April 08, 2002 12:00 PM


Hey! Who knew? Maybe celebs really are rocket scientists


Once again conventional wisdom got it wrong. It turns out that celebrity—not the highly touted necessity—is the mother of invention. Need proof? Several weeks ago Harry Connick Jr. received Patent No. 6,348,648 for a new way of coordinating an orchestra, using written music displayed on computer screens. “It basically eliminates old-fashioned sheet music,” said Connick, 34, who was struck with the idea a few years ago, when his 16-member big band, performing outdoors, was plagued by flyaway papers.

Connick isn’t the only star with an Edison complex. Christie Brinkley (aka Patent No. 4,998,883) designed a set of educational blocks for kids; Steven Spielberg (No. D401,951), an ornamental switch for camera equipment; Eddie Van Halen (No. 4,656,917), a hands-free guitar support; Jamie Lee Curtis (No. 4,753,647), a diaper equipped with a pre-moistened baby wipe; and the ever pragmatic Michael Jackson (No. 5,255,452), shoes that slip into a hitch attached to the stage, allowing the wearer to lean far forward and appear to defy gravity. They each sent a drawing of their brainstorm to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, paid a free (currently $370) and, upon approval, were granted exclusive rights for 14 to 20 years.

None, though, seem ready to give up their day jobs and retire on their inventing royalties. Said Connick modestly: “It’s not like I invented Velcro.”

Madonna: You Can Look Her Up

Sandwiched cozily in the 6-in. slot between the Madonna (the Christian icon) and 17th-century English legal historian Thomas Madox, a certain cone-brassiered blonde has settled into her new digs: the seventh volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. One of 350 new entries added since the reference work was last updated in 1998, Madonna the Pop Icon, 43, makes her debut with Sean Connery, Pete Sampras, President George W. Bush and others “considered important in our everyday lives,” said a Britannica spokeswoman.

The entry chronicles the singer’s early years—training with the famed Alvin Ailey dance company, her string of hits (“Like a Virgin,” “Ray of Light,” “Like a Prayer”), her music videos, her movie career (Desperately Seeking Susan, Evita) and the 1992 triumph of her $60 million deal with Tune Warner (predecessor to PEOPLE’S parent company AOL Time Warner) to head up Maverick records. All that, and Madonna still makes the Establishment fidgety. While citing her as a great role model in terms of financial control for women in the industry, “in terms of image,” the compendium adds stiffly, “she was a more ambivalent role model.”

Liza’s Fan Had Grasping Hand

Following the frenzy of their March 16 New York City nuptials, newly-weds Liza Minnelli, 56, and David Gest, 48, headed for a respite in London. They didn’t get it. Less than 48 hours after they landed, the honeymooners were on the front page of London’s Evening Standard, which reported that a thief had reached past the window of the couple’s stopped limo and tried to snatch a $14,000 diamond necklace Minnelli was wearing (the driver apparently drove off without incident). Minnelli and Gest were unfazed by the episode. “Liza said to me, ‘We’re New Yorkers,’ ” says her spokesman. ” ‘Nothing scares us.’ ”

A Neighborhood Good Fella

Since Sept. 11, Robert De Niro has become a one-man chamber of commerce. Having already organized efforts to boost tourism and rebuild community spirit in lower Manhattan, De Niro, 58, a native New Yorker, and his business partner Jane Rosenthal are launching the Tribeca Film Festival, which they hope will attract 30,000 visitors to the downtown area. The five-day festival, which begins May 8, will feature the premiere of De Niro’s latest production, About a Boy (starring Hugh Grant), and screenings of 150 selected films to be judged by panelists Helen Hunt, Frances McDormand and Kevin Spacey, among others. Said De Niro: “It’s gonna be great.”

Crossfire in a Bitter Battle

Private concerns gave way to public gossip on March 20 when Entertainment Tonight broke a story that Pamela Anderson has hepatitis C, a potentially fatal virus transmitted primarily through blood contact that can cause severe liver damage. Never media-shy the V.I.P. star, 34, released a statement confirming the report was “true,” alleging, “I contracted [it] while sharing a tattoo needle with my ex-husband Tommy Lee…[who] has the disease and never disclosed it to me during our marriage.” A spokes-woman for Lee, 39, the former drummer for Mötley Crüe, denies the accusation, countering that Lee says he tested negative for hepatitis C after he and Pam had a tattoo done together. Lee’s camp claimed she was using the press in the estranged couple’s court battle over custody of their two sons, Dylan, 4, and Brandon, 5. Anderson’s current boyfriend, rapper Kid Rock, 31, said, “She’s fine.”

Cabin Fever at 35,000 Ft.

On March 20, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck took the stand in a London court to defend himself against charges of drunkenness and assault stemming from an incident on a Seattle-to-London British Airways flight last April. Witnesses say Buck, 45, downed 15 glasses of wine, spilled yogurt on crew members, scuffled with a flight attendant and threatened the plane’s captain, saying, “I am R.E.M., and I can make up a story that I was assaulted.” Buck, who has pleaded not guilty, claims he had taken a sleeping pill and “wasn’t really awake. I was just struggling to get conscious.” Bono appeared in court and said, “He is actually famously known for being peaceful.”

POP QUIZ with Michelle Kwan

The mighty Disney empire could not lure David Letterman to ABC but did sign Olympic skater Michelle Kwan to a three-year contract. Kwan, 21, who finished second in the World Figure Skating Championships on March 23, will help promote Disney entertainment. “It gives me something else to do besides skate,” she told Scoot. “It’s exciting.”

Okay, Ms. Disney. Michelle Kwan vs. Cinderella. Compare. Contrast. Discuss.

Um, well, she had two mean stepsisters and I have one most amazing sister [Karen, 23]. She wears glass slippers, and I wear skates. I can say that we both have to be home by midnight!

Favorite rides at Disneyland?

Space Mountain for the thrills. For the classic, It’s a Small World.

After all these years, can’t they get rid of that yo ho song on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride?

But you can’t! It’s like trying to change the lyrics to “Over the Rainbow.”

What’s your life like now?

The last few months I had just been training and training. I put school [UCLA] on hold. I pretty much put all ideas on hold. Seriously! There was no life after the 2002 Olympics as far as I was concerned. Now it’s like, “Oh, I kinda lost,” you know? [Kwan won a bronze medal.] So I’m starting to plan things.

Such as?

The door is wide open, and it’s pretty scary.

You once had a guest role on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

I think I just went, “Up, up, up!” and that was it. I would love to do TV shows. I’ve actually studied acting for a few months when I was living in L.A. and going to school.

What popular movie could be interpreted on ice?

Monsters, Inc. It has cute characters.

One last Disney question. Who would you prefer to date: Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, Pluto or Goofy?

I would have a hard time understanding Donald Duck. I don’t think Pluto talks, does he? Goofy is too goofy. So I think Mickey, definitely.


Having spent time in rehab for alcohol addiction last summer, Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean, 24, is selling his Orlando house and plans to use part of the proceeds to build a community center for recovering addicts. The 6,200-square-foot, six-bedroom mansion, on the market for $1.95 million, features a $100,000 home theater, marble Jacuzzi and stained glass window depicting Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. McLean, who became engaged to singer-actress Sarah Martin, 26, in December, plans to look for a smaller home nearby.

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