"Usually I've had to take women bowling, which doesn't get the same response," says NBC's Late Night talk show host, Conan O'Brien, of the White House state dinner to which he took his girlfriend, Late Night talent booker Lynn Kaplan, two weeks ago. The festivities, held under a tent on the White House lawn, honored Irish President Mary Robinson. "For dessert, they served a mousse with an edible Irish flag sticking out of it, so all us Irish were forced to eat the flag, which I decided was the greatest form of patriotism," says O'Brien, 33, who didn't roam far from the green. "White House security was careful to keep me out of the house, but then that usually happens at every party I go to." It was the third time O'Brien has met President Clinton. So now they're pals? "I wouldn't go that far," says the comedian. "The President would issue a swift denial. I wouldn't feel comfortable calling him up to say, 'Hey, I'm in Washington, and my car won't start! Could you come over and pick me up?' "
Detroit Piston Grant Hill, 23, the NBA's hot young superstar, will wear the red, white and blue as a member of Dream Team III at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta next month. "If we lose, we will be kicked out of the United States," jokes Hill, who says he wants to meet other athletes from around the world but laughs at the idea of the Dream Team bunking in the Olympic Village. "Can you imagine Michael Jordan in the village?" he says. "You gotta understand: We're a little spoiled. We'll be staying in a hotel with AC and all that good stuff." And forget about roommates. "No roommates in the NBA. Too many egos to share a room."
DRIVE, SHE SAID
Sharon Lawrence, who plays sensible assistant D.A. Sylvia Costas on ABC's NYPD Blue, exceeded the speed limit on purpose recently when she took the wheel of a Toyota Celica GT Liftback in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race held in Long Beach, Calif. (Lawrence finished a respectable 10th.) "I like different sensations," says Lawrence 35. "I also jumped out of an airplane. I wanted to feel what it was like." Not that her courage knows no bounds. "The thing I'm afraid of," says Lawrence, who will appear less frequently on NYPD next season to work on Fired Up, a new NBC sitcom scheduled as a mid-season replacement, "is that I'll buy a house that in two years I won't like. I've only ever sublet. Commitment is scary for me." Explains Lawrence, who is single: "I date, but I like my independence."
THINK OF ENGLAND
After baring her soul as a wistful romantic in Sense and Sensibility, English actress Kate Winslet bares the rest of herself as Sue Bride-head, a feisty, independent-minded heroine in Jude. The film, based on Thomas Hardy's 19th-century novel Jude the Obscure, is due this fall. How comfortable was Winslet in her first nude scene? "Not at all! No way! Oh, it was awful," says Winslet, 20, who also stars as Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh's forthcoming Hamlet. "I was so nervous, I starved myself for a month beforehand. I went through all the paranoias: 'My bum's massive. My breasts are saggy. I've got a spotty back. Chicken arms. I can't do it.' " But she did. "I just had to keep remembering that the scene was a real turning point in the story and to get on with it. At the end of the day, you forget that you're completely naked."