LIZA MINNELLI DOING WELL, THANK YOU
Despite her up-and-down career in recent years, Liza Minnelli isn't suffering from financial woes, largely thanks to hubby David Gest. Gossip columnist Liz Smith says the diva has dispelled rumors of her financial doom with an optimistic assessment of her future, health-wise and at the bank. There even had been reports Gest had turned into a Svengali-esque character, controlling his wife's every move and keeping her hidden away in a rehab clinic in the middle of nowhere. Gest, by the way, is about to celebrate his 50th birthday and Liza says she has a big bash planned. The couple will fly to London for the celebration, to be held at the London Home House, where where Madonna often gives big parties. Liza is designing a huge birthday cake for David that's 4-feet wide and 6-feet tall. No word on whether her diet doctors have issued a "take it easy" warning.
ANDRETTI'S LIFE SPARED IN SCARY WRECK
Indy 500 experts say a crash that nearly ended the return of Mario Andretti to "The Brickyard" was caused by track debris. Andretti had come back to Indianapolis at the request of his son, Michael, to drive a car whose original driver had been injured in a crash in Japan some weeks ago. The Indianapolis Star says a review of television video tape shot by a local station shows Andretti accidentally ran over scattered debris when a car crashed in front of him during practice. The impact with the parts caused Mario's car to become airborne. The spectacular result was his car hitting a retaining fence, then being thrown back onto the track while tumbling end-over-end. The 63-year-old racing legend miraculously was not injured. Track officials say a combination of new car design and the special "catch fence" that surrounds the track likely saved his life.
RACHEL PORTMAN TO DEBUT FIRST OPERA
Award-winning composer Rachel Portman has picked the Houston Opera for the premiere of her first opera, "The Little Prince." The opera is based on the 1943 novel by a Frenchman who was, up to that time, best known as an aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Portman, the composer of the opera, was the first woman to win the Academy Award for a film score, for "Emma." She teamed with author Nicholas Wright for the new opera. Wright, best known for his play "Vincent in Brixton," was chosen to write the libretto. For the opera not to just be a "stand and sing" performance, Portman chose Francesca Zambello to design the stage settings and theatrics. The designer previously worked with Disney in creating sets for the "Aladdin" stage show and also has worked at the Met on "Les Troyens." By the way, in mounting the production of "The Little Prince," the Houston Opera puts on its 27th world premiere of a major work.
TWO AVANT GARDE AUTHORS TIE KNOT
Dave Eggers, the boyish-looking author who recently took the literary world by storm, has gotten married in San Francisco. The New York Post says Eggers, whom it calls a "literary wunderkind," married longtime girlfriend Vandela Vida, another award-winning author. Vida's best-known effort is "Girls on the Verge: Debutante Dips, Gang Drive-Bys, and other Initiations." Eggers rose to international prominence after he penned "A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius." Vida hales from Brooklyn, N.Y., and received her Masters of Fine Arts degree in writing from Columbia. Now the photogenic Eggers is no longer one of the country's most eligible bachelors.
'WILL AND GRACE' ACTRESS CHARGED IN L.A.
Actress Shelly Morrison now officially is charged in the wake of her arrest on shoplifting charges. Published reports say Morrison was charged with misdemeanor theft in a Los Angeles court. She was taken into custody last week at a Robinsons-May department store. At the time the store's security officer said Morrison took costume jewelry valued at about $450. She initially was released on a $20,000 bond. A lawyer for the 66-year-old actress notes his client was relieved she was not slapped with a felony charge. The incident is reminiscent of the arrest of actress Winona Ryder in Los Angeles on shoplifting charges a year and a half ago. Morrison is best known for her portrayal of the sassy maid on the long-running NBC series "Will & Grace."
CONTESTANTS LESS THAN 'IDOL' THIS SUMMER
Finalists in the second season of the Fox series "American Idol" hit the road in coming months for a series of concerts. The energetic group will play nearly 40 venues, beginning just after the Fourth of July in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. It's not certain how many of the "Idol" contestants will participate. Recently the group went into a recording studio to do a remake of the Lee Greenwood chestnut "God Bless the U.S.A." That rendition debuted last week at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles Sales chart. Billboard says the upcoming tour will run though the end of August, criss-crossing the country. Initial ticket sales will begin next month.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 558
Inspired by the Rachel Portman story, here is today's question: "Have you even been to an opera? If so, which one or ones?" Put UPI-OPERA in the subject line and send to firstname.lastname@example.org via the Internet.
RESULTS OF QUESTION NO. 553 (TRAFFIC)
Last week we asked: "What was the last time you really thought you had met your demise in traffic? What happened?" From a random dip into the e-mail inbox, here is what we found. Everyone responding noted a real "near miss" in traffic. EvelynC says while driving on a Los Angeles freeway, a car in a far lane went out of control, flipped over and slid into a retaining wall just feet behind her. Had she been driving slightly slower she would have been crushed in the wreck. AlvynAE says while in college he was driving up a mountain road in Vermont and had to swerve when a huge log fell off a truck in front of him. ExitD says if he "had a quarter for every time he was almost killed on the highway" he would have a mint. DD4R says her nearest miss was nearly being sandwiched between two big-rig trucks on a snow-packed multi-lane freeway in Canada last November. "I had tire marks on both sides of the van," she says.
TOMORROW: Happy days are here again. GBA