Alfie Owen-Allen, Lily Allen's Younger Brother, To Star In Equus

Arifa Akbar
Alfie Owen-Allen, the younger brother of the singer Lily Allen, is to star in the psychological stage drama Equus after his performance in a marginal film role so impressed the play's scriptwriter, Peter Shaffer, that he ordered its producer to recruit him.

Shaffer, who wrote the play in 1973, was struck by Owen-Allen's acting abilities in the film adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, in which he plays the minor character Danny Hardman.

He will replace the Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, who played the lead in the West End revival to critical acclaim earlier this year.

David Pugh, the producer, said Shaffer phoned him after watching Atonement to say he had found the perfect actor for Equus.

When Owen-Allen auditioned for the part, his portrayal of the main character, a disturbed teenager who blinds horses, was so dramatic that it moved the play's director, Thea Sharrock, to tears.

As the 21-year-old brother of Lily and the son of the actor and comedian Keith Allen, he is the youngest member of the family to prove himself as an exceptional talent.

Owen-Allen will star opposite Simon Callow in the play, which will begin a nationwide tour at the Chichester Festival on 31 January, and may return to the West End after that.

While Radcliffe will continue to play the lead in the play on Broadway next autumn, producers had encountered difficulties in finding a fitting replacement for the UK tour.

After auditioning nearly 200 young men across the country, they were left exasperated, until Shaffer's discovery, according to Mr Pugh.

"We interviewed a lot of TV actors. I spent four months auctioning 184 boys and we didn't know where to go. Then Peter Shaffer saw this young actor who he thought was really special. When we auditioned him, we all realised we had found a little gem," Mr Pugh said.

Lily Allen dedicates a song to her younger brother, called Alfie, on her debut album, Alright, Still, whose lyrics describe him as somewhat lazy.

Having heard the song, Mr Pugh was initially apprehensive about Allen's professionalism.

"Peter [Shaffer] and I agreed to meet him for breakfast at 8am and Peter said, 'If he turns up at 8, he has got the part, but if he turns up later, he hasn't.' When we arrived, Alfie was sitting there, already having ordered his bacon and eggs," said Mr Pugh.

Owen-Allen, who has has a host of minor characters in several films including Elizabeth, produced by his mother, Alison Owen, is now undergoing training for his first lead role, which requires on-stage nudity.

Mr Pugh did not dismiss the idea that Owen-Allen may also appear on the New York stage, if he proved a success in Britain.

Nicoletta Mantovani, Luciano Pavarotti's Widow Denies Family Feud Over Will

Nicoletta Mantovani, Luciano Pavarotti's widow has spoken out saying she hoped a media furor over the late opera star's inheritance would soon be over and insisted the tenor was in no way mentally impaired when he made his final will.

In a TV interview Nicoletta Mantovani, the singer's second wife, 34 years his junior, said she had no quarrel with his three daughters from his first marriage who are older than herself -- the subject of media speculation since Pavarotti's death last month.

Italian media have speculated that Pavarotti signed his last will, leaving his US assets including a New York apartment to her, while too sick to know what he was doing. An Italian magistrate has said he may look into the press reports.

The trust controlling Pavarotti's US assets is reported to be worth 15 million euros. His total fortune is estimated at up to 300 million euros ($431.1 million).

In her first interview since Pavarotti died of pancreatic cancer aged 71, Mantovani said she felt she was being treated like Yoko Ono, John Lennon's second wife, who was often vilified by Beatles fans.

"They paint me as someone who coerced (Pavarotti). It's totally unfounded," she told RAI 3 television.

"Between me and the daughters, there's no disagreement at all," Mantovani said, pointing out that the adult children were sisters to Alice, her four-year daughter by Pavarotti.

"Luciano's most important wish was that we all got on."

Mantovani said the value of the New York flat should be taken off any share of the rest of Pavarotti's estate and that should solve any argument with the other side of the family.

The rare interview was aimed at ending speculation she had conned Pavarotti, with whom she had a 14-year long relationship and whom she married in 2003.

"As long as they were just insulting me, ok then, I'm here, I can defend myself, but Luciano can't," she said.

Mantovani also confirmed media reports that she had the nerve disease multiple sclerosis, saying it was diagnosed just six months into her relationship with Pavarotti.

"The first thing he said was: 'I like everything about you'. What was fundamental for me was the acceptance from Luciano. 'Your illness is part of you, it's like part of your character'."

Mantovani said she had received a letter of support from John Lennon's widow. "Yoko Ono wanted to express her solidarity, she was very kind, I think she understands absolutely what I am going through."

Vanessa Hudgens In Lingerie With Zac Efon

Vanessa Hudgens must be getting pretty comfortable again. The adorable girlfriend of Zac Efron was photographed in various poses earlier this year including some lingerie photos and one very famous full frontal shot that made her the most typed term into search engines world wide. Did she learn anything from it? Time will tell.

It was one of her rare appearances since nude photos of her surfaced on the internet.

Hudgens clammed up when she was asked to discuss her favourite looks of the evening, inspiring Efron to pipe in: "I'm not really an underwear kind of guy, but she is."

Indeed, Efron did look bored as celebrated stripteaser Dita Von Teese performed in a gilded bird cage.

Keeping a tight grip on her man, Hudgens would say only that she liked the feathers that appeared on models throughout the evening.

Von Teese, a collector of vintage lingerie, ended her striptease with a douse of water.

She described her nearly nude costume as "a glamorous 1950s bird of paradise who goes to Vegas" with "a massive amount of very rare pheasant feathers the best money can buy."

Behind Efron and Hudgens, the Frederick's of Hollywood executives had to clear out of a VIP area to make way for Janet Jackson and her entourage, including her main man, Jermaine Dupri.

Jackson's posse arrived too late to see the fashion show, but caught a performance by the Foo Fighters.

Simpson was one of 40 celebrities who designed corsets that will be auctioned on eBay beginning Friday to raise funds for actress Jane Kaczmarek's Clothes Off Our Back.

A corset designed for the event last year by Charlize Theron netted $18,000.

But the charity's top-selling garment of all time remains Jennifer Aniston's 2002 Emmy dress, a vintage Dior that sold for $50,000.

Kaczmarek's corset design this year was based on one of her favourite films of 2006: Marie Antoinette, with fabric selected by her husband, Bradley Whitford, who gifted his wife with lingerie during their courtship.

But boys shouldn't try giving lingerie to Amanda Bynes, who said: "I think that's inappropriate. You're assuming you're going to be intimate with someone. For me, that would be strange."

Judge Dismisses Britney Spears Hit-&-Run Case As Custody Battle Continues

A Judge today dismissed a hit-and-run case against pop star Britney Spears after her lawyer revealed an out-of-court settlement was reached with the person whose car she struck in a parking lot.

But the 25-year-old performer is still on the hook for a misdemeanour count of driving without a valid licence in connection with the August 6 fender bender in Los Angeles, said City Attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan.

Spears's lawyer today entered a not guilty plea on her behalf for that charge. She was not in court and is not required to be present for the next hearing, set for November 26.

Britney had faced jail sentence

Spears had faced up to six months in jail and a $US1000 fine on each of the two counts she was originally charged with.

But the judge agreed to drop the hit-and-run case once the civil claim stemming from the incident was resolved, Mr Mateljan said.

Details of the settlement were not disclosed.

Video footage on of Spears's auto mishap shows her driving a convertible into a parked Mercedes-Benz, then asking bystanders if she "hurt" the other car before walking away without leaving a note. She was charged a month later.

Mr Mateljan said a first-time conviction for driving without a licence would typically result in probation and a fine, not jail time.

Spears's one-time nightclub cohort, socialite Paris Hilton, served three weeks in jail earlier this year for driving on a suspended license in violation of probation for a prior drunken-driving case.

Britney Spears is also due in court today, Friday for a hearing in her ongoing custody battle with ex-husband Kevin Federline. She was reported earlier this week to have regained visitation rights to the couple's two young sons.

At a late-morning hearing, Spears' lawyer was expected to argue that the pop star has complied with court orders and should regain the shared custody she lost earlier this month.

The singer and her ex-husband were expected in court later in the day.

Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon, who has said there is evidence Spears is a "habitual, frequent and continuous" user of drugs and alcohol, withdrew approval for her to even visit the children after finding she had failed to comply with some conditions for shared custody.

He later withdrew the ban and allowed her to visit Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1 — but only in the presence of a court-approved monitor.

The order by Gordon was tough and unambiguous.

Spears was to undergo random drug and alcohol tests and meet weekly with a parenting coach who would report back to the court about her parenting skills. Spears and Federline also were prohibited from making derogatory remarks about each other in their children's presence and from using "corporal punishment" to discipline them.

Both parents also were ordered to complete the court's "Parenting Without Conflict" class.

The custody fight has played out on a public stage, with paparazzi and celebrity Web sites reporting on the former couple's every move — including sightings of Spears driving with her sons and a monitor in Beverly Hills.

On Thursday, another Spears lawyer entered a not guilty plea for her on a misdemeanor charge of driving without a valid driver's license.

Michael Flanagan said Spears recently obtained a California license and he hoped the charge would be dismissed.

At the same hearing, a Superior Court judge dismissed a hit-and-run charge stemming from an Aug. 6 accident. Flanagan said his client had paid an undisclosed amount to the woman whose car the star hit in a Studio City parking lot.

Maxim Magazine, Named Sarah Jessica Parker The World Unsexiest Woman

Charlize Theron, Jessica Alba and Halle Berry are regularly named the world's sexiest women. But who are the unsexiest women alive? A men's magazine decided to find out.

The list, published in the latest edition of Maxim Magazine, named Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker as the No. 1 Unsexiest Woman Alive.

The magazine said Parker was the "least sexy woman in a group of very unsexy women" that ironically starred in a show with the word "sex" in the title.

Troubled soul singer Amy Winehouse was voted No. 2 because of her "hemorrhaging translucent skin, rat's nest mane and lashes that look more like surgically attached bats".

The mag listed Grey's Anatomy Sandra Oh at No. 3 for her "cold bedside manner and boyish figure".

Pop star Madonna took out the No. 4 spot for her "self-righteous bellyaching and rapid postnuptial deterioration".

"Combine a Paris Hilton-like pet accessorising fetish only for dirt-poor foreign babies with a mug that looks Euro-sealed to her skull, and you've got Willem Dafoe with hot flashes," Maxim Magazine said.

Britney Spears came in at No. 5 for "losing the ability to perform".

The mag also said two children, two ex-husbands and a slight weight gain also helped Britney nab the No. 5 spot.

Maxim Magazine's list of the world's unsexiest women:

1. Sarah Jessica Parker
2. Amy Winehouse
3. Sandra Oh
4. Madonna
5. Britney Spears

Britney Spears' 'Blackout' To Be A Hit

After making headlines for everything but music, Britney Spears is back with an album industry insiders say should top the charts despite her.

Over the past year the one-time Mouseketeer shaved her head, spent time in rehab, went through an ugly divorce, lost custody of her children and attacked a photographer's car.

And in an odd habit yielding endless tabloid references to the title of her biggest album - Oops!... I Did It Again - she kept getting photographed without her underwear.

Now Spears is hoping that the release of Blackout, her first studio album in four years on Oct. 30, will revive her reputation. The album has already produced Gimme More, which topped US digital charts and critics expect a hit.

But some critics who have heard her latest opus say the album's likely success has little to with her abilities and more to do with the producers.

The New York Daily News noted all the "studio trickery" made her sound like a "Brit-Bot" machine.

"If a blow-up sex doll could sing, this is what she'd sound like," wrote Jim Farber. "In terms of studio trickery, Paris Hilton's album was practically 'unplugged' compared to this."

"How wonderful it is that, in the world of slick pop, even if stars can't deliver, the machine behind them still can," he said, adding that her personal woes don't mean "Britney Spears can't turn up on some slammin' new songs."

The Times of London said that Spears should "take a certain amount of pleasure in the fact that Blackout coheres far better than sprawling recent sets by fellow Mickey Mouse Club alumni Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera."

But reviewer Pete Paphides added "certain songs wouldn't have sounded too different if her vocal were totally erased."

A Jive Records press release reveals the album's title refers to "blocking out negativity and embracing life fully."

And the lyrics make clear references to her life. In one song, she sings "I'm Miss bad media karma/Another day another drama/Guess I can't see no harm in working and being a mama."

Spears is due to appear at a Los Angeles court hearing on Friday over the custody of her kids. She and ex-husband Kevin Federline have been locked in a bitter custody battle over their kids as Spears' life has seemed to veer out of control despite a stint in drug and alcohol rehab.

Geoff Mayfield, director of charts at Billboard, said Spears' album could debut at No. 1 with sales of between 200,000 and 300,000, well down on the more than 600,000 copies sold of previous album In the Zone during its first week. The 2003 album contained the Grammy-winning song Toxic.

Spears' first-week sales peaked at more than one million for her second album, 2000's Oops!... I Did It Again, he said.

"Most artists are selling less than they did before just because the album market is down," he said. "She's not immune to that and she's already seen an erosion of her sales from what she did when she was a teen pop star."

"Even without the adverse publicity that she's had to weather I would have expected her to have a smaller number."

According to Nielsen SoundScan data, year-to-date US album sales are down 14.2 per cent in 2007 compared to 2006 as the industry grapples with the rise of digital music.

Michael Musto, entertainment columnist for New York's Village Voice, said that while he is yet to hear Blackout he has high hopes for it "because it is what she does best," although he did acknowledge that her "voice is one of many elements that are put together in a record by other people."

"It's a good time for her to come out with this and say 'look I am an artist on some level and I'm not just a walking train wreck'," he said.

Australian Actress Cate Blanchett Play Down Oscar Award propoganda

Best Actress Nominee Cate Blanchett tonight played down the Oscar hype surrounding her latest portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I.

Speaking at the London premiere of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Blanchett put Academy Awards talk surrounding her reprisal of the role which won her a Best Actress nomination in 1998 down to the "time of year".

"Oscar who?" Blanchett said in a red-carpet interview with Sky News.

When pressed on the film's chances at the awards next year, Blanchett said: "I don't know. Who knows?

"In the end, when you reprise a role, you just hope the film is going to stand on its own two feet, which I think this does.

"That's all you can hope for really."

Blanchett, her Australian supporting cast, Geoffrey Rush and Abbie Cornish, and the film's editor, Jill Billcock of Melbourne, had been early front-runners for Oscars, which will be awarded on February 24.

But the movie's hopes were hit by negative reviews in America earlier this month.

Newsday called it "overbearing", Entertainment Weekly gave it a C-plus and the New York Post described it as an "inferior follow-up" to Blanchett's first attempt at playing the English monarch.

However, Blanchett, who won the 2005 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, escaped criticism, with most reviews praising her performance.

And Shekhar Kapur, who directed both Elizabeth films, described Blanchett as "absolutely incredible".

"It's a stunning performance," he told the British Press Association.

"She deserves an Oscar - she didn't get it the first time round and she deserved it then."

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is set in 1585, with the queen continuing to face bloodlust for her throne and the lingering threat of family betrayal.

It also explores her relationship with adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh, played by Clive Owen, and age is a key theme on and off camera.

While Elizabeth reflects on her life over nearly three decades in power, Blanchett urged the film-makers to dispense with soft-focus camera techniques to ensure her character's true age was shown.

Tonight the 38-year-old Blanchett's timeless beauty shone.

Fans flooded Leicester Square in a bid to catch a glimpse of the star, who looked stunning in a grey, strapless jewelled gown, which hugged a more curvy figure than the skeletal frame shown in photographs earlier this year.

The Australian actress said she had revisited the earlier Elizabeth film in preparation for her latest role.

"We did watch it before we started shooting and I thought, 'God I've aged,"' she told Sky News.

"Enough time had passed - I was a green, young thing when I did the first one.

"As I could gradually see a really fantastic story emerge, then I felt 10 years on I had something else to offer the role."

Ellen DeGeneres Still Encourages Pet Adoption Despite Her Ordeal

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres returned to her television show on Tuesday after taking a long weekend to escape a national uproar over an adopted puppy, saying she hoped the drama would not discourage people from adopting pets.

DeGeneres, one of the country's best known entertainers, sobbed on television last week as she recounted how an animal rescue group took back a puppy she had adopted but then given to her hairstylist's family without the animal agency's permission.

The on-air tears stirred an outpouring of public support, and footage of her begging for the agency to return the dog, Iggy, was replayed endlessly. DeGeneres later made a public appeal for an end to death threats that had been reported against some of those involved.

After taking a long weekend to recover from the shaggy-dog tale that went too far, DeGeneres returned to her show on Tuesday saying the reaction to her crying on air had taken her totally by surprise, making headlines from Australia to England.

"I have always cried since I was a little kid. I am a sensitive person, I cry. I cry at commercials, I cry at stories, I cry at anything sweet, I cry at babies," she said.

"You don't want to keep in a good cry because then you get bloated ... there is nothing wrong with having feelings and I think more people should cry."

DeGeneres invited various guests involved in pet adoptions onto her show, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and online pet adoption website

"There are so many dogs and cats out there that need homes and they just need to end up in a good home," DeGeneres said.

"That is all I care about ... I don't want anybody to be discouraged from this."

DeGeneres said the crew on her television show had also been left distraught over the incident.

"People on the staff are upset because we are a family," DeGeneres said as cameras panned to crew members fake-crying into their hands and tissues.

DeGeneres, host of this year's Oscar awards, said she adopted the shaggy-haired mixed breed dog in September, but the little dog did not get along well with her cats, so she gave Iggy to her hairstylist.

The agency from which she adopted the dog, Mutts and Moms, reclaimed the dog on the grounds that DeGeneres violated the adoption agreement, which required her to return the pet to the agency if she chose not to keep it.

"I've rescued so many animals over the years ... this came out of the blue," she said.

Alek Wek's Journey From A War Child To A Refugee, Then To A Supermodel

She has been called the face of Africa. She inherited her long body from her father, her smile from her mother, and showed the fashion world that beauty could encompass more than the blonde of Claudia Schiffer or the oomph of Elle Macpherson.

Alek Wek never intended to be a model. At 19, she was approached by an agent while walking in a south London park with an English girlfriend, whom Wek considered much prettier. In her memoir, Alek, the 30-year-old Dinka woman from southern Sudan tells the story of her flight from civil war, her time as a refugee in London, and 10 years on the catwalks of Milan, Paris and New York.

Wek may not be on a first-name basis with fame - like, say, Kate - but the regal, 181-centimetre-tall model has been recognisable since 1997, the year Gilles Bensimon photographed her for the cover of American Elle and proved jet black could be beautiful.

Her brilliant career almost stalled early on when assistants to photographer Steven Meisel advised the agency promoting the beanpole-thin beauty that she should lose five pounds (2.26 kilograms) in preparation for an Italian Vogue photo shoot.

"They think you're too fat," her agent told Wek. The model, who knew what it was to starve, just scoffed.

"You're not going to nourish your body, for what? A picture? The whole weight thing is ridiculous."

Today, the model is talking to M from the three-storey, red-brick Brooklyn townhouse she bought for $US395,000 in 1998, even though it was unheard of in Dinka culture to borrow money.

Her mother Akuol, who had also made it to London with several other of her children, had taught Wek that she should never buy anything she couldn't pay for outright.

She also feared that her daughter's modelling career would lead her to take her clothes off and "put myself in bad situations". And there were times Wek wondered whether her mother's worst-case scenario had come true, as she wriggled in a leopard-print bikini to appear as an "elusive, dark, exotic creature" in a video for Tina Turner's theme song for the James Bond film GoldenEye. Or when she wore black rubber and pranced about in a studio like Dracula for a shoot for The Face. Or took off all her clothes and sat in a giant coffee cup so that her skin could represent the espresso in a Lavazza calendar. But Wek appeared less phased by the fashion industry's racial whims than other black models.

"Fashion is an accounting business," she told black fashion magazine Ebony. "It deals with beauty, appearance, products, perfume and clothes. At the end of the day, it's not rocket science or heart surgery. It was not just me, a Sudanese Dinka girl, who was met by an avalanche of criticism when I walked in the door. Everyone starting out as a model has his or her own share of criticism. We all hear, 'Her nose is too long. She is too much of a red head.' If you listen to everybody, you will go crazy. You will stop accepting yourself. And when you stop accepting yourself, what else do you have?

"But I had to learn that. When I began, I was like, 'This doesn't make sense'. It was very overwhelming. That's when I had to say, 'OK, Alek, is this something you are comfortable with? Who are you going to work with?'."

Recently, Wek took a picture of the lifeline on the palm of her hand, had it replicated on canvas, and turned the image into the lining of one of the items in her handbag range, WEK1933, named for her father's birth year.

"I'm not really into palm-reading," she says, "but it's quite interesting actually how everyone's palm and lifeline is different."

Her inspiration for the designs - sold in Australia through Marais boutique in the Royal Arcade - came from the brass-clasp briefcase carried by her father, who never made it out of Sudan.

Wek was born in the village of Wau, the seventh child to father Athian, a middle-class administrator with the local board of education, and mother Akuol, an entrepreneurial woman who made liquor and raised peanut crops.

Wek was a six-year-old tomboy when the civil war broke out, and her mother urged her to stay indoors and not wander too far, in case she was caught by rogue militias who sold children into slavery.

When Wek was nine, convoys of soldiers turned the village into a military zone. The Dinka people were increasingly blamed for trouble, and Wek says that, while her family did not take sides, they probably were more inclined to support the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which included many fellow Dinka, rather than the northern Muslims.

The family fled south through the jungle, fearing they might be killed, her father hobbling because of a bad hip, while Wek and her sister Adaw suffered malaria. They crossed crocodile-infested rivers in dugout canoes and survived on stewed leaves and roots.

"I learned just how little it takes to survive," Wek says, "which is why I don't waste things - food, money, friendships or opportunities." Nor does she take anything for granted: "I had seen so much death and destruction that I could never believe that tomorrow was guaranteed."

At 10, Wek told her mother she was fleeing on her own. She posed as the daughter of another Dinka man to get on an army flight to stay with relatives in Khartoum, where her father was in hospital: he'd had a stroke.

Wek was at her father's deathbed two years later when he told her, "Alek, you must go to London. Live at peace for once. Get an education. Do well."

Two years later, aged 14, Wek and her older sister Atheng flew to London as refugees. Wek cleaned toilets and swept up hair at a salon to pay the tuition fees for art courses.

In 1995, four years after arriving, Wek was spotted by a female talent scout from a modelling agency, but she resisted the idea of having test shots taken.

"It's so strange that I grew up to make my living off my looks," she writes, "after so many years of looking like a monster." (All her life, Wek had suffered from psoriasis all over her body, including her face - her flaky, itchy, bleeding skin making her feel repulsive. It cleared up in London's cooler climate.)

Wek hasn't remained at the top of her profession by making trouble: she is circumspect on political issues and conciliatory about race. Does she see the US as a particularly racist country?

"I don't think it's just an American problem. If it only existed here then I wouldn't have accomplished the work I do. Racism was even there in Sudan. It was ridiculous. The conflict has taken people who had gotten along and appreciated the differences in culture and pitted us against each other. Racism is everywhere. Am I going to feed into it? No. Is it everyone? Absolutely not!"

Wek says she feels "really terrible" to hear that the Australian Government has banned visa applications from Africa until June 2008, and is saddened that Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has singled out Sudanese refugees for criticism. But she declines to comment further on foreign politics. She describes US Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton as "inspiring", but won't say whether Clinton is her preferred candidate over, say, Barack Obama.

While she is cautious about saying anything overtly political, she is quick to point out the small ways that race issues affect day-to-day life. In her book, she questions the "unconscious judgements" of her boyfriend, Italian-born property developer Riccardo Sala. Wek recalls how, one day, she was choosing images of her family to frame. "These are nice," Sala remarked. "But when you put them up, you'll have nothing but black people on your wall."

How did Sala feel about her including that anecdote in the book?

"He didn't say it in a bad way," Wek says, more circumspect. "It was quite innocent. After a year or so together, he wanted to see more of me and him among the pictures, and his little nieces, whom I adore."

Wek writes about being constantly harassed and detained by US immigration officials when leaving or returning on international flights, raising suspicions even though - or perhaps because - she travels business class.

"I've been detained so many times," she says. "I've come to realise that, as a successful black woman - and a tall one at that - I represent something that triggers the hostility and suspicion of a lot of people, black and white, male and female."

Towards the end of her book, she writes of returning to Sudan in 2004 with her mother to find buildings torn down and roads pitted, neighbours and friends among the missing, and children starving. A new family was living in their old home, but the garden was dead, the fruit trees gone. Wau had become a refugee town.

Still, Wek sounds a note of hope: "These people weren't begging for hand-outs," she says. "They wanted tools and the possibility of doing something. Anything. They would find it."

Alek by Alek Wek is published by Virago, $35, and released on November 1.

Abang Othow, 25, doesn't have time for the weight issues of the fashion world.

"I think it's sooo ridiculous," she says. "Compared to where I came from, where so many people are starving, to worry about what you eat is wrong."

The Sudanese Australian model was discovered in 2002 when a girlfriend entered the 178-centimetre-tall refugee in a modelling competition. At the time, Othow was working in a St Vincent de Paul op shop in Sydney. Modelling offered a means to an end - a way to raise the money to bring her family from Africa to Australia.

And it worked. In 2004, 17 years after her mother sent her little girl to Khartoum to be treated for malaria, Othow and her friends from modelling drove out to the airport to greet her mother, sister, and brother.

At the age of six, Othow fled Sudan for Ethiopia with her father, an economics lecturer who served briefly as a Sudanese government minister. Othow started school, aged 8, in the sprawling Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Her father ultimately returned to Sudan, where he was assassinated.

"When I was alone without my family in Kenya, I went through periods of being really depressed," she told website AfricanOz "but then I knew I needed to survive. I visualised a dream: imagined conquering and achieving. I needed this to survive."

The drive that sustained Othow then keeps her going now: she studies arts at the University of NSW, works as an Education Department community aid, is an ambassador for the Red Cross and Oasis Africa and has founded a community group, Anuak Community Australia, to raise awareness of the sufferings of her tribe. "Yes, I am driven," she admits. "I believe everything is achievable. But there is still a lot to achieve."

Othow doesn't want younger African girls to think that a fashion model is all they could be, "like in the US, where all the black boys think they can become basketballers". But she agrees that, at a time when the Federal Government doesn't believe the Sudanese can integrate, modelling is a way into the hearts and minds of Australians.

"Perhaps, if they see us on TV or in magazines, they see us as normal people, maybe it helps. If I can adapt and integrate, I doubt that any Sudanese, potentially given the chance, will not do the same."

Dont Buy Britney Spears, Latest Album (Blackout) Says Her Pals

Britney Spears' friends have begged her fans to not buy her latest album, Blackout, until she cleans up her act.

The unnamed pals have set up their own group, Be Proactive to Help, to urge the public to boycott the troubled star's new LP.

Writing on their MySpace page, they begged: "Our message is simple, don't buy her stuff until she's better."

The group - who include a former bodyguard, a backing dancer and a make-up artist, as well as several old friends  want fans to contact Britney's record label Jive, her management team and MTV to air their concerns.

They said: "Let them know you'll buy her album, but not until she is clean and sober and realises the amazing life she has created for herself.

"Let them know you'll be around to buy her music and her merchandise when she sets a better example of how to be a performer."

Britney has seen her life spiral out of control since splitting from ex-husband Kevin Federline last November.

She has been lambasted for her excessive partying, drinking and drug taking.

Earlier this month, the Toxic singer lost custody of her two sons, Sean Preston, two, and 13-month-old Jayden James, after a judge ruled she was a "habitual, frequent and continuous" drug user.

Britney is not the first star to have her friends and family urge fans to boycott her.

Earlier this year, Amy Winehouse's father-in-law pleaded with the public to snub her music until she got medical help for her drug addiction.

Giles Fielder-Civil, the father of Amy's husband Blake, said: "Perhaps it is time to stop buying records. It's a possibility, to send that message."

Lindsay Lohan, Out Of Rehab But Still Controversial

Laura Demasi

HOW we've missed Lindsay Lohan. Or at least the mags think we have, given the saturated coverage they've afforded the starlet this week, now that she's finally out of rehab.

Months of intensive rehabilitation may have quelled Lohan's lust for booze and drugs (for today, anyway) but it appears to have done little for her compulsive habit of making trouble.

In the 10 minutes since her release Lohan's been busy providing the world's tabloid media with an excess of material, becoming a home wrecker, broke and homeless in one fell swoop.

According to NW, Lohan's new boyfriend, an ex-con called Riley Giles, whom she met during her latest stint in rehab, is actually someone else's fiance. "Lindsay stole my boyfriend and wrecked my life!" cries Giles's jilted bride in the magazine.

The couple reportedly found love discreetly in a stairwell of the treatment centre, presumably in lieu of a proper bed in a more appropriate setting, given the facility's no-sex rule.

Beds, or a lack of them, have become a bit of a problem for Lindsay now that she's been forced to flog her multimillion-dollar luxury homes in LA and New York to pay off mounting debts.

The 21-year-old actress gives new meaning to the concept of problem spending,

OK reports, blowing $600,000 on "partying", $965,000 on cars and drivers, $510,000 on hotels, $150,000 on rehab, $80,000 on tanning and hair stylists and $1 million on "shopping".

Time to pencil in some Spenders Anonymous meetings, Linds.

At least Lohan's woes take the heat off poor Britney Spears this week. Not that she's been completely ignored in the mags. Despite privately vowing to steer clear of Britney, this column has been sucked back into the fracas, care of this compelling item in New Idea: "Help me, wacko! Desperate Britney Spears has turned to bizarre superstar Michael Jackson to help her get her kids back for good." Right. Michael Jackson. Exactly the kind of person she should be seeking after losing her children in a very public custody battle.

Actually, the mag does have a point. Wacko has miraculously managed to retain custody of "his" three children despite his own penchant for behaving like an out-of-control lunatic.

"Britney's hoping his advice will prove pivotal in getting her sons back forever," the mag tells. "There's even talk of Britney visiting him in his secret home in Las Vegas."

Celebs with a questionable grip on reality loom large on the radar this week, with alien-phobe Tom Cruise in the news.

Interestingly, this time around, intergalactic warlords are not what Cruise fears most - just plain old human baddies have him frazzled. According to Famous, the actor has become "irrational over security fears" and is "convinced that his wife, Katie Holmes, may become the victim of a kidnapping plot".

Long-suffering Katie wants to get some exercise by competing in the New York marathon in November, but Mr Paranoia has laid down the law and forbidden her to race in case another runner snatches her and whisks her away to somewhere really, really bad for no good reason.

Who magazine is also obsessed with the Cruises this week. "Katie: pregnant again? The latest star whose tummy has come under scrutiny" deliberates the magazine's cover, after she was snapped in a succession of baby doll dresses. The mag explores this very important possibility over no fewer than four pages and still doesn't arrive at a satisfying conclusion. Doesn't Who know that time is of the essence?

Katie could be pinched any day now.

Britney Spears Regains Temporary Visitation Rights of Her Sons

Britney Spears has regained temporary visitation rights of her sons, her lawyer said today.

"Yes, she has visitation with the children," her lawyer, Anne Kiley, said in an email to The Associated Press, without elaborating.

Spears was seen driving with the boys, Preston, two, and Jayden James, one, yesterday in California, People magazine reported on its website.

A presumed court-appointed monitor was in the passenger seat, and her sons were in the back seat.

A court commissioner told Spears on Wednesday she may not visit her two children without a parenting coach present until she complies with a court order. The ruling was the latest move in a custody battle between Spears and ex-husband Kevin Federline.

Among other things, Spears was ordered to undergo random weekly drug testing.

A hearing in the matter was scheduled for this Friday.

A phone message left with Federline's lawyer, Mark Vincent Kaplan, was not immediately returned today.

Nicole kidman Adds Some Flesh For New Movie

Nicole Kidman has begun piling on the pounds - not because she's pregnant, but for her next movie.

The 40-year-old Australian movie star has already added 4.5kg to her svelte frame and plans to double her weight gain in coming weeks before she starts filming The Reader.

"She is naturally very slim and loves to run and swim so she is always very toned," an unnamed close friend of Kidman's told The Mail on Sunday newspaper.

"The part she plays demands that she gets fatter throughout the movie as her character slips into middle age.

"Nicole was originally planning to use prosthetics but was told by the director, Stephen Daldry, that it would be more realistic if she gained the weight."

Kidman is following in the footsteps of fellow actress Renee Zellweger, who packed on more than 13kg to play Bridget Jones in two movies by chowing down on pizza, peanut butter sandwiches and fast food.

Kidman's new diet includes drinking daily protein shakes and eating carbohydrates with every meal.

"She has been eating about four meals a day," the friend said.

"It's not unusual to see here work her way through a big plate of pasta, with bread and then a dessert.

"She's having to gorge herself.

"She has quite enjoyed gaining the first 4.5kg and has been having lots of her favourite puddings as well as chocolate."

And it seems as though Kidman is happy with her more rounded look and has been buying bigger clothes.

"Nicole loves her new bosom but she is finding eating so much makes her lethargic and sleepy," the friend said.

"She's usually running on adrenaline and has to be reminded to eat a meal. Now, she's eating four and sometimes five small meals a day."

Kidman plays Hanna Schmitz in The Reading, which delves into the emotional repercussions of the Holocaust in post-war Germany.

Pamela Anderson And Rick Salmon Cross Over During A Poker Games

Actress Pamela Anderson says she and Rick Salomon took their 17-year friendship to the next level during a poker game.

"I left the table and Errol (Lyon, Anderson's driver) played in my place," the 40-year-old ex-Baywatch star tells OK! magazine. "I came back to find myself $US250,000 ($A282,214) in the hole to Rick!"

So Salomon - best known for making a sex tape with ex-girlfriend Paris Hilton - struck a flirty deal.

"Rick, being the gentleman, said he would wipe my debt if I gave him a kiss, so I have to thank Vegas for our relationship switching gears!" Anderson says in the magazine's latest issue, on newsstands tomorrow. "It evolved into spending every day - and then nights - together."

Salomon tells OK!: "I've been plotting and scheming for the past 15 years, and I finally got the girl."

The couple married on October 6 at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, squeezing in their vows between Anderson's performances as an assistant in Hans Klok's magic show at a nearby casino.

It was the third marriage for both Anderson and Salomon.

Anderson was previously wed to Kid Rock and Tommy Lee. Salomon's ex-wives are actresses Shannen Doherty and E.G. Daily.

"There has always been chemistry, but mostly it's been camaraderie," Anderson says. "We have been there for each other through everything. We have seen each other through it all - that's tough to find."

She adds: "I don't just love him, I like him. We are an oddly good match."

Nicole Kidman Suffered Loneliness Before She Married Keith Urban

Nicole Kidman has fame, money and success in droves, but the Australian actress has revealed they did nothing to ease her loneliness before she married country singer Keith Urban.

Oscar winner Kidman found it hard to meet a potential partner after her decade-long marriage to Tom Cruise ended in 2001, she said in a candid interview published in Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper.

"When I was alone I became very isolated and felt very lonely and it was difficult to meet someone," Kidman was quoted as saying.

"I realised you can have so many beautiful things around you and if you don't have someone in your life to share it with, it doesn't mean that much."

Kidman, 40, spoke of her love for 39-year-old Urban, whom she married in June last year, less than four months before he entered rehab at the famous Betty Ford Clinic for alcohol abuse.

"We were two lonely people who met at a time when we could open up to each other," Kidman said.

"I'm just so grateful I have someone I can share the highs and also the lows with.

"I love him for his honesty and bravery. Simply put, he's a wonderful, wonderful man and I'm very lucky to have him."

Kidman even spoke about the prospect of having a baby, a matter which has continued to be the subject of intense media speculation for the usually private Australian star.

"It's in God's hands. If God wills it, it will happen," she said.

Kidman and Cruise have two adopted children, Isabella, 14, and Connor, 12.

When Isabella and Connor expressed an interest in having tattoos like their new stepfather, Kidman revealed she had to lay down the law.

"Call me old-fashioned, but I think that once you're 21 you can choose what you want to do, but up until then my kids aren't getting tattoos," she said.

Amy Winehouse And Husband Busted For Marijuana Possession

24-Years-Old Award-Winning U.K. Singer Amy Winehouse was arrested last night at Bergen's Radisson SAS Hotel on the west coast of Norway for possessing some 7 grams (0.2 Ounces) of Marijuana. Also in her company were her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil and two other men identified as Alexander Foden, Lars Morten Lothe, who also faces similar charges.

They were held for 12 hours before being fined and released. The couple were ordered to pay 500 euros (£350) between them, while the other arrested man was fined £240.

Winehouse, 24, who was admitted to hospital earlier this year after a reported overdose of heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, ketamine and alcohol, is due to give a concert in Bergen tonight.

Prosecutor Lars Morten Lothe said: "We had a tip from a good source which led to police checking up on the tip."

He said the drug had been found in the room itself rather than on any of their persons.

"They signed a ticket, a fine, at the police station some hours ago," he said. "It is a closed case."

Following her hospital admission in August, Winehouse cancelled a string of concerts and reportedly entered a rehabilitation clinic. But the singer has since been pictured drinking alcohol and her behaviour has reportedly been erratic. Photographers have snapped her covered in blood and bruises with makeup smudged across her face. Pictures of Fielder-Civil covered in gashes have also been published.

Earlier this year the singer self-harmed during an interview with American music magazine Spin. The journalist reported that while being interviewed Winehouse used a shard of mirror to cut stomach.

Her mother, Janis Winehouse, has publicly said she no longer recognises her daughter. Last month the 52-year-old pharmacist told an interviewer: "Amy is playing Russian roulette with her health and musical gift. She's lost herself. We're not talking about my Amy. It's not someone I recognise. She has become her own stage creation."

"I knew she was smoking marijuana but not that she was doing class A drugs until she collapsed. She won't stop until she sees the point of stopping ... when I saw her afterwards, I did not tell her to clean up, there was no point.

Fielder-Civil’s father has said he believes his son and Winehouse are taking cocaine, crack and heroin and has asked fans to stop buying Winehouse’s music until the couple seek help. Giles Fielder-Civil has also criticised Winehouse’s record label for blaming her numerous concert cancellations on “exhaustion”.

“We believe that the record company should be proactive in helping the couple get better. They seem to be hiding behind a label that the pair aren’t drug addicts, they’re ‘exhausted’.

Winehouse made a comeback appearance at the Mercury Prize ceremony in London last month. Her acoustic performance impressed the audience but her subsequent appearances have proved less popular. At the Mobo awards late last month she appeared distracted and out of time with her band, and critics who saw her perform in Munich earlier this week, said the star seemed shaky, forgot her lines and appeared to be close to tripping over on stage.

The incident is another blow for the singer, who was forced to cancel several concerts this year after being hospitalized with what her record company called ``severe exhaustion.'' Her father-in-law, Giles Fielder-Civil, in August urged fans to boycott her music until Winehouse and her husband seek treatment for alleged drug abuse.

While possession of any drug is illegal in Norway, ``the use of small amounts of narcotics will normally result in a fine, and appear on the criminal record of the guilty party,'' according to the country's medical drug law.

Narcotics possession may be punished with up to two years of prison, and serious violations may lead to as many as 10 years of imprisonment, the Norwegian police Web site says.

No Rehab

Winehouse won the British Female Solo Artist Award at the BRIT awards and the Female Artist of the Year at the U.K.'s Mobo, or Music of Black Origin, awards this year for her jazz, soul and R&B-inspired music. When she won the Vodafone Live Music Awards, she sent the landlord of her local pub to collect the prize at the ceremony on her behalf.

The singer has released two albums, ``Frank'' in 2003, and ``Back to Black'' in 2006, the latest which went platinum in both the U.S. and the U.K. Winehouse's most famous song is called ``Rehab,'' which includes the line: ``They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.''

Oprah Winfrey Speaks On Her Thyroid Condition

Oprah Winfrey went public yesterday about the thyroid condition that slowed down her metabolism and caused her to gain 20 pounds (9 kilograms).

Winfrey, 53, was feeling incredibly sluggish by the time her talk show wrapped up its season in May. She eventually discovered the problem: an out-of-balance thyroid.

"My body was turning on me," she says in the October issue of O, the Oprah magazine. "First hyperthyroidism, which sped up my metabolism and left me unable to sleep for days. (Most people lose weight. I didn't.)"

"Then hypothyroidism, which slowed down my metabolism and made me want to sleep all the time. (Most people gain weight. I did! Twenty pounds!)"

Hyperthyroidism can also cause a fast heartbeat, among other symptoms; hypothyroidism, the opposite condition, can result in fatigue and weakness.

Winfrey, exhausted and stressed, took a month-long break in Hawaii to regain her health.

Winfrey also discussed her thyroid condition on yesterday's Oprah show, saying she "wanted so many other women who are going through the same thing to check on yourself and recognise that ... it's an issue we all share in common."

She devoted the show to women's health issues and featured Dr Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause.

When Stress Result In Infertility

Kristie Leong M.D.

Infertility is the inability to become pregnant after a year of trying. It may take the form of reoccurance of miscarriages in women and othe forms related to a man too.

Infertility can be a frustrating problem with a variety of underlying causes. There's no doubt that a woman who is infertile experiences various levels of stress due to her inability to conceive. More and more evidence is emerging that stress may actually play a potential role as a cause of infertility.

Of course before infertility can be attributed to stress, physical causes for this problem must be ruled out by a gynecologist. He or she can conduct a series of tests and examinations to exclude structural problems as well as hormone related abnormalities. Once physical causes for infertility are ruled out by a doctor, a trial of stress reduction training might be in order.

What evidence is there that stress plays a role in infertility? Several studies have shown that infertile women who participated in a stress management program were able to conceive and carry out a normal pregnancy within six months of completing the program. In one study, 40% of all women enrolled in a stress reduction study were able to conceive after completing stress management training.

How do stress reduction programs work? In these programs, women learned behavior modification strategies that helped them deal with stressful life circumstances that might be contributing to their infertility. They also received training in how to reduce anger and negative emotions that could indirectly alter reproductive hormone levels. Other techniques used to relieve stress in the infertile women were relaxation exercises, meditation and yoga sessions.

It's still unclear exactly what role stress plays in the causation of infertility. It's possible that stress could have an adverse effect on a woman's hormone levels, particularly a hormone called cortisol which tends to be produced in larger quantities when a women are experiencing stressful life circumstances. These elevated cortisol levels could, in turn, have a negative impact on a woman's reproductive hormone levels, making it difficult for her to conceive. Stress reduction training may have the effect of lowering these elevated cortisol levels, effectively allowing a woman to achieve pregnancy.

A study has shown that a women who scored high on a stress questionnaire also ovulated less frequently, resulting in the production of fewer viable eggs to undergo the fertilization process. Although the exact connection between stress and infertility has yet to be determined, there are ongoing studies and research looking at the exact mechanisms for this association.

Until further research is completed, it certainly wouldn't hurt for a woman to take steps to reduce stress that may be contributing to infertility problems.

Catherine Deneuve, Beautiful In Form, But Urgly In .....?

The father of iconic French film star Catherine Deneuve was a low-level Nazi collaborator during World War II, according to a new, unauthorised biography.

Deneuve, who is 64 next week, emerges from the biography, which she tried to block, as a calculating and unhappy person, driven by money and an obsessive need for privacy.

The actress, who has been described on numerous occasions as the most beautiful woman in the world, is usually presented in France as a warm and rather scatty person, beneath an icy, controlled exterior.

But the author, Bernard Violet, a respected investigative biographer, claims that this image is a "legend" constructed by Deneuve herself.

Recent revelations that Deneuve had made public appearances for cash for a dubious Algerian businessman were not an isolated case, according to the book, Deneuve, L'Affranchie (Deneuve, the free woman). However, the book's main revelation is on Deneuve's father, Maurice Dorleac, who was also an actor.

During the war, according to records discovered by Violet, Dorleac made 72 appearances in radio plays for the pro-Nazi and virulently anti-Semitic radio station Radio-Paris.

He also appeared in propaganda films, including one which sang the praises of the Milice, the political police of the collaborationist Vichy regime. Dorleac was found guilty after the war of "giving aid to Germany ... and damaging the unity of the French nation". He was banned from working as an actor for six months.

The revelation is embarrassing to Deneuve, who has supported many left-wing and humanitarian causes. Violet says that this skeleton in the family cupboard may explain the "tangle of anguish" at the heart of Deneuve's secretive personality.

The book reviews her many love affairs and her only formal marriage, to celebrated British photographer David Bailey in the 1960s. After a whirlwind romance, the book says, the couple found little to say to each other because Bailey never learned French and Deneuve was usually "too tired" to speak English.

The book suggests that Deneuve is not the scatty, impractical, money-detesting person sometimes presented in the French media. In 2005, she was forced to admit, after initial denials, that she had received large cash payments to attend private parties, and a football match, with Rafik Khalifa, an Algerian businessman who had a meteoric rise before being prosecuted for fraud.

Violet commented: "She has made some great films during a largely inconsistent career. Catherine Deneuve, the woman, I find very disappointing.

"She has spent her life insisting on her independence and her freedom and she has paid the price for it. I think that she is more respected than she is liked."

Britney Spears' Visitation Rights Suspended

Following an emergency hearing called by Kevin Federline’s attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, yesterday in the ongoing custody battle between Kevin Federline and Britney Spears, there are indications that Britney has lost the one-night-a-week custody of her two children.

The L.A County Commissioner Scott Gordon suspended her visitation rights due to her refusal to comply by the court orders to provide the drug testing people with contact information so they could reach her to facilitate the random tests. The hearing took place behind closed doors at a Los Angeles Superior Court and legal representatives for both teams were present by 9:20am (PDT.)

Both attorneys refused to comment on yesterdays proceedings as did a representative for the court.

In an earlier report, Gordon temporarily stripped Spears of physical custody of sons Sean Preston, 2, and Jayden James, 1. But after hearing a personal appeal from Spears last week, Gordon eased up on his restrictions and allowed her one overnight visit per week with her boys, provided a court-appointed monitor is present.

Meanwhile, Spears' hardworking legal team was also earning their paychecks earlier this week on another of the beleaguered pop star's pending court cases.

On Monday night, the "Gimme More" singer turned herself in at the Van Nuys police station to be booked on two misdemeanors stemming from an August hit-and-run. Accompanied by attorney Michael Flanagan, producer pal Sam Lufti and a loyal flock of paparazzi, Spears was fingerprinted, photographed and released.

Last week, Court Commission Rebecca Omens ordered her to undergo the process prior to her Oct. 26 hearing in the driving indiscretion. As the charges Spears faces in that case are only misdemeanors, she will not be required to appear in court.

Although K-Fed and Spears were not present at the hearing - the pair will be required to attend their scheduled hearing on October 26.

Pop Princess Kylie Minogue Says "....The Body [Increase] Was A Bit Of A Surprise."

Pop princess Kylie Minogue has admitted she was not prepared for how much her weight would balloon while she was being treated for breast cancer.

It was on the eve of her Australian tour in 2005 that Minogue discovered she had a malignant lump in her breast and underwent surgery at Cabrini private hospital in Melbourne.

Two years later, Minogue has released a documentary film, White Diamond, about her Showgirl world tour, which she revived following her recovery from breast cancer - and called the Showgirl Homecoming Tour for its Australian leg.

She said the biggest surprise for her during her intensive cancer treatment was the dramatic fluctuation in her weight.

"I went from next to nothing then I just ballooned with the drugs, and I guess now maybe I'm just curvy Kylie," Minogue told the Nine Network in an interview filmed in London and broadcast this morning.

"I've been every other Kylie, who'd have thought it would be curvy Kylie," she said.

"As far as losing hair and that process, you know it's going to happen, you try and prepare yourself.

"In a strange way I think I was quite well prepared for that because I am so used to having different looks.

"But, yeah, the body was a bit of a surprise."

Minogue said she saw the documentary as a good way to thank fans for supporting her through her illness.

"I got lots of really supportive, encouraging letters from all sorts really, and I cherished every one of them."

She said there were times during her recovery from cancer that she felt quite vulnerable and was more aware of her own mortality.

"It's undoubtedly serious and it's such a steep learning curve," she said.

"I did whatever I could to not think about that and think about the positive.

"In a way it was probably more difficult for the people around me and the people close to me because they would have felt quite helpless."

Minogue said she still had to undergo regular check-ups now that she was in remission, but she felt healthy.

"Just a week ago, I was in Paris for check-ups. They roll around every so often.

"It will be a while before that's over, but (I'm) good for the moment."

Ellen DeGeneres' Dog Dilemma Leads To Death Threat

Ellen DeGeneres' doggie dilemma has taken a nasty turn, with the operator of the animal rescue organisation that took the dog away saying she had been deluged with threatening emails and phone calls.

The calls got so bad that Marina Batkis said she had to close her business and stay at home.

The twisted dog tale began last month when DeGeneres and her partner, Australian actor Portia de Rossi, adopted a cute, black Brussels-Griffon cross named Iggy.

Batkis and Vanessa Chekroun co-own Mutts and Moms, the non-profit dog-rescue organisation that gave the dog to DeGeneres and de Rossi.

When Iggy was not able to get along with DeGeneres's cats, the couple gave the dog to DeGeneres's hairdresser.

Batkis said that violated a written agreement de Rossi had signed, in which she agreed to return the dog to Mutts and Moms if the adoption did not work out.

When the agency called DeGeneres to ask about Iggy, she said she found another home for the dog. The agency sent a representative to the hairdresser's home on Sunday and took the dog away.

DeGeneres broadcast a tearful, televised plea for the dog to be returned to her hairdresser and her daughters.

She said she spent $US3000 ($3300) having the dog neutered and trained to be with her cats. But the dog had too much energy and was too rambunctious, she told her audience.

"I guess I signed a piece of paper that says if I can't keep Iggy, it goes back to the rescue organisation, which is not someone's home, which is not a family," she said.

"I thought I did a good thing. I tried to find a loving home for the dog because I couldn't keep it."

DeGeneres said her hairdresser's daughters, aged 11 and 12, had bonded with Iggy and were heartbroken when the dog was taken away.

"Because I did it wrong, those people went and took that dog out of their home, and took it away from those kids," a sobbing DeGeneres said on her show.

"I feel totally responsible for it and I'm so sorry. I'm begging them to give that dog back to that family," she said. "It's not their fault. It's my fault. I shouldn't have given the dog away. Just please give the dog back to those little girls."

A tearful Batkis said outside her home on Wednesday: "My life is being threatened. This is horrible."

"They have got thousands of emails," lawyer Keith Fink told the television program Inside Edition.

"Most of them are hate emails threatening them with lynchings, bombings of their home."

One recording Inside Edition played had a male voice saying, "You Nazi, scum-sucking pigs. You're gonna pay dearly for stealing this dog from those little girls."

DeGeneres acknowledged she erred, but said her hairdresser and her family should not be punished.

"This is so insane," a calmer DeGeneres said on her talk show on Wednesday. "It's just the dog needs to go to the family."

Batkis has refused to back down.

"If Ellen wants to place dogs and decide what's a good home, then she should start her own rescue group," she told Inside Edition. "But I'm the one doing this and I know what I'm doing."

The dispute has become a hot topic on news and talk shows.

"There's got to be some sort of rational compromise," ABC's Diane Sawyer said on Good Morning America.

Actress Reese Witherspoon Takes An Unusual Role In 'Rendition'

Actress Reese Witherspoon will appear in a very unusual role in her upcoming movie Rendition .

The film portrays her in the role of a Chicago-based woman, Isabella, who is married to an Egyptian-born chemical engineer, to be played by Omar Metwally, suspected by US authorities of having knowledge of a bombing.

However, instead of protesting the authorities who fly her husband to North Africa for a cruel secret interrogation, she shows strong belief in the justice system.

The 31-year-old actress, who is well known for her commendable performance in the Legally Blonde franchise, considers herself lucky that she has so far not portrayed stereotyped characters, and that Rendition has once again given her a chance to do a different role.

“The film addresses an issue you read about, but may not feel connected to. I’m really lucky that I’m able to do movies like this, and that people accept me doing different things,” she said.

Film director Gavin Hood has revealed that Witherspoon was not in favour of showing Isabella protesting in her husband’s innocence.

He says that the actress wanted her character to be a woman who had full faith in justice. “Reese never wanted Isabella to simply shrilly protest her husband’s innocence,” says Hood. “Reese wanted to make sure Isabella had a certain dignity, as well as a real belief in justice,” he added.

Spice Girls Greatest Hits - Just A Fashion Show Commercial?

British girl band Spice Girls Greatest Hits album will only be available in the US through lingerie chain Victoria's Secret for the first two months of its release.

Under a deal announced today, Emma, Geri, Mel B, Melanie C and Victoria -- aka Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm and Victoria Beckham -- will also perform at the 'Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.'

Capitol Music Group said Spice Girls: Greatest Hits would go on sale at Victoria's Secret on November 13 and that the fashion show would be broadcast on US television on December 4.

The album will be made available elsewhere in the United States from January 15, 2008.

Along with 13 of the Spice Girls hits, like Wannabe and Spice Up Your Life, the album will also include two new songs -- Voodoo, and Headlines (Friendship Never Ends), which will be the group's first new single since 2000.

The Spice Girls announced in late June that they were reforming, seven years after they split, and unveiled plans for a 10-date world tour. More gigs are being added to meet demand. The tour starts on December 2 in Vancouver.

Over 3 million people registered online to buy tickets, which promoters say suggests that up to 18 million fans want to see the five women in action again.

The revival tour will see the Spice Girls play cities including New York, London, Hong Kong, Sydney and Buenos Aires.

Kate Hudson Trying To Make Up With Owen Wilson

Kate Hudson is reportedly trying to rekindle her romance with ex-boyfriend Owen Wilson after splitting from Dax Shepard.

The Almost Famous actress is said to be desperate to woo back Owen — who was hospitalised in August after a failed suicide bid — after realising she still loves him.

A source says, “It was working out between her and Dax, but it’s a clean break. After Owen’s suicide attempt, she realised how much she loved him, and broke up with Dax.”

Kate — who has a three-year-old son, Ryder, with ex-husband Chris Robinson — began dating Owen last year after meeting on the set of You, Me and Dupree . However, they split in June following reports they clashed over his wild lifestyle. Pals of Owen say he was devastated by the break-up and was heartbroken when he saw pictures of Kate and Dax canoodling, while shopping.

Celebrities Who Wax Off The Entire Expanse Of Their Pubic Hair

BRAZILIANS are hot right now in the celebrity world. And we're not talking about people who come from Brazil but, rather, that peculiar practice of waxing off the entire expanse of one's pubic hair.

It appears that Famous has compiled a dossier on the subject, listing a who's who of celebrity devotees including Jennifer Aniston.

"She may be famous for her glossy mane of hair, but it seems the 38-year-old actress is far more concerned about the hair that's growing downstairs," Famous tells.

Turns out that Jen "is neurotic about bikini waxes", booking appointments "even when there was no hair to wax" and insisting that the beauty therapist wax off "peach fuzz" because she's "phobic about extraneous, stray hairs".

Equally obsessive is Jennifer Lopez. "J.Lo once had a wax in a posh hotel in Miami and allegedly flew into a rage after discovering a stray hair in a very hard to reach place."

Other fans include Gwyneth Paltrow, who ambiguously claims Brazilians "changed her life", and Eva Longoria, who believes they are better than Viagra in the bedroom.

"It make sex better," says Longoria in Famous. "I love it, I swear by it. Every woman should try a Brazilian once. And the sex they have afterwards will make them keep coming back."

You can always count on Woman's Day not to stoop so low as to print stories about pubic hair. Until now, that is.

It appears Woman's Day has mistaken itself for NW. The fact that the Day's new editor, Amy Sinclair, hails from NW may have something to do with it. Looks like Sinclair has been charged with ushering Woman's Day through a traumatic midlife crisis; tearing off the mag's grey cardigan and squeezing it into a pair of skinny jeans and a boob tube - and sending it off to the beautician for a Brazilian.

Well, sort of. The magazine's usual roster of snoring stories about the royals (English, Danish, Spanish, Molvanian … whatever, any will do) and painfully uninteresting Australian TV stars are still there, but now they are wedged between a healthy dose of sex, drugs and booze binges, rehab tales, sex tapes, skinny stars, fat stars, freaky stars and general celebrity train wrecks.

Exhibit A: The magazine's opening feature is an exposé on Prince Harry (OK, so they couldn't stray from the royals completely) proudly snorting vodka through his nose and suctioning wine glasses to his nipples.

Exhibit B: Fellow celebrity lush Hugh Grant looking drunk as a skunk, surrounded by a gaggle of pretty young girls who all seem to be trying to kiss/caress/cuddle him simultaneously.

Exhibit C: Angelina Jolie vowing to drag her non-existent behind into rehab after two booze-filled collapses.

Exhibit D: Pregnant Nicole Richie might be off the booze and drugs but she's got a new addiction to contend with … dog biscuits. Yes, dog biscuits.

Exhibit E: Courtney Love's "furry new look" - and that's her face, not her coat, that they're talking about.

It's enough to send nanna screaming out of the newsagent with disgust. Looks like Reader's Digest is about to get a boost in its circulation figures.

NW refuses to be outdone in the celeb mag wars, with an outstanding item on Jennifer Love Hewitt, which wins the boob story of the week. Reveals Hewitt: "My boobs talk to people a lot. 'Mine are bigger than yours.' They say that when they're in the mall and they see other ones."

More stories on boobs and Brazilians - now that's what Woman's Day needs.

Paris Hilton Plans To Shed Her Party-Girl Image Enroute To Rwanda

Paris Hilton is on a mission to change her image, heading to Rwanda on a trip she hopes will allow her to leave a mark on the world - and possibly create another reality TV show.

The 26-year-old a hotel heiress said she was a changed person and vowed to shed her party-girl image after leaving jail where she served three weeks earlier this year for violating probation in a drunken-driving case.

"There are a lot of bad people in LA. Before, my life was about having fun, going to parties -- it was a fantasy," Hilton told Newsweek magazine, opting to speak to the news-focused journal rather than a celebrity magazine. "But when I had time to reflect, I felt empty inside. I want to leave a mark on the world."

She has acknowledged she has long enjoyed the Hollywood party scene but she said she spent her time in jail reading the Bible and praying to God for strength, deciding to give new meaning to her life by pursuing charity work.

Hilton skyrocketed to fame in 2003 after an amateur sex video of her filmed in night vision hit the internet.

She used this fame to build an acting career, appearing in various movies and in reality TV, lampooning her own persona as a clueless child of privilege on "The Simple Life."

She also released a self-titled album in 2006 and has her name attached to various products from perfume to shoes.

During her trip to Rwanda, Hilton will be visiting schools and health-care clinics and staying in accommodations a long shot from the Hilton Hotels owned by her family.

"I'm scared, yeah. I've heard it's really dangerous," she told Newsweek magazine. "I've never been on a trip like this before."

She will be traveling with a children's charity called Playing for Good, a group which helps businesses and celebrities get involved in philanthropic work -- but with a camera recording it all.

"I love having everything documented," says Hilton. "It shows people what everyday life is like for me, how hard I work. There are a lot of misconceptions about me."

"She's using her celebrity and the cameras that follow her for the good of humanity," said Scott Lazerson, the organization's founder.

Newsweek said Lazerson was filming the trip in hopes of selling it as a reality show called "The Philanthropist," featuring various celebrities on drives to help world poor.

Hilton says despite what the tabloids say she does not date as many men as they report, she just prefers the company of men.

"I've been linked to so many guys, but there's nothing romantic going on at all," she says. "I get along better with guys than girls. I trust them more. They don't get all girly and mean. Girls have drama."

Hilton is currently filming the horror musical Repo! The Genetic Opera in Toronto, in which she is playing a role in a black wig and false nose.

Tara Brown's 'The Gift' To Inspires People To Become Organ Donors

Scott Ellis
Death, and almost anything to do with it, is something most television programs tackle only as a plot device.

Someone is killed and the detectives set out to catch the killer; an accidental passing leaves a ghost looking for answers; a parent shuffles off this mortal coil and their children come together; any number of variations on this theme show up daily as a way for writers to help move the action along.

And that's where the topic usually ends. Death on screen is something that happens (excuse the pun) in passing and anyone who tries to change that had better have a good reason.

The makers of The Gift, premiering on Channel Nine this week, have found that reason. By personalising death, they hope to save lives.

From this week, the series hosted by 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown will follow the stories of Australian organ donors and recipients.

It's a tough subject, Brown says, but one that has the power to change lives.

"I think what this series does so well is it shows out of this great sadness of death is also the great joy it can bring both to the family of the person who has died and also to those people to whom the gift has given life," Brown says. "Ultimately, it's a very uplifting and rewarding experience.

"The Gift is not trying to preach from some high and mighty pulpit - I certainly don't see that as the aim of the show - but the message that the doctors and those involved would like to get across is just how amazing this gift is and that if people can understand how it can transform lives then they may be more likely to help out."

The message that one donor can make a world of difference to many lives is central to The Gift.

Throughout the series, Brown introduces a range of people with life-threatening conditions who can only be saved by transplants.

Some are lucky enough to be left an organ but many are left waiting and hoping.

"There's such great frustration that the thing that is costing these people their lives is the waiting game," Brown says. "While they wait, their own organs are failing them."

Already an organ donor, Brown says she hopes viewers will be moved by watching the program and think about adding their names to the list of people willing to give such a life-saving gift.

"Most people don't want to think about their death at all," Brown says. "It's almost as though they think they are going to live forever. [Organ donation] is not that hard a decision. It makes sense to me and I think when [viewers] see the lives that these decisions transform - how it can make these lives - then there really is no reason not to do it."

The big donor hoax

Brown and the producers of The Gift are aware that mixing organ donation and television is a tricky affair.

A Dutch series caused international controversy this year by offering three kidney transplant patients the chance to win the much-needed organ in a reality show.

That series, The Big Donor Show, turned out to be a hoax, with an actress playing the donor and three real patients in on the scam to highlight the need for more people to join the donor program.

Hoax or not, the howls of outrage showed just how sensitive the area can be.

The Gift, Thursday 9.30pm, Channel Nine.

"The IOC has always respected Seven's loyalty," he said.

Collette Dinnigan and Akira Isogawa's Collections Hit Paris Fashion Week

Some of Australia's top designers have helped wrap up Paris Fashion Week with an array of stunning collections in bold colours and playful prints.

Collette Dinnigan and Akira Isogawa were among the Australians to show their spring-summer collections in the City of Lights.

Dinnigan's upbeat and sassy show, under the prestigious Louvre museum, had natural-looking models in hot tangerine, grecian-inspired slip dresses and barely-there, micro-shorts topped with tightly belted jackets.

The collection was a move away from Dinnigan's signature girly style to a more grown-up cool.

"I wanted to create something really confident and strong, but still feminine and ladylike," Dinnigan told AAP backstage.

"The look is fresh, young and sporty but luxurious at the same time."

But the star designer was careful not to stray too far from her style roots, outing luscious, floor-skimming, satin dresses in dazzling jewel colours, fit for a silver screen goddess.

Dinnigan has long been a favourite of Hollywood beauties such as Kate Bosworth and Charlize Theron.

"It's a while since I've shown long gowns, so I felt it was a good time to get them out again in all these great colours. Just perfect for the Oscars," she said.

Bright, flashy colours have been one of the hottest trends to come out of this season's European shows, and they also made a spectacular splash at Martin Grant's parade.

The Melbourne-born designer's show had an edgy, arthouse flavour perfectly in keeping with its setting at Paris's elite Fine Arts School.

Models with Japanese geisha-style hairdos began parading in neutral tones which gradually intensified to emerald greens and electric pinks, turning the runway into a flowing colour spectrum.

Grant's trademark impeccable tailoring and sculptural forms were in full display, with sharply structured tan, leather jackets teamed with sexy, silvery shorts.

Seductive, sleek below-the-knee dresses came in a pallette of hot fuschia and scarlet-pink.

A standout were multi-pleated pants which billowed cheekily with every step.

"I started working with big pleats, then added more volume and air," the Paris-based designer said.

"This time I was really influenced by the aesthetics of Japanese textiles and kimonos."

Japanese touches were a key trend on the international catwalks this season making it particularly timely for Sydney-based Akira Isogawa.

The Japanese-born designer frequently travels to his hometown Kyoto to buy patterned Kimono silks which he develops into his signature prints in his Sydney studio.

Opting out of a catwalk extravaganza in Paris, he instead showed his collection to some of the world's top buyers and media in the chic surroundings of an elegant showroom near the Place Vendome.

Loose dresses and tops were cut out of delicate silks in shades of crimson and violet or white.

Highlights included a red reversible skirt and jacket, intricately embroidered with deep pink details.

Akira has shown in Paris for eight years and says it is the most creative city on the fashion map.

But there were great advantages to being based in Australia, he said.

"There are only a handful of creative designers in Australia making a really unique style," he said.

"Because it is smaller, there's more acceptance of your work, and Australians really welcome fresh ideas."

Brisbane's biggest fashion export and fellow Paris Fashion Week veterans, Easton Pearson, agree.

Design duo Pamela Easton and Lydia Pearson say working in Australia helps them maintain their individuality.

"It's nice to go home, all the way back to Australia, at the end of a really intense week in Paris and work in a sort of shell because it helps us focus," said Pearson.

The pair revealed their spring-summer wear in a charming hotel set on the romantic 15th century square, Place des Voges in the historical Marais area.

Silk and sequined slip dresses sported dramatic contemporary designs in a pallette of deep yellow, chocolate brown and watery turquoise.

"We played with traditional prints, then enlarged them so they became completely out of scale," Pearson said.

"It gives the patterns an abstract and modernist feel."

Easton said the collection was a continuation of the designers' fascination with the marriage of arts and crafts, aimed at women wanting to cut an individual but glamorous dash.

"It's all about wanting to dress up and be different, and not about being a slave to what's in," she said.

Supermodel megan Gale Badly Missing Andy Lee

Spare a thought for supermodel Megan Gale. Her comedian boyfriend Andy Lee is traipsing across the country for 2Day FM leaving her all by her lonely self. (Did anyone else automatically get a mental image of her twisting her hair and sighing?) Is the man bonkers?

"We normally speak four to five times a day on the phone," she said. "But I haven't been able to talk to him because he's so busy. It's killing me."

Lee and his radio DJ buddy Hamish Blake are driving from Perth to Brisbane in the so-called Caravan of Courage.

"Hamish doesn't have a licence so Andy's doing all the driving," she said.

"He's exhausted, but happy."

I caught up with Gale at the New Woman Beauty Awards, where her Invisible Zinc sunscreen picked up the beauty editor's choice gong. And she told me the odd couple are coming up to their first anniversary. It was during Melbourne Cup festivities last year that Lee got the courage to ask her out.

"People think we're an unusual couple but he's funny and sweet and kind. That ticks a lot of boxes for me. And he keeps on ticking them. Now we try to not go more than 10 days without seeing each other," she said.

"So I'll make sure to catch up with him straight away because it's only six weeks until I head overseas to shoot the 2008 winter David Jones catalogue."

I subtly asked her to reveal the secret location (i.e. I asked her outright) but she didn't fall for my ruse.

"I can't tell you but it's somewhere we've never shot before and in a country I've never been to. So I'm really excited."

Is Hollywood Tired Of Women???

Sigourney Weaver is back, chiselled and lovely and determined as ever: a warrior woman to build a movie around. Sadly, Weaver's is only a brief appearance, fighting off aliens in an ad for a pay TV service.

She is no less an actor than she ever was, but much less a star. Her last successful leading role was in 2001. The last time she was the star, the very reason for a film's existence, was 10 years ago, in the inevitable fourth instalment of the Aliens franchise.

In the Hollywood of today, Weaver would still be an exceptional figure, if only as representative of a bygone era, when oestrogen was at least as likely an ingredient in the formula for massive box office success as testosterone.

And it is a bygone era, at least if the head of the Warner Bros studio has any say in it.

In reported conversations with unnamed producers and anonymous members of his own studio, the company's president of production, Jeff Robinov, declared: "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead."

The edict was uncovered by journalist Nikki Finke, who posted it on Deadline Hollywood, her website devoted to movies, as distinct from celebrity business, on October 5.

Warners dismissed the story. "Our official response is that [the] item is too ridiculous to dignify with a comment," the studio said.

Read between the lines. It was clear that Robinov was unhappy with two expensive summer season flops his studio had backed, both headed by A-list female stars: Jodie Foster and Australia's Nicole Kidman.

Foster's The Brave One, which opened here last week, cost an estimated $US80 million ($88.5 million) in production and marketing, but has returned a disappointing $US34.4 million in the four weeks since its US release. Foster's reported salary in 2005 was $US10-12 million per film.

Kidman's The Invasion, overseen by three directors, also cost $US80 million, but fared even worse, with worldwide receipts of only $US22.1 million. Last year Kidman topped the salary list of all Hollywood actresses at $US16-17 million per film, including this one for Warner Bros in which she starred opposite the new James Bond, Daniel Craig.

If anything, the numbers were worse than a mere subtraction of box office from budget. An approximate rule of thumb for Hollywood accountancy is that a movie has to return three to four times its cost to be considered profitable.

Thus, The Invasion, which turned out to be so dire Kidman refused to do any promotion for it, would have been expected to earn at least $US200 million.

This compounds what has already been an ordinary year for the leading ladies. Of those releases centred on a female star, only one, No Reservations, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, finished inside the top 50 at the box office, earning $US42.5 million.

This may have informed what Robinov had to say, but the studio had to deny it anyway.

With its rebuttal, Warner Bros issued a list of coming films featuring women at or near the top of the bill. The problem was that each of the six films mentioned would have been most likely approved for production before Robinov's announcement.

Two of those films, Spring Breakdown and the sequel to the highly successful Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants, are so-called chick flicks aimed at different age groups.

Another, Nights In Rodanthe, has Diane Lane and Richard Gere sharing top billing, while a remake of Get Smart has Ann Hathaway's name beneath that of Steve Carell.

Others, such as Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, and the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer, have women at the head of the cast but in ancillary roles.

There was another issue, as well, that would drown Warner's ever more desperate attempts to deny and then defuse the story as it began to circulate in the mainstream media a later posting on the Deadline Hollywood site had Robinov issuing a personal denial, then withdrawing it two hours later.

Indeed, the Deadline Hollywood site says he had decided that only one star, the largely unavailable Julia Roberts, could "carry" a big-budget, international film.

The women actors, as Sarah Kernochan, a New York-based screenwriter, director and producer, explains, know it's a man's world. "It's tacitly understood in the business that most of the projects we're developing are for men," she says.

"There's no question the amount of product for women has diminished. Every year it's a little less. The major studios only want to do the sure thing."

Of course, these are decisions being made by men, who have a certain language for some of their films. The movies aimed at teenage and even grown-up girls are called chick flicks. The majority of the rest, filled with explosions of cars, buildings and bodies, with enough bare female flesh to satisfy the lowest common denominator, are aimed at teenage boys, the ones who reliably go to the cinema on Friday nights. Those films are called dick flicks.

Of all the major studios, only one, Sony, is run by a woman Amy Pascal.

A range of factors, from ignorance to biology, conspire to make the woman's lot in Hollywood an especially difficult one. Speaking at a recent gathering for Elle magazine of some of the industry's most powerful women, Kimberley Pierce, the writer and director of Boys Don't Cry, for which Hilary Swank won her first best actress Oscar, revealed that even pregnancy is regarded as a professional shortcoming.

"You can't get bonded if you're pregnant," she said. (A bond is issued by a bank or completion bond company to insure an independent film. If the feature runs out of money in the course of production, the bond will supply the balance of the funds.)

Success in the upper reaches of this industry takes an almost maniacal level of focus and energy. For some, such as Callie Khouri, the screenwriter of Thelma And Louise, and screenwriter and director Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, it also means making the most fundamental of choices.

"Well, I didn't have kids because I felt like I'm not going to be able to do both things," Khouri says. "I'm not going to fail at two things."

Laura Ziskin, a producer of the Spider-Man movies, found herself confronting that very issue when motherhood and a burgeoning production career arrived simultaneously.

"I remember the exact spot on the Ventura Freeway where I started screaming in my car because I was trying to put a movie together, and I was racing home to nurse the baby, and the milk was coming and the car phone wasn't working," Ziskin told her fellow moguls. "I thought, 'I am failing on all fronts: I will never have the career I want to have because I can't compete with the guys'."

The price of success is immense, but Sarah Kernochan, who is about to start work with Jodie Foster on a small independent film, says the penalty for failure can almost match it.

Kernochan cites the case of A Mighty Heart, a film about the ordeal of Mariane Pearl, whose journalist husband Daniel was kidnapped and subsequently beheaded by Islamic extremists in Pakistan. The film, which opens in Australia on Thursday, stars Angelina Jolie and has been a box office failure.

"That's more damaging to her than George Clooney doing The Good German, which nobody saw," Kernochan says. "Nobody takes the blame for that, but no one will think now that Angelina Jolie can do a major drama. And she's hotter than any female star I can think of. She's one of the few who can carry the lead in an action movie.

"The business is very much unforgiving of female stars who have a flop. It's much harder to recover from that."

Kernochan, who had a hit film in Australia in the late 1990s with The Hairy Bird, believes Foster is one of the few actors who can escape setbacks such as The Brave One with reputation unscathed. She is less certain about Kidman, and, in explaining why, goes part of the way to validating the premise of Warner Bros' Robinov.

"She has never proven she can carry a movie by herself in terms of box office," Kernochan says. "She's a big name and there's a big curiosity factor to see something she's in, but she's never really sold a movie that she's in. After the Oscar, they weren't flops - there were audiences for them - but in the mega-profit sense, she was never in that class that Julia Roberts was in, or Angelina Jolie."

Howard Cohen, the co-president of independent film company Roadside Attractions, is inclined to support Robinov's assertion, although for different reasons. "It's not that he's wrong in saying that," Cohen says, "but it's a chicken or egg question. Most movies bomb. It's a more complicated thing that's being reduced to something simplistic.

"On a statistical level, he's right. If you put an equal number of men and women in equivalent movies, the men would carry the day because they've been developed as action stars, thrillers, comics. No one develops a James Bond franchise with women. There's no money put in women stars in other genres, so it's a self-fulfilling prophecy [that they can't carry a big movie]."

Apart from lack of studio planning and support, another reason given for the scarcity of major women's roles is the shortage of quality material. This, in turn, is blamed on the scriptwriters, who are mostly male.

"There are plenty of female scriptwriters, but they're not getting the jobs," Kernochan says.

"It's generally thought women can only write soft material, for women, and even those projects are often given to men."

By way of example, Kernochan recalls pre-production of Divine Sisters Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, adapted from the beloved series of novels of the same name. "It was the epitome of a women's project," adds Kernochan, who pitched her services for the screenwriting duties. Instead, the task fell to a man, Mark Andrus.

"They said, 'he's gay'," Kernochan remembers of the studio's justification for its choice of a man over a woman. "It's almost the same thing."