August 18, 1997 12:00 PM

Julia Roberts (currently teamed with Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory; see review, page 21) is keeping a tight lid on her latest romance. Despite one tabloid report that Ross Partridge, an aspiring actor, is her “secret new love,” I can reveal that Roberts and Partridge, both 29, have actually been having a bicoastal relationship since last December. In Los Angeles, Roberts often drops in on the good-looking 6’1″ Partridge at Le Colonial, the hot Vietnamese restaurant where he occasionally works as a bar manager and maitre d’. Partridge (who has had bit parts in The Lost World and TV’s Diagnosis Murder) recently spent six weeks with Roberts in New York City, where she keeps an apartment. He has since returned to L.A. to look for film roles. Says one source: “He’s a sweet, intelligent guy.”…

Designer Melinda Eng, who dresses movie stars such as Geena Davis and Sharon Stone, is about to go before the lens herself. She’ll play a lingerie designer in Woody Allen’s untitled new comedy, due out next year, which is set in the New York City fashion world. Allen, perhaps inspired by his girlfriend Soon-Yi Previn’s fascination with haute couture, wrote a part for an Asian-born designer. Eng, a native of Hong Kong, auditioned for Allen two weeks ago—and got the part. “I started screaming when I found out,” she says….

Whoopi Goldberg, cast as Queen Constantina in the ABC TV movie Rodgers &

Hammerstein’s Cinderella (airing in November), certainly dressed the part. The movie’s wardrobe designers had picked rhinestones for the actress to wear in the ballroom and wedding scenes. But Goldberg nixed the cheap stuff—”she prefers to wear only real jewelry,” says a source—and privately set up a deal with jeweler Harry Winston to supply her with several million dollars’ worth of baubles, including a 70-carat diamond ring valued at $9 million and a necklace worth $2.5 million. To protect the goods, Winston sent three armed guards to the movie’s L.A. set each day….

To play a heroin-addicted TV writer, the already lithe Ben Stiller (Flirting with Disaster) dropped 30 pounds in 10 weeks. Stiller, who now tips the scale at around 130, used a diet powder sold in health food stores to pare down for his starring role in Permanent Midnight, a movie based on the 1995 memoir of Jerry Stahl, who is now drug-free. Stahl is impressed. “That look of seeing the skull under the skin—he’s got it,” says the author, who wrote for Moonlighting and thirtysomething. “I have junkie friends I took him to meet, and he passed [as one of them.] If you can fake out another dope fiend, you’re home free.” Stiller and Stahl will next team up to cowrite an adaptation of Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel What Makes Sammy Run?

Mitchell Fink is on vacation.

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