Star Wars film, hastened to point out that this was not entirely the dancers’ fault. After all, he noted, “I have no big feel for women yet.”

Actor-director Ed Burns, whose steady, Heather Graham, costars in the film, was more understanding of the go-goers’ efforts: “How could you not love it?” he said.

That might have summed up the response to the movie. “Absolutely hilarious,” said Kristen Johnston, who has a small role. Others pondered the pervasiveness of Powers’s shagadelic vibe. “Austin has become a normal part of our family,” said actor Jon Voight. “It’s very bizarre.”

But most saw no harm in reliving the Swinging Sixties. “Everybody,” said Donny Osmond, “loves to laugh.”

ON THE BLOCK: SCREEN DOOR

The bright blue doorway leading to Hugh Grant’s messy bachelor pad in Notting Hill has a more upscale role in real life. It fronts a former chapel converted into a two-bedroom home with 25-foot ceilings and a courtyard garden. Richard Curtis, the film’s screenwriter, bought the London property five years ago. He reportedly just sold it for $2.2 million to Caroline Freud, a friend of Princess Diana’s brother Earl Spencer. The price does not include a return appearance by Rhys Ifans (left), who, in the movie, posed by the now famous doorway.

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