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Picking on Nic
Nicolas Cage bites back after Sean Penn ridicules his career

Focus

Bigger is not necessarily better in the world of Sean Penn. Just look what he had to say about his buddy Nicolas Cage for showing his face in mainstream fare like Con Air and Face/Off. "Nic Cage is no longer an actor," Penn told The New York Times. "He could be again, but now he's more like a...performer." Oh, the slings and arrows! And there's more. Penn told Newsweek that mass-market movies like, say, Snake Eyes —another Cage thriller—can "murder" an actor's voice and make it impossible for him to do "a pure movie" again. Whatever a pure movie is. Earlier, Penn told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY that it's impossible to do "the kind of movies I want to do" if you accept a $20 million fee—just about the wage Cage earns for his current fare.

If by now you think Penn has some kind of ax to grind, Nicolas Cage is right there with you. "The door to our friendship is now closed," Cage told reporters recently. "In this business you get enough negativity from the press without having your friends dump on you in public."

The two go way back. Cage, then known as Nicolas Coppola, had a bit part in 1982's Fast Times at Ridgemont High , which featured Penn as a spaced-out surfer dude. They costarred two years later in Racing with the Moon. Since then they appeared to get along quite well. Penn even paid a recent visit to Cage and his wife, Patricia Arquette, on the set of his next film, Bringing Out the Dead. "He pretended to be our best friend," recalled Cage. "We all went out for drinks and supper and he kept calling us his family, and then the next day he stabs me in the back." Other actors jumped on the bandwagon. Nick Nolte complained to USA Today that Cage had become a one-dimensional actor; Stephen Baldwin told the New York Daily News, "I don't enjoy [Cage's] movies."

While celebrities sometimes bicker in public, all-out attacks on a fellow actor's work are rare. "Usually people in Hollywood are so opportunistic you would think they would overlook these things," says Hollywood writer Peter Biskind, author of the book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, referring to the study of Cage's movie choices.

"It is unusual—but I love it that Penn has the brains and the guts to say what he feels," says celebrity publicist Bobby Zarem. "It's healthy for everyone in society, not just actors, to say what they feel." Meanwhile, Penn's publicist, Mara Buxbaum, told Scoop that the actor's remarks were more about the film industry than a personal affront. "I know he thinks that Nic's a nice guy, and he respects his talent."

Two Guys, a Girl and a Punch in the Nose
It wasn't much of a fight, but at least an English bloke got the best of it. Holyfield-Lewis at Madison Square Garden? No, this was Brit director Guy (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) Ritchie and aspiring filmmaker Andy Bird at London's hip Met Bar in the very early hours of March 19. Ritchie, 30, sent Bird, 28, flying across two tables just as bouncers intervened to end the punch-up. "We were comparing notes about Madonna when he suddenly hit me," Bird told Britain's Mirror newspaper. Madonna? They were fighting over Madonna? Well, yes, so it seems. Both Brits have a history with the lady in question; in fact, she and Bird reportedly split up in October after she was linked to Ritchie. Ed Baines—a London chef and friend of Ritchie's—is aghast at Bird's version and prefers to cast his pal as a doughty knight-errant defending a lady's honor. "Guy sat there listening for half an hour and got more and more wound up," says Baines. "He's very honorable. This guy was going on and on. Guy got up to leave, and this guy grabbed him by the arm and said, 'You're not going anywhere.' Guy just felt a punch in the nose wouldn't do any harm." And while they were fighting over Madonna, where was the woman in question? About 5,500 miles away, attending pre-Oscar festivities.

Grape Expectations

The subtle bouquet of celebrity wafts over vineyards from California to France to New Zealand, as showbiz personalities continue to discover the joys of making their own wine. Director Francis Ford Coppola and comedian Tom Smothers have been making wine for years; French grower Gerard Depardieu, New Zealand vintner Sam Neill, and California winemakers James Garner, Alex Trebek, Fess Parker and Steven Seagal also have their own vintages. "Wine is a passionate endeavor, and actors naturally gravitate toward it," notes actress Stefanie Powers, who hosts Wine Express on cable. A star-filled tasting follows.

Name: Tom Smothers
Wine: Smothers Remick Ridge Vineyards
Comments: His brother Dick started the business in 1977, and Tom (above, left) joined later. "Making wine is a lot like show business," he says. "It's subjective and creative."

Name: Gérard Depardieu
Wine: Château de Tigné
Comments: Has said that wine making keeps the world in perspective. "When you're dealing with elements as powerful as earth, water and sun," he says, "you feel very small." His Cuvée Cyrano is sold at select Planet Hollywoods.

Name: Alex Trebek
Wine: Creston Vineyards
Comments: Produces chardonnays, cabernets and zinfandels. "I love wine," he says, "and to be able to drink a wine that we produce provides me with a great feeling of satisfaction."

Name: Francis Ford Coppola
Wine: Neibaum-Coppola Estate Wines
Comments: His grandfather made wine from Napa Valley grapes. "I just wanted to make a little home wine that we would drink ourselves and enjoy," he says, although his merlots, cabernets and zinfandels are available nationally.

ON THE BLOCK

GERE'S ROOFTOP RUCKUS
Chances are actor and Buddhist activist Richard Gere didn't win any fans in his Greenwich Village neighborhood when he expanded his three-story 19th-century townhouse. Gere's home lies within a historical district, so when he added a one-room structure to his rooftop (reportedly for praying), some neighbors were angered that its pitched roof could be seen from the street. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission intervened, warning Gere that he could be fined up to $5,000 unless he moves the structure out of view. Gere has promised to "remedy the conditions," says a commission rep, although there's no word on when the work will be done.

Stop! in the Name of Truth

Mary Wilson, one of the original members of the Supremes, helped turn the Motown sound into an American original. Today, Wilson, 55, is fighting to preserve her fellow musicians' legacy by supporting the Truth in Rock Act, federal legislation that would outlaw impostor groups who perform using the names of pop music legends. Wilson, still an active performer, talked to Scoop about her efforts.

What got you started on this crusade?

I got this gig [a Legends of Motown show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas], and I was supposed to perform with the Marvelettes. I was really happy I'd get to see all of them again. When I got there, I realized it wasn't the real Marvelettes. I really needed to do the show, so I went through with it. Later I asked my manager to tell Caesars that I couldn't do that again with a fake group. I could have bowed out at the beginning, but I had to do it because I have to earn a living.

Who owns the trademark of the Supremes?

It's owned by Motown. I can't even go out and fight the bogus groups because I don't even own the rights. That's why all these groups can pick up and become the Supremes, and that's why a judge said to me recently, "You signed away your rights; if you wanted the name, why did you sign it over to Motown?" I had to.

Have you ever seen a billboard for a fake Supremes appearance?

No, because most of these groups are concentrating on Europe, where they can get away with it. You know, they are all good singers—I don't know why they don't start then-own groups.

Why are you fighting these acts?

Integrity has gone down the drain, and we are trying to bring it back. People always say, "Poor entertainers, they always end up broke." The reason is that they didn't have a voice before, and we're trying to change that.

ON THE TOWN

MULTISTAR STATE
"Now I'm dressed for Texas," said a little-bit-too-formal Ron Howard, pulling off his tie for the Austin premiere of EDtv on March 17. The director and cast members Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Hurley, Sally Kirkland and Martin Landau saddled up with the Austin Film Society at a benefit to help purchase new digital equipment for downtown's old Paramount Theatre. "It was such a fun night," said Howard. Crowded too: Fire marshals were called in to control the fan overflow.

Paying for the Tayloring
Kate McEnroe, president of the American Movie Classics and Romance Classics networks, saved at least $167,500 on March 18. How? She came in second, behind Mattel Inc., in the bidding for the dress Liz Taylor wore to the 1969 Oscars. Periwinkle-blue and violet—to match the actress's eyes—the spectacular bosom-baring Edith Head gown, one of 56 auctioned in New York City to raise money for AIDS research, was worn by Taylor as she introduced Best Picture Midnight Cowboy. McEnroe, who dropped out at $150,000, says, "I think Mattel would have bid any amount of money."

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