Count Him Out
Redford rebuffs Bush official's appeal to meet

Focus

When longtime environmentalist Robert Redford told The Washington Post that appointing Gale Norton U.S. Interior Secretary was "like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop," Norton didn't bite back. Instead she sent the star an invitation to attend the release of rare California condors into the wilderness. "Perhaps," she added, "we can also discuss the best way to conserve America's unspoiled landscapes and the wild creatures who inhabit them."

Perhaps not. Redford, who lives in Utah, promptly rejected the offer in a letter, upbraiding Norton for allegedly having "compiled an abysmal record" on such matters as reintroducing grizzly bears onto federal lands in Idaho and Montana, opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling and relaxing standards for hard-rock mining. Attend a condor photo op? Redford wrote that his time would be better spent fighting "the devastating environmental repercussions of the agenda you and President Bush embrace."

Ouch! Norton's rep Mark Pfeifle dismissed the attack as "scurrilous" but later jokingly added, "It was hardly an Indecent Proposal for Mr. Redford to spend an afternoon with Ordinary People releasing an endangered bird." And the attack won't sway Norton's box office tastes. She remains a Redford fan, Pfeifle says: "She has seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid several times. She also enjoyed Three Days of the Condor."

Wanted: A New Broom

The comely coven of Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs on Charmed, The WB's witching hour, is one spellcaster short after Doherty exited May 11 following the filming of the final episode for the show's third season. Officially the split was amicable, but a source says, "There were a lot of conflicts between Alyssa and Shannen. The two didn't get along, and Shannen wanted out." No replacement has been named so far.

Doherty's spokeswoman had no comment on the alleged strain between the two actresses, other than to say that "Shannen and Holly Marie are best of friends." (You do the math.) Milano's rep did not return calls.

Still, the three refused to let trouble bubble while filming the season finale, which Doherty directed. "How could they not talk to each other," said a Charmed rep, "if she was directing?"

The Death of a Dirty Dancer

Jennifer Stahl flirted briefly with fame—she was one of eight backup dancers to Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1987 hit Dirty Dancing—before sliding back into obscurity. But Stahl, 39, made a tragic curtain call on May 10 when two gunmen shot and killed her and two friends during a robbery in her sixth-floor apartment above Manhattan's famed Carnegie Deli. Police have named 19-year-old Sean Salley a suspect in the murders. (Police believe Salley and another gunman were after cash Stahl earned dealing marijuana.)

Sordid details aside, "she was an incredible dancer," producer Linda Gottlieb recalls of Stahl, a Titusville, N.J., native who was cast in Dancing from more than 100 hopefuls. Yet by 1992 her acting career had fizzled, and Stahl switched to singing, even cutting a CD, which was sold in Japan. Says Carnegie Deli's Sandy Levine: "You'd see her early in the morning running to auditions."

Preston's Whiff of Danger
Addressing the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on May 11 about the hazards of household toxins, Kelly Preston became emotional recalling how her son Jett, 9 (with husband John Travolta), nearly died after inhaling fumes from carpet-cleaning agents in 1994. Said Preston, who advocates clear warning labels: "We almost lost him."

For Blake, More Waiting
While police in Los Angeles continue their investigation of the May 4 murder of Robert Blake's wife, Bonny Bakley, the actor has kept a low profile. "A couple of days ago he snuck out of the house, and we hung out and looked at the birds," says Blake's bodyguard Earle Caldwell. "He doesn't look good." And while detectives have not ruled out anyone as a suspect, one friend swears that Blake's innocent. "He's not a killer," says John Solari, who met Blake filming 1997's Lost Highway. How does he know? He claims he offered to kill Bakley himself—"take her off the roster"—but Blake, who had bonded with his and Bakley's daughter Rose, passed. "He said, 'I gotta make this work,' " Solari says.

Haunting the White House
"Being dead has never been so fun," says Kathryn Joosten, 61, whose West Wing character, presidential secretary Mrs. Landingham, died in a car wreck in the May 9 episode. Why so chipper? A series insider hints that Mrs. Landingham will return periodically from beyond the grave for private talks with President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen). Joosten, who knew of her character's fate months ahead of time, never let the plot twist out of the bag to friends. "We're better at holding secrets than the actual White House," she said jokingly.

POP QUIZ

with Emeril Lagasse

Bam! Look who's getting a sitcom, on NBC this fall. It's chef Emeril Lagasse, primed for prime time (Tuesday nights at 8 EST) with a series exploring life behind and beyond the kitchen counter. From his home near New Orleans, Lagasse, 41, spoke of making the leap from cable cooking to comedy.

Is food funny?

The show is not just about food. There are a lot of characters involved besides me. It's great chemistry.

So we won't be laughing at a fallen soufflé?

The whole food thing has to be authentic. If I'm cooking a duck étouffée, it has to be real.

What's the plot?

It's about a guy who has a cooking show on a cable network, but it's not just about that. It's a lot about the workplace and working relationships. And eventually I'll come home, and my kids will get life lessons through food. It's very loose. It's about connecting people with food and making them happy with food.

Whose idea was this?

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason. We met. We bonded. Nobody really knew if I could act. With my current (cable) show, it's not scripted. We have about 10 to 15 seconds of dialogue, and then God knows where it's going.

And someone bought this?

Most of the networks were not interested [until NBC's Jeff Zucker] basically said to [the Thomasons], "You don't have to sell me on Emeril. Bring me Emeril."

What television shows do you like?

I love The Sopranos. And I'm really impressed with Frasier.

Afraid of your upcoming competition?

We're definitely the underdogs.

What's the difference between the TV Emeril and the real Emeril?

It's the same guy. I'm juggling all these things, just like in real life, and I also do a cooking show.

Singapore Slings Janet's New CD
Cementing its status as one of the strictest parents in the family of nations, Singapore's government has banned Janet Jackson's All for You CD, citing the track "Would You Mind" for "sexually explicit lyrics." (Consider: "I just wanna touch you, tease you, lick you.") EMI, Jackson's distributor, has appealed. Singapore's censors, who have been banning pop songs since 1963 (declaring Peter, Paul and Mary's "Puff, the Magic Dragon" a veiled reference to marijuana), are expected to rule by the end of June.

ON THE BLOCK

REDDY'S RETREAT
She is strong. She is invincible. And now singer Helen ("I Am Woman") Reddy is on the move, selling her 3,700-sq.-ft, three-bedroom house in Santa Monica for $1.05 million. The gated estate, which she has owned for 17 years, overlooks the Brentwood Country Club. The Australian-born Reddy, 59, divorced and the mother of two, plans to relocate to Norfolk Island, 900 miles east of Brisbane, where her English ancestors settled in the 18th century. Current residents include Reddy's cousin by marriage, The Thorn Birds author Colleen McCullough.

  • Contributors:
  • Ting Yu,
  • Liza Hamm,
  • Ron Arias,
  • Lorenzo Benet,
  • Matt Birkbeck,
  • Jen Chaney,
  • Mark Dagostino,
  • Johnny Dodd,
  • Macon Morehouse,
  • Chris Rose,
  • Michele Stueven,
  • Frank Swertlow,
  • Joseph V. Tirella.