NY Mirror

Who wants to be in the studio audience for 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?' I did— don't ask— but my innocuous attempt to see the Regis Philbin­ hosted game show ended in disaster when press-phobic production assistants asked me to kindly slither back home. I did so, only to turn on the TV and find some press about the show all right— a report about that contestant who was erroneously told his Great Lakes answer was wrong and had to be rebooked for another stab at money grubbing. I prayed they'd let me crawl back too; I haven't been so addicted to a show since My Mother the Car got a lube job.

In the next potential dis, the 86th Street HMV Records invited me to interview Sean "Puffy" Combs— and not about geography— before the all-purpose assaulter/ spiritualist/ Hamptons homey sat down to sign copies of his new CD. (Aside: Yes, I know the guy's so overexposed that the world might blow up into a fiery mass with just one more mention, but I did just run his name and no such apocalyptic horror transpired, did it? So let's carry on.) After Puffy's birthday fiasco, I wasn't too anxious to sample any more pain, but gave it a shot, waiting well over an hour for his bony, ultrafamous ass to make it to the Upper East Side.

You haven't seen so much fussing, setting up, and continual sputterings of "We expect him any second" since the last time I had a second date. Finally, the superdude arrived and even did a mini press conference for the assembled media droogs. "I got jealous when Ricky Martin came into my town," he gamely admitted, "so when my album dropped, I thought 'I better see some helicopters up there!' " There were indeed copters to monitor the frenzy outside, while in here, Puffy was wearing his clothing-line creations, holding up a copy of his magazine, and no doubt thinking about what to eat at his restaurant later on. He made a few more comments— about God, his son, and his own increased musical skills— before running off to sell those records, and then I was shown the door, I'm pretty sure by those same Regis Philbin people!

Since the long-planned interview never happened, I was told to leave a message that night for Puffy's personal publicist, who would set up a phoner for the next day. I'd seen her at HMV barking orders and having photographers thrown out, so I knew what to expect. I obediently called her office at 10:30 p.m. and the woman answered! (Do these frisky flacks ever rest?) "So," she crabbed, "you were hoping not to talk to me in person." "But I was told that you wanted me to leave you a message. I'm delighted to get you in person," I gurgled. Alas, now that she had me, she decided to become a game-show host and find out just what questions I planned to ask Puffy. (He's very selective about exposure, you know.) I uncomfortably muttered something about his record and his "media stature." She didn't know what that meant. I said, "You know, his prominence in the press." She didn't call back or send me the CD, as promised. Two days later, after I complained to HMV, she finally phoned, all sweetsy, but it was too late. Fuck you, Puffy. BOOM!

Well, we've survived that explosion, but already there are all new demoralizing challenges to endure, between relaxing sips of American Airlines coffee. I can't believe trannies haven't splashed back at bathing beauty Esther Williams over her dissection of matinee idol Jeff Chandler's love habits in her memoir The Million Dollar Mermaid. As you've heard, Williams— whom I worship no matter what— reveals that her then lover Chandler was such a cross-dresser, he made J. Edgar Hoover look like J. Edgar Hoover. But Williams's tone on this subject seems a little too petulant, and though she certainly reserves the right to have been shocked and/or unaroused by Chandler's fetish, her rage comes off a bit discompassionate. While trying to understand the psychological reasons for Chandler's gown wearing— insights that uncannily echo my own life history— Williams found herself screaming her lungs out and telling him, "You've ruined [our relationship] with your little secret. I loved you as a real person, as a man. When you dress up like that, do you know how ridiculous you look? . . . I find your aberration very, very sad." Gee, who's the real drag here?

Adding layers of polka-dotted texture, Williams reveals that she has her own, well, aberration. Once, after a prescribed LSD trip, she felt that half of her face was that of her late brother— and that's just for starters. "The left side of my upper body was flat and muscular, like the chest of a boy," she writes. "I reached up with my boy's large, clumsy hand to touch my right breast [the old breast stroke, I guess] and felt my penis stirring. It was a hermaphroditic phantasm that held me entranced as I discovered my divided body." But Esther, we loved you as a real person, as a woman!

A real mouse— well, a computer-animated one— was stirring, so we breast-stroked to the Columbia Pictures meet-and-greet promoting their upcoming rodent rhapsody Stuart Little— not to be confused with Stuart Smalley or anything running around my apartment. Over cheese, the film's director, Rob Minkoff, told me, "Stuart's disadvantaged because he's so short, but he tries to turn adversity in his favor." In fact, the little devil manages to charm an entire family and even to fend off a cat, voiced by Nathan Lane, which reminds me: Why couldn't a person— say that Mini-Me guy or Ross Perot— have played Stuart? "Someone suggested that," Minkoff said. "They're no longer with the production," he added, laughing.

The mouse's tall, human costar, Geena Davis, turned out to have a lot more charisma and, um, media stature than they let her reveal on that pre-Oscar telecast. Davis giddily told me, "The mouse didn't show up for the movie. He was in his trailer. Usually, he was just a dot because they used a laser pointer to represent him. I had all these intense, emotional scenes with this dot!" But Davis got used to the unnerving process, she said, because "I've had interspecies experiences before." (No, she didn't mean with Jeff Goldblum.)

As for her endearing, if equally bizarre, obsession with archery, Davis told me, "It's challenging to stay focused and control your nerves. The other day [at her Olympic tryout], 50 news outlets were suddenly there watching me, standing behind my target!" Did she imagine that they were the bull's-eye? Nah, she said, "It was terrific fun. I never expected to do something that would land me in the sports pages!" I did— I bowled a wicked 75 last week!

As a souvenir, we got a framed shot of ourselves kissing Stuart Little— we'd posed without even a laser dot— which was the best party gift since the Britney Spears outgoing phone message or the plume promoting that Brad Pitt movie, which came with a card that said, "If you are going to stick feathers up your butt, please lavase sus manos!" But a not-so-festive trinket, I hear, is that other imminent feathery romp— Flawless, a hermaphroditic phantasm with De Niro about which one observer said, "The title's a misnomer. It's a stinker— a broad and underbaked ball of clichés." What's worse, the drag queens are way too big for polka dots!

musto@villagevoice.com

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