updated 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

My Dad, the Star

Oprah's father, Vernon, steps out of his Nashville barbershop and onto the screen

Oprah Winfrey has attended countless movie premieres, but that didn't stop a case of nerves from kicking in as the lights dimmed inside Nashville's Regal Green Hills 16 cinema May 2. "I'm on the edge of my seat," she said. The reason? At age 70, her father, Vernon Winfrey, was set to make his big-screen debut.

Granted, Vernon's role as a family friend in the independent film Charlie's War, which stars Olympia Dukakis as a Southerner during World War II, is small and required only about four days on the set. But that hasn't stopped the elder Winfrey from thinking "he's Morgan Freeman Jr.," Oprah says. "My dad has talked so much about his role I finally said, 'Is there anybody else in the movie other than you?' "

Vernon, who runs a barbershop in Nashville, says his years of cutting hair more than prepared him for show business, "I'm kind of comical with certain customers," says Vernon, who was asked to appear in the film by one of the producers. And given the response—"Mr. Winfrey, good job"—of his daughter, he may have a new career in the making. "As soon as I go to Hollywood I might come back and cut a little hair," he says. "But the prices might not be the same."

School Days

Swathed in black chiffon Armani with Harrison Ford on her arm, Calista Flockhart returned to her alma mater, Rutgers University, May 3 to be inducted into the school's Hall of Distinguished Alumni. The high honors and hot date notwithstanding, Flockhart, 38, who graduated from New Jersey's state university as a theater major in 1988, admits she felt "very nostalgic and old." Not for lack of a good Ford escort—who held her purse and evening wrap. Joked the actress: "That's what boyfriends are for."

Alias star Jennifer Garner, meanwhile, went solo to visit George Washington High School in Charleston, W.Va., May 1. Garner, 31, popped into the cafeteria for autographs and pictures. "Our students were absolutely thrilled," says principal Jim Vickers. But when the media showed up, the alumna cut out. "I just wanted to be there for the kids," she said. "I did it from my heart."

Taking a Bid for Kids

More exciting than eBay! More exclusive than Sotheby's! It's...the school fund-raising auction! All over America, celebs are putting themselves and their wares on the block. Clint Eastwood offered his Mission Ranch hotel as a fund-raising site for the Carmel, Calif., school his daughter Morgan, 6, attends. The school raised $74,000. Country stars Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn auctioned an autographed guitar ($2,100) to help Nashville's Harding Academy, Dunn's daughter's school, build a cafeteria. Other notable examples:

Ron Howard
SCHOOL: Greenwich (Conn.) High School
CONNECTION: a friend's child attends
PRIZE: A day for two on the set of his new film, The Missing, outside Santa Fe
SOLD FOR: $3,300

Bruce Springsteen
SCHOOL: Rumson (N.J.) Country Day School
CONNECTION: His children attend
PRIZES: Signed guitar, a lesson, plus front-row seats to a concert
SOLD FOR: $27,000

Gwyneth Paltrow
SCHOOL: Little Red School House & Elizabeth Irwin High
School, New York City
CONNECTION: A friend's children attend
PRIZE: Dinner for four with Gwyneth
SOLD FOR: $6,000

Exit Strategy

Aaron Sorkin wrote most of the episodes of The West Wing. Last week, when it was announced that he was leaving The West Wing-after four seasons, tout Hollywood looked up from their skim latte and asked, with one voice, "Hey! What just happened?"

"The pressure [to succeed] was always intense," says a show insider. "But this season it seemed excruciating," Declining ratings and critical barbs appeared to be taking a toll. "Aaron would be walking around the set like a crazy man," says the insider. "Sometimes he'd be in pajamas, chain-smoking or chewing gum like crazy. He'd be in a panic because we would be ready to shoot, but he hadn't finished writing." Indeed, the show's producers, Warner Bros., had reportedly warned Sorkin about his late scripts and the budget overruns they caused. "You could tell he was struggling more than usual," says the insider. Sorkin had no comment, except for a statement noting "This has been the experience of any writer's dream."

The Real Slim Shady
Is Lara Flynn Boyle (here on Apr. 28) turning into Lara Thin Boyle? Her The Practice costars say no way. "Lara's one of the most beautiful women in the world," says Dylan McDermott. "People will always find something to pick on. You're too big; you're too small. That's why actors get paid a lot and why they're so crazy—they put up with a lot." Adds a rep for the show: "Her castmates say she just has a freaky metabolism and she eats normally."

Maximum Exposure
Once again Catherine Zeta-Jones finds herself on the unwelcome end of a photographer's lens. The actress recently won damages in a lawsuit against a British magazine for publishing unauthorized photos of her wedding to Michael Douglas. Now the celeb couple have trained their ire on a radio chain for running photos of a topless and heavily pregnant Zeta-Jones on several Web sites. Among the grainy paparazzi shots is one showing the actress smoking a cigarette on a patio in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, while pregnant with her daughter Carys, born April 20. After the pictures surfaced last month, Douglas, 58, and Zeta-Jones, 33, contacted their lawyers, who fired off an angry missive to Clear Channel Communications. The radio giant quickly agreed to remove the offending photos from their affiliates' Web sites.

with Katie Couric

Just for fun (and, of course, ratings) Today's Katie Couric and The Tonight Show's Jay Leno will swap jobs May 12. Scoop asked Couric, 46, about the host-to-host, coast-to-coast switch.

Are you funny?

Once in a while I'm a little funny. I can't come up with jokes. I repeat jokes, but I never make them up.

The hardest part of Leno's job is probably the monologue. How are you going to handle that?

I'm counting on Jay's writers. I'm hoping that they're going to be really funny. Of course I do ask all my friends if they've heard any jokes lately, and that's a little pathetic. I've asked my daughters as well, so I'm pretty much surveying everyone I know.

Any second thoughts?

I asked a friend, "Do you think this is a career ender?" The idea sounded so good, but the reality of it is starting to sink in. I'm starting to feel nauseous every time I think about it.

So you're nervous?

If I were auditioning for the job, I would be nervous, but since it's a one-night stand, I'm trying to just have a good time. Interviewing presidents, doing live coverage of world-altering breaking news events—those things make me nervous.

What does your cohost Matt Lauer think of all this?

He always has an air of detached bemusement when it comes to me and my little weird things. I think he thinks it's fun. Obviously, he doesn't. want me to fall on my face because he doesn't want it to affect him. He's rooting for me.

Are you preparing in any special way?

No, no, no. I have not been studying 20 years of Tonight shows, and I haven't gone to a class in the art of joke-telling.

All in all, you sound relatively confident.

I'm stacking the audience with all my friends and family, by the way.



Looks like Rachel Hunter has found her model home. The former Mrs. Rod Stewart and recent celebrity judge on ABC's reality show Are You Hot?has moved into a Sherman Oaks, Calif., house for a little more than $2 million. The 6,000-sq.-ft. Mediterranean-style residence features views of the San Fernando Valley, 7 bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms and a pool—a necessity for a swimsuit model. Hunter, 33, sold her previous home, an English-country-style residence in Beverly Hills, in March for nearly $2.95 million.

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