By Merle Ginsberg
Updated June 29, 1987 12:00 PM

Donna Rice has been seeking advice on how to recharge her career now that the Gary Hart episode is behind her. One person she sought out is Entertainment Tonight’s Leeza Gibbons. Actually, the two shining blondes grew up near each other in South Carolina, attended the same high school, were both cheerleaders and went to the University of South Carolina. Leeza clearly remembers that in high school, Donna was “very well liked. She was a strong student. She had a strong faith. And she was always attracted to strong personalities.” So what pearls of careerism did Gibbons toss her way? “I think she should make the best of her situation,” offers the fellow cheerleader. “She’s hesitant to do that for fear of being looked at as an opportunist. But she has to find a way to win, and I think she’ll do that.”

Ishtar may not be the only Warren Beatty bomb this summer. The Pick-Up Artist, which Beatty’s company produced, is generating a lot of negative advance word in Hollywood. Scheduled for release in the dog days of August, the movie stars Molly Ringwald and Robert (Back to School) Downey, as an incorrigible womanizer. The studio, 20th Century Fox, hasn’t even seen the finished film yet. Although Beatty is a pal of Ringwald’s and frequently visited the set, his name won’t appear on the film. Still, anything would do better at the box office than Ishtar. Artist only cost $8 million to make—probably about what Ishtar spent on sand.

Franco Zeffirelli has chosen his old pal Elizabeth Taylor to play an opera singer in his bio-flick of conductor Arturo Toscanini. “She’s the last great diva who exists in the world,” says Zeffirelli of Liz. Shooting begins in Rome in mid-August…. While on the subject of Italy, a group known as the Italian Friends of Frank Sinatra has offered a $4,000 prize to anybody who can present convincing proof of where in Sicily Sinatra’s father was born. The singer is winding up a concert tour in Italy and had hoped to visit his father’s birthplace—except no one can agree where it is. So much for that sentimental journey.

Prince Rainier can relax. Those gold Cartier rings on the fingers of daughter Stephanie, 22, and her loverboy Mario Oliver, 35, are not what they seem. Prelaw student Verna Richland, the American love Mario left for the princess, bought it for his latest birthday. And Stephanie’s is left over from her fling with Rob Lowe. Tight as Stephanie and Mario are these days—she’s living with him in L.A. where he runs a nightspot—she arrived unescorted at the Princess Grace Foundation charity bash in New York. Mario, who once was accused of raping a woman at an L.A. party, came with her to New York even though he had been blackballed from the event by the Prince. When Stephanie tried calling Mario that evening, he was out, causing her to weep all over her gold dress. Maybe Rainier should worry a little, after all.

Don Johnson has started the Don Johnson Co., an independent production company that will develop projects for TV and feature films. Johnson, 37, threw a party in honor of his new business. The bash was conspicuously short on stars, bimbos and members of the press but long on studio execs and screenwriters. And, says spokesperson Elliott Mintz, “to show how serious he is, Don wore a tie—and socks.”

To promote the 50th anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Disney people are turning to a new frontier: the solar system. The ever inventive studio has arranged to simulcast a medley of Heigh-Ho and Whistle While You Work over some 1,200 radio stations on July 17. The Voice of America will probably beam the dwarf ditties behind the Iron Curtain.

In case you care, Michael Jackson is now offering the London Hospital Medical College museum $1 million—double his previous bid—to buy the remains of so-called Elephant Man John Merrick, who had been resting in peace since 1890 until the Gloved One got involved. Will the money talk? Not likely.