NEXT SUPERSTAR? JAMES CAAN HAS IT TIED UP

A new superstar has indisputably arrived when in one year—next—he shares equal billing (and holds his own) with Queen Barbra of Hollywood, and their picture, Funny Lady, is chosen for the annual Royal Film performance in March by Queen Elizabeth of England. "I don't have to curtsy, do I?" asks the actor in question, James Caan. Then trying out ice-breaking dialogue for the royal reception line, he experiments with: "How about a kiss on the lips, babe?"

Caan has the same sort of lèse majesté mouth as Burt Reynolds but does take acting, if not himself, with higher sobriety. At 35, Jimmy's credits include the dying halfback in the wrenching TV drama, Brian's Song, the savage Sonny Corleone in The Godfather and the roistering sailor in Cinderella Liberty. His current performance in The Gambler as an action-addicted English professor almost certainly sets him up for an Oscar nomination in February. All of this, naturally, inflates the price of Jimmy Caan. In the original Godfather, he pulled $35,000 for nearly three months' work; by the time of the sequel, he fetched the same for two days' shooting for a cameo role. Further indication that Caan is hoisting himself into Newman-McQueen country is the $700,000-plus-10%-of-the-gross Sam Peckinpah coughed up to sign him for his upcoming Killer Elite.

That sort of swag has subsidized Caan's new hobby—rodeo-circuit competition—an unlikely sport for a street kid from New York's Queens and the son of a kosher butcher. But Jimmy hasn't forgotten the old gang that "snuck into movies (but we never robbed no candy stores)." He shares his new Beverly Hills mansion with his girlfriend, top model and ex-Playboy playmate Connie Kreski, his brother and his girlfriend, two pit bulls and a parrot named Walter. Jimmy even brought his brother-in-law Marty Licker out to the Coast as business manager. But neither the family entourage nor other trappings of his hot streak are turning Caan's reddish head. If he cools off come '76, says Jimmy, "I'm not going to put a bullet in my head over it. Hell, I might wind up doing a three-partner Dating Game."

WHO SAID FEMALE LEADS ARE DEAD?

It's possibly an injustice that a movie debut playing opposite Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, no less—and directed by Mike Nichols—is wasted on a blasé Radcliffe alumna with independent money. But Stockard Channing's performance in Fortune is already being likened to an earlier electrifying Nichols discovery in The Graduate, and being called the "female Dustin Hoffman" doesn't faze 28-year-old Channing. "I'm a character actress," she says. "When I'm ugly, I'm Brando. When I'm beautiful, I'm Dyan Cannon. But don't get me wrong, I do relate to sex roles too."

In such cool, classy films as Blood Wedding and Le Boucher by her French filmmaker husband, Claude Chabrol, actress Stephane Audran has for years been a private treasure in what's left of the art-house movie market in America. One U.S. critic, overwhelmed with Stephane's performance in Chabrol's La Femme Infidèle, praised her smile in a particular scene as "one of the finest small passages in the history of cinema." The full flavor of this mature (41) French sex symbol will finally go public in the States next year. Her first American movie is The Blackbird, a spoof of The Maltese Falcon, starring George Segal.

For a half-dozen years the tacky looks and slattern manner of Karen Black have been improperly appreciated in bombs like Portnoy's Complaint, Great Gatsby, and, currently, in Airport 1975. Come February, however, in The Day of the Locust, director John Schlesinger's film of Nathanael West's cynical epic on that "dream dump," Hollywood, Karen will be seen in her richest role since Five Easy Pieces, if not ever: the Harlow-like movie extra who dreams of stardom but never attains it. Karen, now 32, need herself dream no more.