PEOPLE

ABC: We’ll rectify our

pre-Oscars tedium

ABC wants to atone for last year’s much-panned Academy Awards preshow. The network, with exclusive rights to air celebs’ arrivals at the March 26 ceremony, has announced it will have three hosts working the red carpet outside the Shrine Auditorium. One already announced is “The View’s” Meredith Vieira, whose journalism background will presumably make her more spontaneous than last year’s host, Geena Davis.

Critics sniffed that ABC’s first attempt last year was boring and cluttered with too much old footage and canned segments, killing the spontaneity. “I think the feeling has been that they wanted it to be more red-carpet-oriented,” said ABC spokesperson Dan Doran. “There will be pretaped packages you can’t help that. The idea is to make it very fast-paced, and it will be a seamless transfer right into the regular show.” The preshow starts at 5 p.m. March 26.

WORTH A MILLION JUST TO MAKE THEM DISAPPEAR: Remote control bride Darva Conger made good on her word and filed for annulment from Rick Rockwell on Tuesday in Las Vegas. In her court papers, Conger said the marriage was never consummated and the two barely saw each other on their Caribbean honeymoon. “Neither the contestants nor the show’s producers seriously contemplated creating a proper marriage,” she said. Conger and Rockwell both signed an agreement before the show stipulating that that they could annul the marriage.

Fox, which aired “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?,” declined comment. Meanwhile, Rockwell, who knows about being stood up, will do stand-up comedy at the Improv in Tempe, Ariz., on Friday and Saturday. “I had two alternatives: Crawl under a rock and just go away, or try to do something with it,” Rockwell told the Arizona Republic. “I don’t know how long this will last.” Ding! Ding! Ding! Your 15 minutes are over!

EGADS, THE POST OFFICE DID IT: After all the huffing and puffing about missing Oscar ballots, the culprit turned out to be a post office mix-up. Apparently, postal workers thought the ballots, which were supposed to be mailed first-class, were actually third-class because they were dropped off in canvas bags, typically meant for bulk mailings. So they got diverted to a bulk mail center. A new batch of more than 4,000 ballots was picked up and mailed Tuesday.

The Academy, which extended the voting deadline two days to March 23, will accept only ballots returned in the yellow return envelope, as opposed to the original white envelope. To avoid similar problems in the future, the Postal Service will recommend sending a letter carrier for the annual mailing ritual and taking the ballots directly to the post office.

FUNNY, HE DOESN’T LOOK HAWAIIAN: Ben Affleck will be joining Cuba Gooding Jr. in Hawaii this spring in a film based on Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Walt Disney Co.’s “Pearl Harbor” will cast Affleck as one of two brothers in the military during World War II both falling in love with the same nurse. Production is scheduled to begin April 10. The Pentagon has approved filming at Pearl Harbor and other military sites in the islands.

The film is expected to be one of the most expensive ever made in the neighborhood of $150 million.

SAD FAMILY STRUGGLE: It’s a case of he-said/she-said, except he is Richard Pryor Jr., and his father’s fourth of five wives and current caregiver Jennifer Lee, is the she. In late February, Junior apparently flew from Illinois to Los Angeles to see the comedian, who has multiple sclerosis. Lee told Pryor’s son he couldn’t come in.

The younger Pryor has since filed court papers to become his father’s conservator, noting that he’s “unable to manage his financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.” He accuses Lee of disposing of the comedian’s property “without his knowledge.” Lee says the son is angry that the senior Pryor evicted him for not paying the rent at the Peoria home, but the younger one’s lawyer claims that his client left before the eviction was official, and that it “is not about money (but) his father’s well-being.” Countered Lee: “It’s all about greed and money.”

Milestones

Web story sold: By Stephen King. “Riding the Bullet,” a 66-page tale that King describes as “a ghost story in the grand manner,” will be available Tuesday as an “e-book,” which buyers can download for $2.50 and read on a computer, personal organizer or electronic book. Publisher Simon & Schuster Online will make it available through Web sites of e-book manufacturers and online booksellers.

Birthdays: Author Mickey Spillane (82), singer Lloyd Price (67), actress Joyce Van Patten (66), actor-comedian Marty Ingels (64), country singer Mickey Gilley (64), singer Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere and the Raiders) (58), TV personality Charles Gibson (57), chess player Bobby Fischer (57), actress Trish Van Devere (55), rock musician Robin Trower (55), singer Jeffrey Osborne (52), country musician Jimmie Fadden of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (52), magazine editor Michael Kinsley (49), actress Linda Fiorentino (40), actress Juliette Binoche (36), rock musician Robert Sledge of Ben Folds Five (32), actor Emmanuel Lewis (29), actress Jean Louisa Kelly (28), actor Kerr Smith (28).

Today’s People Column was compiled by Vera H-C Chan from staff and wire reports. Comments? Write to us c/o the Times, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099. Or call 925-943-8262, fax 925-943-8362, or e-mail spin@cctimes.com.

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