Spree Spirit
For Elton John, Saturday night's all right for spending. The same goes for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday...

Focus

Looking atypically subdued, one of Britain's most affluent pop stars took the stand at London's High Court on Nov. 15, swore an oath of honesty and confirmed his name: Elton Hercules John. In a bitter lawsuit that pits John against his former accountants at Pricewaterhouse-Coopers as well as the management company of John Reid, the singer charges mismanagement of funds, claiming the defendants Owe him $28.5 million for tour expenses dating back to the 1980s. "I have a flair for songwriting or performing shows," John told the judge. "I do not have a flair for business." Rather, said the star, he had blindly entrusted Reid with his finances—resulting in one U.S. tour for which the singer received $17.8 million and Reid earned $13.5 million.

Be that as it may, during the course of John's three-hour testimony the courtroom focus seemed to shift from litigation to stupefaction at the rock star's eye-poppingly profligate lifestyle. By John's own acknowledgement, it was an existence founded on epic excess—one that, during one memorable period, eroded a quarter of the star's estimated $228 million fortune. "I am not a nest-egg person," John explained. Some sample expenses: more than $13 million for homes in Atlanta, London, Nice and Windsor, and $42 million for clothes, jewelry, art, a collection of luxury cars—including to date "14 or 15 Bentleys"—and the singer's lavish parties that, says a frequent guest, always attract "the best stars, like Liz Hurley or Sharon Stone." In fairness it should be noted that John's legendary shopping sprees are matched only by his generosity. In 1994 he sold off more than 2,000 items of clothing, raising $355,000 for his AIDS foundation. He also donated profits from his "Candle in the Wind" tribute to Princess Diana's memorial fund.

John's one great vice: In 20 months he shelled out $417,000 on fresh floral displays. "I like flowers," John said simply. "I am a single man, and I like to spend money." One fan's reaction? Paul Tuohy, in a letter to Britain's Times, noted that John's donations helped his agency, International Care St Relief, train health care workers in Kenya. "As far as I'm concerned," wrote Tuohy, "he can buy all the flowers he likes."

The View in a Stew over Soup

The View viewers just may have noticed cameras panning to a shot of coexecutive producer Bill Geddie sipping a hearty mug of Campbell's beef noodle soup. Or Barbara Walters asking, "Didn't we grow up...eating Campbell's soup?" And the rest of the cast breaking into a rendition of Campbell's famous "M'm m'm good" jingle.

What's up with that? Well, ABC, as part of an advertising deal, agreed to plug Campbell's on eight View episodes, and Walters & Co. happily joined the chorus—until media watchdogs caught their act. The problem? A longstanding tradition that journalists such as Walters, who also coanchors ABC News' 20/20, steer clear of endorsements that might compromise their objectivity. "Product placement is one thing, but product placement in the news is something entirely different," says Robert Thompson, a film and TV professor at Syracuse University. "I think The View falls somewhere in between. Barbara Walters is still part of the ABC news team." ABC rep Jeffrey Schneider maintains such endorsements on daytime shows are "nothing extraordinary," pointing out that Willard Scott's birthday segments on NBC's Today are sponsored by Smucker's. Walters, who insists she has "never participated in actual commercial presentations" in 26 years at ABC, dismisses the charges as "a tempest in a noodle soup bowl"—though not before nixing a five-minute soup-sipping contest from the lineup. "The View is an entertainment, daytime program," Walters says. "I do not feel that my credentials as a journalist have been compromised, nor will they ever be."

Great Expectations
"All the nonpregnant women are afraid to drink the water around here," jokes Gary Strangis, producer of The Practice, which—with expectant moms Camryn Manheim (due in April) and Kelli Williams—is tied for the lead in prime-time TV's baby boom with ER's tag team of Alex Kingston and Ming-Na. Hot on their heels are Frasier's Jane Leeves and Judging Amy's Amy Brenneman. But unlike the actresses on Practice and ER, whose pregnancies were written into the storylines, Brenneman (due in March) has had to conceal her roundness beneath a judge's robes, while Leeves (due in January) has supposedly packed on a few pounds from overeating in celebration of her romance with Niles. Yet despite sartorial challenges and odd cravings, all have shown that they can—and will—deliver. Particularly Ming-Na, who chose to work up until a week before her Nov. 10 due date. Says ER's supervising producer Scott Gemmill: "Everyone was joking that one of our own doctors might have to do the delivery."

Rapped in Mom's Love
In the rap-world equivalent of pinching your son's cheek and telling him how much you love him in front of all his friends, Debbie Mathers, estranged mom of hard-edged rap star Eminem (né Marshall Mathers), has released her own hip-hop song with a heartfelt entreaty for reconciliation. "Dear Marshall" strikes a decidedly warmer, fuzzier pose than her last public message to Marshall—a $10 million defamation suit filed in 1999 and still pending—that was prompted by statements he had made describing her as an unstable drug user. During recording of the new tune for the rap group ID-X's CD Set the Record Straight, says Mathers, 45, "tears kept rolling down my eyes." The song drops at least one guilt bomb—when Mom reminds Eminem, 28, that she spent 72 hours in labor bringing him into this world.

Sting Battles Jet Set
The words "human rights violation" typically conjure up images of desperate dictators and Third World sweatshops. For Sting, it seems, they also apply to plans to extend an air force base runway near his 52-acre estate in Wiltshire,
England. He filed a lawsuit against the British Ministry of Defense, arguing that increased noise levels from air traffic would infringe on his rights of privacy and family life and violate the Human Rights Act.

POP QUIZ

with Larry Hagman

Twenty years ago "Who Shot J.R.?" solidified Dallas's position as America's favorite television drama and certified Larry Hagman as its favorite villain, the oleaginous oilman J.R. Ewing. Today the cliff-hanger ranks as the second-highest rated TV show ever (behind the final episode of M*A*S*H). Scoop caught up with Hagman, 69, to talk about the meaning of it all.

What did J.R. Ewing have that America wanted?

I haven't the foggiest idea. He was the male chauvinist pig of all seasons. But—and this is conjecture—I guess women liked him because they wanted to change him. That's what women like to do. And men liked him because he got all the women and the money and he got to screw everybody else over!

"Who Shot J.R.?" aired Nov. 21, 1980. Seem like yesterday?

No, but it doesn't seem like 20 years either.

Did people beg you to spill the beans before the episode aired?

No. I felt I might be killed if I told anyone. The real Larry might get shot.

If J.R. were around today, how would he make his millions?

I'd say first of all he'd quit drinking, because he'd still be alive. And he probably would be trying to woo Sue Ellen back, because she owned the company. But generally speaking, J.R. ended up as a failure. If he made a comeback he'd probably make it by investing in Russia.

Are you hooked on any television shows today?

I never watch TV. It's all so boring. I just watch sports and Frasier. That whole show is so well-acted and so well-written that it leaves me stunned.

Dallas still airs all over the world, right?

I'm big in Romania! The reigning dictator Ceausescu had put three hours on TV—two were of political speeches, and one hour was an episode of Dallas—to show the corruptness of America. The people saw that and said, hey, why don't we have that? So they took him out and shot him. Today people from Bucharest come up to me on the street with tears in their eyes saying, "J.R. saved our country."

How does one celebrate the 20th?

Well, I'll lift a glass of ice tea in honor of J.R. and thank him for providing me with the means to live in the style that I've become accustomed to.

Depp: On the Laugh Track
Is Johnny Depp's dour film persona (think Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow) just an act? In one of his rare TV appearances since leaving Fox's 21 Jump Street in 1990, the actor reveals his jocular side by playing an American tourist for an upcoming episode of The Fast Show, a BBC sketch-comedy series with a huge cult following in the United Kingdom. Why the fondness for Brit shtick? Depp, who now lives in France, told the BBC, "America is so formula, this is so antiformula. This is so far away from the [American] sitcom kind of thing, when you count to seven and the laugh comes."

ON THE BLOCK

THE HAWKES' NEST
Turns out celebrities can have landlord trouble too. Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke had to move out of their Greenwich Village town-house recently after the owner sold the place for $3.5 million. The couple had rented three floors of the building for about $11,000 a month. The triplex has 13-foot ceilings, stained glass windows, a library and balcony. According to Peter Kleidman, the former owner, the couple particularly loved the home because it had a private garden where their 2-year-old daughter Maya Ray could play. Don't worry about Uma and Ethan, however. They just bought an apartment in another historic Manhattan area—Gramercy Park.

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