January 15, 1996 12:00 PM

DARDEN ON THE DEFENSIVE?

Johnnie Cochran and Christopher Darden shook hands, acted cordially and even chatted about their respective book deals when they met in Los Angeles just before a Dec. 18 tribute to Darden, held at the Afro-American Museum. After the event, though, it was a different matter. According to sources there, Darden abruptly left the building, choosing not even to attend a private post-tribute party. Cochran says he wanted to greet Darden after his speech, “but he just went off and left.” A source says Darden ignored Cochran afterward because the prosecutor still harbors ill feelings toward the defense for calling his ethnicity into question during the O.J. Simpson trial….

Lucie Arnaz will write a preface to her mother’s recently discovered autobiography, which is expected to draw bids in the million-dollar range when it is auctioned to publishers this month. The manuscript, which was found among the papers of Lucille Ball’s former publicist, was completed in the early ’60s, after Ball’s split from Desi Arnaz. It covers her childhood, early career and personal life through the divorce. No one is more stunned than Gary Morton, Ball’s second husband and widower. “All I can tell you is that I never even heard of it,” he says. “I sure look forward to reading whatever it is.”…

Actress Amy Irving is finally getting her wish: She will leave L.A. permanently in June and move back to her hometown of New York City with her family (director Bruno Barreto, their son Gabriel, 5, and her son Max, 10, whose father is Steven Spielberg)….

‘Twas the season to be grateful for pop saxophonist Kenny G., who watched as L.A. firefighters managed to save his $1.87 million home in the Hollywood Hills last month. Although the house did suffer damage in the range of $275,000, Kenny showed his appreciation by later having Christmas gift baskets dropped off to each of the 10 fire companies that responded to the blaze and by making a sizable donation to the L.A. Fireman’s Relief Association…

Ed and Me, a comedy due out this spring, isn’t the only movie project that Matt LeBlanc of Friends has going. He also has a starring role in Lookin’ Italian, an extremely low-budget ($1 million) drama about a young man who comes to L.A. to live with his uncle, an ex-mobster. LeBlanc finished the movie in early ’94, right before he was cast in Friends. The director, Guy Magar, tells me he mortgaged his home to make the film (which costars singer Lou Rawls as the uncle’s friend) but had been unable to land a distributor. Now, he says, “I am in negotiations with one, and I’m sure Matt’s current status on TV has a lot to do with it.”

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