March 18, 2002 12:00 PM

Georgie’s Girl

Clooney falls for one of our neighbors to the north

FOCUS

After a fine meal or a cordial cocktail, a gentleman should offer a generous gratuity. In the case of George Clooney, 40, it may consist of a date with a handsome movie star like…George Clooney? So it seems. The current object of his affections, Maria Bertrand, 27, is a part-time bartender at Globe, a trendy Montreal eatery.

And what’s on the menu? “Well, she’s athletic,” says a friend of Maria’s. “Not overly glamorous but definitely very, very good-looking. She’s strong-willed and does what pleases her.” And, apparently, she can act. Her agent Cha Cha da Vinci says Bertrand has appeared in six Canadian films. Clooney recently cast her in a scene with Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, his directorial debut about TV host Chuck Barris, due in November.

Bertrand and Clooney have been spotted together at Montreal’s swankiest spots. “You can definitely see sparks,” says da Vinci. Often of the competitive sort—they play basketball and work out together at her health club, the Sanctuary. Despite having introduced Clooney to her family, Bertrand has no illusions of curing the determined bachelor, who has been linked with former waitress Celine Balitran, actress Renée Zellweger and British model Lisa Snowdon, of his playboy proclivities. “She’s just enjoying the moment,” says da Vinci. “He’s fun to be with.”

Sting Goes Oscar wild

Sting has a shot at an Oscar Best for “Until,” his tune from Kate & Leopold. (The song was written for the romantic comedy in the aftermath of Sept. 11: “What more political statement can you make,” he says, “than to say, ‘I love you’?”) But it’s another Oscar (Hammerstein) who inspired him. “I was educated by my mother [Audrey], who was a huge fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein,” says Sting, 50, who was also nominated last year for “My Funny Friend and Me” from The Emperor’s New Groove. “She and I played those records to death: South Pacific, Oklahoma!, The King and I—all of those things. Maybe you could hear the odd bit of influence there, if I’m lucky.” Maybe—but it is hard to imagine Roxanne in a surrey with the fringe on top.

Shopping for a New Home Office

The bottom line is looming bold and black at ABC these days. In an effort to boost ad revenue by luring younger viewers, network execs have made an audacious bid to woo David Letterman from CBS by offering him the late-night slot currently held by Nightline with Ted Koppel. After 22 years, Nightline remains profitable for ABC but has suffered a ratings dip since the advent of 24-hour cable news. After Koppel, 62, read in The New York Times that an ABC official said Nightline‘s relevancy “just is not there anymore,” the newsman blasted back in a March 5 New York Times opinion piece, calling the comment “at best, inappropriate and, at worst, malicious,” in light of the precarious global climate. Still, an ABC staffer says, talk of dumping the newscast “surprised no one,” adding, “People here have been shopping résumés for two years.”

Should Letterman, 54, whose CBS contract is up in August, decide to bat for ABC, Nightline will be missed by many core fans. “Koppel is a rare example of excellence among today’s news people,” Sen. John McCain, a frequent guest of the show, tells PEOPLE. “With Letterman and Leno, you prepare to be funny. With Koppel, you prepare to get grilled.”

Child’s Fray

Destiny’s Child’s 2001 hit “Survivor” has millions of fans. LaTavia Roberson, 20, and LeToya Luckett, 21, who had left the group by 2000, are not among them. They’re suing the current Destiny lineup—Beyoncé Knowles, 20, Kelly Rowland, 21, and Michelle Williams, 21—for unspecified damages and an injunction against future performances of the song, which they claim makes “deliberate disparaging, defamatory factual misrepresentations.” (Sample lyric: “You thought I wouldn’t sell without you/ Sold 9 million.”) They also say the current members promised to refrain from talking about them negatively. An attorney for Destiny’s Child called the suit “ridiculous.”

Crowe’s Call of the Mild

Russell Crowe is showing bully’s remorse. On Feb. 24 the actor verbally assaulted director Malcolm Gerrie when Gerrie edited out a short poem from Crowe’s speech at a British awards show telecast (People, March 11). But on March 2 a subdued Crowe, 37, phoned Gerrie, 51, to apologize for backing him against a wall and yelling obscenities, even proposing they toss back a few beers together. “I was overreacting,” the Best Actor Oscar nominee reportedly told Gerrie, “because I felt passionately about it at the time.” Crowe even chatted for 15 minutes with Gerrie’s 12-year-old son Oliver, a fervent Gladiator fan. Though some believe Crowe’s belligerent antics may cost him the Oscar, Gerrie felt the actor’s latest performance deserved praise. “Oliver,” he said, “was thrilled.”

Fathers’ Day in Court

It was a star-studded legal docket to make The Practice green with envy: Harvey Keitel, Wesley Snipes and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all had cases scheduled March 4 in Manhattan Family Court. 9:15 a.m.: Keitel, 62, was ordered to temporarily up child support payments from $3,000 to $5,000 a month for Hudson, his 5-month-old son with ex-girlfriend Lisa Karmazin. 10:30 a.m.: An attorney for Snipes, 39, who did not appear, argued to have a child-support petition filed by the state of Indiana on behalf of resident Lanise Pettis dismissed. “My client has never met Pettis,” said Snipes’s counsel. The judge rescheduled the hearing for April 25, 5 p.m.: Combs, 32, in a three-year battle with model Kim Porter, 31, over custody and support of their son Christian, 3, arrived at the court but refused to enter until a settlement was reached. That happened the next day.

Back Walking the Walk

Once again, Cindy Crawford is catwalking tall. Following a three-year hiatus from modeling—with an exception for the Spanish Steps show in Rome in 2000—Crawford hit the runway for pal Roberto Cavalli’s autumn-winter fashion show in Milan this week. Why? After spending much of her time with her husband, restaurateur Rande Gerber, 39, and their children—Presley, 2, arid Kaia, 6 months—Crawford, 36, said she needed to “feel like a sexy; mom rather than a frumpy housewife.” The local paper pronounced her frump-free. Noting her “opulent” bosom, La Repubblica added that “motherhood has softened her form.” It may have also hardened her resolve to shy away from a full-fledged comeback. “This was really fun,” she said, “but I wouldn’t want to do it for a whole season. The schedule is pretty stressful.”

POP QUIZ

with John Madden

The new kid in the booth at ABC’s Monday Night Football is John Madden, 65, who brings more than three decades of coaching and broadcast experience to the job. In a business known to favor youth, Madden’s appointment may have surprised some. He spoke with Scoop about the gig.

Does this mean experience really counts?

There is something that’s more important than maybe anything [in broadcasting], and that’s the comfort factor. When you are an announcer, you go into someone’s home, someone’s living room. There are some people you enjoy letting in.

Like older broadcasters?

We have to watch out that we don’t say that everything has to be new. I mean, your most comfortable shoes aren’t the ones you just bought. They’re the ones you’ve broken in.

It seems like you were partners with Pat Summerall for eons.

Twenty-one years! Camaraderie taken to the highest degree.

Summerall left FOX after the Superbowl. How did you tell him about your move?

I talked to him before it was announced. We’ve been together so long, I didn’t want him to wake up one day and read it in the newspaper. He was happy about it.

How quickly will you develop a working relationship with your new partner, Al Michaels?

I’ve known Al for quite a while. He has a bright mind and he’s inquisitive and interesting and interested.

So you’ll be fine?

We’re together so much before the game. You have dinner on Saturday and Sunday nights, and on Monday you have a meeting and lunch, and the conversations just carry on [to the game].

Dennis Miller, your predecessor, made arcane references that sometimes sent viewers scrambling for encyclopedias. Did it bother you?

(Laughs) I watched all the games, but when I watch, it’s to enjoy the game, and that was it.

ON THE BLOCK

RICE PAD

Anne Rice, premier chronicler of the undead, wants to sell you one of her favorite haunts: St. Elizabeth’s Home in New Orleans, a 19th-century orphanage that she bought in 1993, renovated and used to host charity functions and a vampire ball for 6,000 fans. “I really just want to concentrate on my writing,” says the 60-year-old author (Interview with the Vampire), who in 1998 suffered a diabetic coma and more recently has battled appendicitis and peritonitis. “I want to do this while I’m feeling good.” The massive complex also houses her collection of nearly 1,000 dolls, an art gallery for her husband’s paintings and some relatives—Rice lives elsewhere in New Orleans. Filled with lavish architectural details, the 58,000-sq.-ft. space includes a ballroom, a chess room, a billiard parlor and a chapel with stained-glass windows and a confessional. All can be yours for $6.5 million—dolls, and vampires, not included.

-BOX-

To contact Scoop, send e-mail to scoop@people.com

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