Pride and Joy
The NAACP celebrates a big night with style

"I wanted to wear something different and sassy," said Serena Williams at the NAACP Image Awards March 8 in Los Angeles. She got her wish in an outfit designed by Bradley Bayou for Halston and set the tone for a glamorous evening celebrating everything from Halle Berry playing a James Bond vixen to Denzel Washington's acting in Antwone Fisher. There was a note of discord: The Rosa Parks Story won best TV movie, but the civil rights legend herself, now 90, didn't attend, in part because a character in Barbershop played by Image Awards host Cedric the Entertainer had disparaged Parks.

Oscar: the Homestretch

The annual Academy Awards nominees' luncheon, held March 10 at the Beverly Hilton, is one of the last chances for Hollywood's chosen few to party and preen before Oscar week arrives. Who were the winners at this important warm-up event?

MOST INNOVATIVE ACCESSORIZER
The 8½-months-pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones insisted she would attend Oscar night, even if she had to bring "an ob-gyn tucked into my dress."

MOST REFRESHING Questioned about his thoughts on a possible war, Daniel Day-Lewis said, "I honestly believe we're sick and tired of people in my position giving our opinions."

MOST CONFLICTED Has Diane Lane been inundated with free-dress offers? "I would say no," said the actress, "but in reality, yes."

MOST PHILOSOPHICAL "I don't want to worry about the past, and I don't want to worry about the future," opined Nicolas Cage. "I just want to be there in the moment."

MOST HONEST When asked to assess the Best Supporting Actor race, Christopher Walken said, "I hope I win."

Tony Rolls the Dice
Saying no to Tony Soprano can be risky. Yet in a salary face-off with James Gandolfini—the actor reportedly wants a raise from his current $400,000 to as much as $1 million an episode-HBO is playing hardball. On March 6, Gandolfini, 41, infuriated the cable network by filing a court complaint stating that he isn't obligated to return for the fifth season of The Sopranos because of a contract breach. Meanwhile HBO has filed a countersuit seeking $100 million if the actor does not go back to work. Shooting is scheduled to begin on March 24. "HBO won't be bullied," says Bert Fields, the network's lawyer. Gandolfini's hope? "We expect this matter to be solved amicably," say his representative, "and feel confident that it will be." And no hard feelngs. Said Gandolfini: "It's a wonderful place to work."

Flatley Denies It
On March 4, Tyna Marie Robertson, 30, a Chicago real estate agent, filed a $35 million lawsuit accusing Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley of raping her in Las Vegas in October. Flatley, 44, who insists the encounter was consensual, is countersuing for $100 million, alleging extortion and defamation. "It's a terrible thing to do to someone," says Flatley's lawyer Bert Fields. Retorts Robertson's lawyer Dean Mauro: "He should be a man and turn himself in."

Sending Out an SOS
When New Age entrepreneur Alfred Savinelli of Taos, N. Mex., testified in a federal court in Topeka, Kans., last month that he helped procure chemicals for a man accused of possessing LSD, Savinelli also revealed that his legal fees were paid by Sting and Paul Simon. Huh? "Paul is friends with Alfred," says a rep for the singer, who adds that the two met through a mutual yoga instructor. Sting is also apparently an old yoga pal of Savinelli's. Says the singer's spokesperson: "If you know Sting, he lends people money. He's generally an easy touch."

They Stole Cher's Hair!

If she could turn back time, Cher might opt for better backstage security. During a Feb. 25 stop in Richmond, Va., on her farewell concert tour, a beaded, braided, teal-and-black wig-valued at between $8,000 and $10,000-disappeared. After waiting about 40 hours to determine that it wasn't misplaced, the singer reported the theft to Richmond Coliseum officials. On March 3 a missing-hair report was filed with Richmond police. The next day the wig, a bit worse for wear, turned up at a local precinct. (The cops won't identify the wig bearer.) Richmond Detective William Brereton says a sticky-fingered fan is suspected. "We've got a pretty solid case, says. But since Cher hasn't pressed charges, there haven't been any arrests. Says Brereton: "I think she's satisfied she got her property back."

Well, yes and no. "We got it back in such horrible condition, we're going to have to take it apart," Cher told PEOPLE. "If it was a regular wig, I couldn't care less. But the show is so specific. This is a wig that goes with a Hindu outfit." The thief, she says, deprived subsequent audiences of an element of her show. Refreshingly, however, Cher does have a sense of perspective. "In the scope of what's going on in the world," she says, "it's nothing."

Name That Wilson

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POP QUIZ
with Dave Chappelle

On Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show, stand—up Dave Chappelle takes an odd assortment of characters—Rin Tin Tin, Jedi knights, the wiggly girl in a popular car commercial-and finds humor in them all. Scoop cornered Chappelle, 29, to find out what makes him tick.

When did you decide to be a comic?

People tell me I was funny all my life. But when I read an article about Bill Cosby, I decided I was going to make a living doing it. That was 1987.

Any role models?

When I started, Eddie Murphy was the man! He was comedy's Michael Jordan.

Ever have any doubts about your career choice?

Every Wednesday, before the show. No, for the most part, I always believed in what I was doing. But it's show business, so every once in a while you do feel insecure.

Some of your material is very controversial. Do you ever worry about backlash?

I try to stay away from all that stuff. I hate the idea of people watching the show and getting mad, because it's all done in the spirit of comedy. I'm just hoping that people can broaden their horizons.

Are there any particularly easy targets in our culture?

Reality TV and the Republican Administration are always good fodder. It's always good, in stressful times like this, to just come out and make fun of the things that make people anxious, because in a way it is empowering to laugh at things that worry you.

Who's the funniest comic of all time?

Richard Pryor. His jokes were primarily about his experiences as a black dude, but everyone could relate to them.

Is social satire important?

It's got to be funny first. I don't want to be too heavy-handed or preachy. People can watch CNN for that.

ON THE BLOCK

URICH'S RETREAT
In 2000 Robert Urich and his wife, Heather, built their dream home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., in a gated community near the fairways of the Sherwood Country Club. The 8,531-sq.-ft. Cape Cod-style house features five bedrooms, a home theater, a four-car garage and an octagonal turret overlooking the pool. Urich died of cancer last April at 55. Now, says listing agent Erin Pohl: "the house is just too vast for Heather, and she wants to be closer to her family [in Sherman Oaks, Calif.]." Asking price: $4,495,000.

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