Mirren says she is 'mortified' by tales she snubbed the queen

I AM mortified!" says Oscar winner Helen Mirren about reports - in The New York Times and elsewhere, stating that she was "too busy" to have dinner at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Helen tells me she tried desperately to rearrange the shooting schedule for the movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets, but the company was in South Dakota filming on location. "I just could not shut all that down to take three days off to go to Buckingham Palace."


I am sure the queen understood this and will invite Helen for another time.

Helen is the kind of star who calls you on the phone with no secretary or PR person in between. She said she followed the queen's visit to America with great interest and she thought we should give President Bush a little leeway when it came to his "1776" error in speech. "We all make mistakes," said Ms. Mirren.


'Tennessee' waltz

Sitting in Joe Allen's Orso the other eve, to my table comes my pal, young movie producer Lee Daniels, the man who shepherded Halle Berry to an Oscar in Monster's Ball.

I asked Lee about his latest film project, called Tennessee, filmed down in that very state, and he burbled on about his star, Mariah Carey. It seems the divine diva next door, as I call her, had been a doll to direct, even forsook her 6-inch heels when the characterization called for flats, and it's Lee's belief that she is going to surprise us this time out. (Mariah's film career took a big hit when she made Glitter, but she lived to overcome.)

Lee talked me into going to his table to meet the star of his next movie. That turned out to be Lenny Kravitz, who has cut his hair and looks adorable. Lenny refused to be formally introduced, saying merely, "Give me some sugar!" and kissing me on the lips.

Reading samples

The genius actor Frank Langella stirred our heartstrings at the Literacy Partners readings Monday. He offered a fragment about reading from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and brought the crowd to tears.

This fantastic night also featured the great Vanessa Redgrave reading from the book of her next movie Evening by Susan Minot. (She stars in the film along with Meryl Streep and distinguished others.) Then we enjoyed the heroic Lee and Bob Woodruff, who were so amusing, even if their best-seller about his being wounded in Iraq is not. In An Instant has transformed U.S. thinking and created outrage about the poor manner in which we treat our wounded veterans. And Alexander McCall Smith was, as usual, a brilliantly funny reader. Audiences love this guy who created Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's only female private detective.

The piece de resistance of the night, which brought in $1.2 million to fight adult illiteracy, was the surprise appearance of the one and only divine Miss M, Bette Midler. First, Bette got off a gag about how President Bush congratulated Queen Elizabeth II for winning the Oscar for The Queen. Then she sang a sentimental favorite - "I Wish You Love" because Literacy was honoring Arnold Scaasi, Parker Ladd and yours truly for 25 years of fundraising work.


But when Bette sat on our laps, singing to us, it wasn't work. This woman just appears and everybody feels better, happier and they start smiling. What a gift!

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