Plus: Givens off the hook, Johnny Cash estate cashes in, and more

By Stephen M. Silverman
September 15, 2004 08:00 AM

EMBARKED: Fresh from her acclaimed “Re-Invention” tour, Madonna leaves on Wednesday, the eve of the Jewish New Year, for a spiritual pilgrimage to Israel to practice her newfound faith in the mystical Jewish Kabbalah, Reuters reports. The Catholic-bred singer’s journey is likely to raise controversy among some ultra-Orthodox Jews afraid that the growing popularity of the movement among non-Jews is nothing more than a trend that demeans their religious beliefs. Madonna, 46, who recently adopted the Hebrew name Esther and wears a trademark Kabbalah red string on her wrist, has said she is serious about her belief in Jewish mysticism and irritated by accusations her faith is nothing more than a celebrity fad.

DISMISSED: Charges have been dismissed against actress Robin Givens after three police officers failed to show up for her Miami traffic court trial for allegedly running over an 89-year-old pedestrian’s leg on Jan. 28, reports the Associated Press. (The alleged victim, Maria Antonia Alcover, filed a civil suit against Givens in June.) Givens was ticketed for failing to use due care with a pedestrian in the crosswalk, an offense carrying a fine of less than $70. The charge was dropped when the officers didn’t come to court.

FETCHED: An auction of items from Johnny Cash’s estate took in $1.24 million on Tuesday (the two-day sale ends Thursday) as collectors paid as much as 15 times the expected amount for the late country music star’s belongings, reports Reuters. Bidding topped out at $131,200 for a custom-made guitar used by Cash on his tours. The Grammer model guitar had been expected to bring in $10,000 to $20,000. Country music’s “Man in Black,” Cash died last September after complications from diabetes.

INVESTIGATED: Authorities in Virginia are investigating a suspicious mailing sent to bestselling author John Grisham, 49, at his farm, AP reports. “It appeared to be a potentially explosive device,” said Lee Catlin, a spokeswoman for Albemarle County. “But a state police evaluation determined it was not a functional explosive device.” County fire marshal Bob Lowry said Tuesday the large envelope was placed in Grisham’s mailbox Saturday but was not delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. Grisham’s lawyer, Patricia McGraw, said Grisham “has no idea who’s behind this and will have no further comment.”

HONORED: Children’s author Judy Blume has been named this year’s winner of an honorary National Book Award for contributions to American letters, AP reports. While past winners include Arthur Miller, Philip Roth and Eudora Welty, in recent years the medal has gone just as often to writers of genres once disregarded by the literary establishment. Ray Bradbury, the science fiction master, won in 2000. Stephen King, known for his horror tales, received the prize last year.

RESPONDED: DreamWorks is defending its upcoming computer-animated film Shark Tale against mounting criticism from Italian-American groups who say the movie’s gangster-like Shark characters (such as Don Lino, a “cod father” voiced by Robert De Niro) foster ethnic stereotypes. Studio spokesman Andy Spahn said the emphasis of the film’s humor was on pop culture and Hollywood parodies, similar to DreamWorks’ hit storybook satires Shrek and Shrek 2. “It’s a family comedy that pokes fun at a number of film genres,” Spahn told Reuters. “It doesn’t demean anyone, there are no negative stereotypes. There is nothing mean-spirited in the film.”

UNAMUSED: Sacha Baron Cohen, 32, better known as Ali G, has again come under fire for one of his routines, this time from the U.S. Embassy of Kazakhstan, reports the New Yorker magazine. Borat, a fictitious Kazakhstan character played by Baron on his HBO Da Ali G Show, does not accurately represent the people in that country, says the embassy’s press secretary, Roman Vassilenko. For instance, contrary to what Borat has said, gypsy catching is not a legitimate profession in Kazakhstan. The Anti-Defamation League has already voiced its displeasure with Borat’s “In My Country There Is a Problem” – which contains the lyric “Throw the Jew down the well” and which Cohen (who is Jewish) got the patrons of a U.S. country bar to sing along to.