The Gladiator beefs up his guard after the Feds uncover a kidnap plot
On the list of movie stars evil villains should not attempt to kidnap, Russell Crowe would seem to rank near the top. Nevertheless, in a plot twist better than most Hollywood scripts, the FBI has confirmed that the Oscar-nominated Gladiator star is indeed the target of a very real abduction scheme. "Yes, we're aware of it," says Crowe's publicist Robin Baum. "The FBI has been really helpful in guiding us, and we've taken precautions."
Such precautions began in January, when the Australian actor, 36, attended the Golden Globe Awards in L.A. flanked, according to Entertainment Tonight, by undercover G-men dressed in tuxedos. A month later, at the London premiere of Proof of Life (in which Crowe, ironically, plays a seasoned hostage rescuer alongside ex-girlfriend Meg Ryan), the actor received similar protection from armed Scotland Yard authorities.
What was at stake? Published reports in Britain claim that mystery "gangsters" were hoping for millions of dollars in ransom. Authorities would not confirm or deny that scenario, sticking only to nonspecific comments. "We assessed a threat, decided it was credible and contacted London authorities," says the FBI's Laura Bosley. "We're continuing to investigate. It's not unusual to have a threat like that when you're dealing with high-profile people."
"We don't do protection, like the Secret Service, unless it's for a head of state from another country," says the FBI's Matthew McLaughlin, who calls the Crowe operation "a standard kidnap-threat investigation." He adds that "for celebrities, we do investigative work, and sometimes that requires us to go undercover." As for Crowe, says McLaughlin, "he's been very cooperative."
At CBS, It's Bye-Bye, Bette
It's not as if Bette Midler thought working on her sitcom was easy—or fun. "It's like a dung beetle pushing this ball of dung up a mountain," the Divine One told David Letterman last year. Still, when word came March 6 that CBS was canceling Bette, Midler and her producer, Bonnie Bruckheimer, issued a statement saying they would miss their "very talented" coworkers. Network spokesman Chris Ender blamed the end on "the same reason all shows are canceled: low ratings." Despite a promising premiere in October, Bette sunk to 72nd among all prime-time network shows for the season. Even a last-minute cast change could not help, Robert Hays, best known for the film Airplane!, made his debut as Midler's new husband on March 7—the last show to air.
From ER to Wings? TV Docs Fly High
Question: What's more fun than a defibrillator and just as effective? Answer: A fighter plane hurtling 400 mph—upside down. Taking a break from double shifts at County General Hospital, ER's resident hunks Goran Visnjic (Dr. Luka Kovac) and Erik Palladino (Dr. David Malucci) flew heart-pounding missions on Feb. 24 with the Navy's elite flight-demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, to help boost recruitment. After undergoing cursory physical exams and listening to a safety brief, Visnjic and Palladino—riding with seasoned pilots—found themselves strapped in the cockpits of F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets during respective hour-long exhibition flights. The experience, including hairpin turns and busting through G-forces, "was one of the best things I did in my life," raves Visnjic, 28, a former paratrooper in the Croatian army. "If they have a list for the space shuttle, I'll be the first one."
Palladino's flight was a bit more turbulent. "I got knocked out!" says the actor, 32, who briefly lost consciousness during a jolting G-force hit. "My character is supposed to be tough—I can't be the fighter plane wuss!"
A Monumental Move for Mary
Minneapolis is finally doing something about Mary Richards. City officials, in league with the TV Land cable network, are commissioning a lifesize bronze sculpture of Mary Richards, the fictional WJM-TV news producer played by Mary Tyler Moore on the beloved 1970s sitcom. Designs are still being considered for the statue, which will stand in Nicollet Mall, where Moore's character jubilantly flung her hat skyward during the show's opening sequence. (Officials hope the statue will capture that moment.) Moore was out of the country and unavailable for comment, but Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton told the Star Tribune that it's a fitting memorial because "Mary Richards inspired millions of women to dare to break through the glass ceiling."
The weapons and bribery charges against hip-hop impresario Sean "Puffy" Combs are expected to go to jury by March 13. Combs, asked if he held a gun in a Dec. 27, 1999, New York City club shooting, said, "Absolutely not," while on the witness stand March 1. Ex-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez did not testify.
with Jane Fonda
Inspired by Harvard professor Carol Gilligan's research suggesting that girls begin to lose confidence as they enter adolescence, Jane Fonda, 63, announced on March 2 that she would donate $12.5 million to establish the Harvard Center on Gender and Education. It will study gender stereotypes in education and create curricula for students in grades K through 12. Scoop spoke with the actress after the announcement.
What Harvard does reverberates around the world.
Give us a personal example of how gender stereotypes affect education.
I went to Grandparents Day last fall at a school that one of my grandchildren, a little girl, goes to. They had a Thanksgiving pageant—two boys dressed like pilgrims, two girls dressed like women pilgrims. The teacher read something about "the brave pilgrim fathers," and the boys pretended to shoot, bang bang. Their pilgrim wives said, "Mercy me." I was just floored. And looking around this jammed room filled with parents, no one else seemed to be seeing what I saw.
What did you do?
Right away, I went over to my granddaughter and said, "You can be brave and strong too. Don't think for a moment that you can't."
Do you blame the teacher?
It's not that the teacher is a bad person. It's just that she is passing stereotypes on to another generation, and that has to stop.
So what should teachers be telling students?
Not to buy into cultural norms that put them at risk.
You attended an all-girls high school and a single-sex college. Was that different?
I think if I had not been in an all-girls school, I probably would have been getting into a lot of trouble and not studying very hard. I was able to turn my mind to poetry and literature and nature, things that were better for my psyche than being popular.
Is being popular a big issue for girls in school? It's part of life. If you don't have a boyfriend, if you're not popular, you're an outcast.
One last question. You mentioned that you were a tomboy as a young girl. Were the boys put off by that?
I don't know if boys were put off by it. I don't know if I was accepted or not. I beat them up a lot.
ON THE BLOCK
Planet Hollywood isn't the only celebrity restaurant undergoing a change in ownership. Actor Robert Duvall has sold the Rail Stop—a diner in The Plains, Va., he bought in 1998—to his partner and chef Tom Kee for $450,000. Word of the sale leaked out some weeks ago, and pictures of Duvall no longer adorn the walls. Some dishes, like Mama Duvall's crab cakes, have disappeared. But Kee says Duvall, who owns a nearby farm, "still comes in every other day, pretty much."