Realty Wrangle
Will Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman keep James Gandolfini's $300K?

FOCUS
It's the textbook Mafia movie scenario—the sweet deal gone sour. Only, in this real-life version of the plot, the mob boss might actually have to pay up.

The deal: According to papers filed with the New York State supreme court on Oct. 25, Sopranos star James Gandolfini, 40, signed a contract on July 10 to purchase a four-story Manhattan brownstone, complete with wood-burning fireplaces and a 1920s cottage out back, from owners Uma Thurman, 31, and Ethan Hawke, 31. The property, listed at $3.6 million—for which Gandolfini plunked down a $300,000 deposit—was, at the time, a cooperative divided into three units that the actor could convert into a single residence. It appears to be a fixer-upper. "The building is a wreck, it was a mess, it had to be gutted," says Anne Snee, senior vice president and direr of townhouse sales for the Corcoran Group, who has seen the property.

The twist: Not being satisfied that Thurman and Hawke had gotten government clearance to sell the building as a condominium, Gandolfini, who has a 2-year-old son with his wife, Marcy, broke off the agreement. In response, Thurman and Hawke have filed a petition to retain the actor's $300,000 deposit.

The finale? Fuhgeddaboutit. Gandolfini may have made a deal he can't refuse. Stay tuned.

Judge: Show Her the Money
When an obscure European publication wrote that porn performer Chad Slater, 34, had had a sexual affair with Tom Cruise, 39, the actor slapped Slater with a $100 million defamation lawsuit. But not everyone is under Cruise's control. An L.A. judge has denied the actor's attempt to include Slater's ex-wife Kristina Ann Kirstin, 49, in the case. Following the suit, Kirstin sold a story about her husband's problems to the National Enquirer. She claimed First Amendment protection, saying Cruise made the issue public by suing Slater. Now Cruise must pay her $27,900 legal fees. Says his attorney: "There's no dispute that the story is false."

Clooney Strikes Back
When fledgling actors Mario Barbieri Cecchini, Gerry Donato and Robert Kalomeer were booted from the Screen Actors Guild Oct. 14 for having worked or auditioned during last year's rancorous commercial strike, George Clooney, 40, saddled up his white horse. In a letter to the SAG board, the star, who lad no personal connections to the three, urged the union to accept the actors' apologies and impose fines (which he offered to pay), rather than revoke their memberships for life. Celebrities like Elizabeth Hurley and Tiger Woods, he noted, were merely fined ($100,000) for their strike infractions. SAG board member Greg Krizman was not moved. The celebs were remorseful onetime offenders, he says, while the three expelled men admitted, at Guild hearings, repeatedly crossing picket lines. Clooney maintains his stance. Krizman says, "I don't think he did enough research here."

Hello, Sailors!
Times are dramatic, and one does what one can. For Pamela Anderson, that meant rising at 4 a.m., locking into full-primp mode and giving her all—sartorially speaking—for the nearly 5,000 sailors of the San Diego-based aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, which leaves for the Middle East later this month. Anderson's beau, rapper Kid Rock, was by her side (rumors I that they're going to have a baby are untrue, she says). Fully clad in sailor-pleasing red satin and plastic-and-rhinestone spike heels (they were "not sensible boat shoes," she concluded), Anderson blew kisses, signed autographs and posed for snapshots, to the crew's evident delight. "I'm stuck on this floating Alcatraz," said aviation technician Hector Villalobos. "But I saw Pam."

Slam, Bam, It's Fightin' Hackman
On Oct. 29 actor Gene Hackman, driving a Volvo, attempted a turn on L.A.'s Laurel Canyon Blvd. and bumped into another Volvo that had jumped the light. Then things got ugly fast. Both drivers pulled over safely, ostensibly to exchange insurance information. Then, says Dick Guttman, the actor's publicist, the man at the wheel of the second car and his male passenger came out shouting slurs at the famed actor. The driver shoved Hackman, 71, who started swinging. Then the passenger put the star of 1992's Unforgiven in a choke hold. A scuffle ensued that left all three bruised. Yet when police arrived at the scene, "the men elected not to press charges against each other," says LAPD officer Guillermo Campos. So does Hackman prefer to settle matters the old-fashioned way? "He's a gentle guy," says Guttman. "But there comes a point where you have to stand up or get knocked down. He chose to stand up."

War of the Roses
Miss America has been a float-top cherry at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade since the mid-'60s. But this year's winner, Katie Harman, 21, won't get her miracle on 34th Street. Instead, the coveted perch goes to Miss Universe, Denise Quiñones, 21, of Puerto Rico. "Recently we opened a Macy's in Puerto Rico," explains a store rep. "We worked with Miss Universe and saw what a talented singer she was." While some deem the snub unpatriotic, Donald Trump, 55, who owns half of the Miss Universe franchise, says it's just business. "Miss Universe has become the hottest thing in town," claims Trump. His solution? "Have both of them in the parade." Bob Renneisen, CEO of Miss America, scoffs at the very idea. Harman, he says, will appear at Philadelphia's Thanksgiving Day march instead. "There is no way she would appear in the same parade with Miss Universe," says Renneisen. "Think of Coke and Pepsi. If you have the real thing, why would you want an imitation?"

Saluting the Senior Stone
You can't always get what you want. But when you turn 65—as former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman did Oct. 24—you just might find, you get...a weekly check for $103 from Britain's state retirement pension plan and a citizen's bus pass, good for a free ride after rush hour in the mornings. Wyman, who owns London's popular Sticky Fingers Cafe and continues to perform with the Rhythm Kings, can keep it all. The government allows senior citizens to continue working while collecting the benefits. He may need to: Wyman will be 80 when his pension increases—by only 36 cents.

Leo the Great?
Leonardo DiCaprio has agreed to play Alexander the Great, Macedonian conqueror of Greece, Persia and Egypt, in an epic to be directed by Martin Scorsese. Seemingly it's the role of a lifetime for any actor. But beware, Leo: Cinematic history is strewn with the cringe-inducing performances by fine thespians who simply dreamed too big. To name a few...

POP QUIZ

with Joan and Melissa Rivers

In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy, Emmy officials promised a more serious tone for this year's Nov. 4 award ceremonies. That could prove a challenge to Joan and Melissa Rivers, known for their cheeky red-carpet interviews on cable's E! network. Scoop spoke with Joan, 68, and Melissa, 33, moments after they conferred by phone with their E! producers.

After two postponements, the show goes on. Relieved?
Joan: I'm glad it's going on, and I hope the women look beautiful. We should celebrate it and not be ashamed of it.

Are you toning down your act?
Joan: The first question probably won't be, "What are you wearing?" The first question is going to be, "How are you doing?" or "Were you frightened coming here today?" It's going to be much more about what's going on in the world and in our lives. But if somebody's standing there looking great, of course you're going to say, as shallow as it is, "Who the hell made those shoes?"

Will the outrageous fashions be missing?
Melissa: I think we're going to see a lot more of people's personal style, what they actually wear in a real-life situation rather than, "I'm in a gown."

Does that go for you too, Joan?
Joan: If I had to dress appropriately—or, as they say, dress age-appropriately—I would be in a shroud.

Ellen DeGeneres is the host this year. How's her fashion sense?
Melissa: Believe me, if you look at the labels and the tags and the cut of her suits, she does know what she's doing.

How does E! want you to handle the interviews?
Joan: We had a big meeting, and they took it very seriously. They said, "Don't ask any frivolous questions." You stand there talking to women who have been throwing up for weeks to fit in their dresses, and I'm supposed to ask, "Where do you stand on gun control?"

What will you be thinking of as the show begins?
Joan: Where is Björk when we need her?

ON THE BLOCK

BACKSTREET BIVOUAC

Backstreet Boy Nick Carter wanted $3.6 million for this 101-acre ranch outside Santa Barbara, Calif., $300,000 more than he paid for it in 1999. The seven-bedroom, 10,000-sq.-ft. house recently sold to an undisclosed buyer for $2.9 million. The estate, which boasts a panoramic view of the Santa Ynez mountains, features a pond, eight-stall barn, tennis court, swimming pool and indoor spa and sauna in a valley that Hollywood stars like Bo Derek, Cheryl Ladd, Noah Wyle and Michael Jackson have called home in recent years. According to Scot Foss, who handled the sale, Carter, 21, was unable to enjoy the ranch because he was always on the road.

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