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Oprah Winfrey stirs Oscar buzz for ‘fantastic’ work in ‘The Butler’

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Updated: June 10, 2013 1:15PM



Could Oprah Winfrey finally win an Oscar? The TV queen, who has not acted in a theatrical film since “Beloved” in 1998, had guests in New York at a very special, early screening of “The Butler” raving about her performance in the movie.

Two sources — neither one affiliated with Harvey Weinstein or his film company, which is behind “The Butler” — told me Wednesday that the television mogul is outstanding playing the wife of Forest Whitaker’s title character.

“Oprah is fantastic,” said one BZ spy. “Her performance is truly Oscar worthy.”

Considering the movie will be released in October — timed for this year’s awards season — “you know Harvey will really be campaigning hard for both Oprah and the movie,” added a second source.

Winfrey was nominated for a best supporting Academy Award for her first acting role in “The Color Purple” in 1985.

This film is based on the true story of the late Eugene Allen, the White House head butler who served eight presidents between 1952 and 1986. According to my sources, Jane Fonda is also excellent playing Nancy Reagan, though both had a hard time accepting Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower. “Robin’s acting is fine, but he just didn’t seem to capture the look or mannerisms of Ike,” said one observer.

LEGAL BRIEFS: Though attorneys for both Michael Jackson’s estate and his mother Katherine Jackson are scoffing, choreographer Wade Robson, 30, has filed a lawsuit asking that his prior denials of abuse by Michael Jackson in the pop star’s 2005 molestation trial be reversed. Robson now has asked the court to file a late claim against the late singer’s estate and to seal an “unfiled complaint for childhood sexual abuse.”

The Jackson estate lawyer, Howard Weitzman, has called Robson’s claims both “outrageous and pathetic.”

Robson, a well-known choreographer and producer who has worked with such stars as Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Demi Lovato, was one of the regular “sleepover” companions of Jackson in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

† That March run-in between Rob Kardashian and a paparazzo is heading to court. Kardashian has been charged with battery and petty theft, both misdemeanors, after allegedly attacking the photographer and stealing her camera equipment. As his lawyer, Kardashian has hired a man well-known to his family: LegalZoom.com pitchman Robert Shapiro, O.J. Simpson’s former attorney — as was Rob’s late father, Robert Kardashian.

LOVEY DOVEY: After long dodging public confirmation they’ve been dating since co-starring in “The Rum Diary” in 2011, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have not only been spotted at concerts, restaurants and other very visible events — they have made no effort to hide their obvious affection for each other. It was Depp’s infatuation with Heard that led him to end his 14-year relationship with French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis, the mother of his two children.

‘GATSBY’ GAB: A lot of the guests — especially the ladies — really got into the period mood of the 1920s for the Chicago premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” Monday night. After screening this latest big-screen take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic Jazz Age novel, guests partied-on at a post-screening fancy fete at Maxim’s, organized by Margaret O’Connor — herself decked out in proper flapper attire and jewels. Among those spied getting into the Gatsby mood were Chicago Bear Henry Melton, ex-Bear James “Big Cat” Williams, Steve Traxler and Nathalie Lavoie, Arny Granat and Irene Michaels, Hazel and Warren Barr, Stanley Paul, Melissa Babcock, Toni Canada, Bunky Cushing, Nina Mariano, Sherrill Bodine and Dr. Michel O’Meara.

For the Maxim’s party, Mamie Walton parked her replica of a vintage Ford phaeton out front. The car had been a 50th birthday gift from her late husband, Julius Walton, presented to Mamie as she exited her milestone birthday bash — also held at Maxim’s back in the restaurant’s heyday.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Congrats to Our Town’s young restaurant stars RJ, Jerrod and Molly Melman, who have teamed up with Lettuce Entertain You chef/partner Jeff Mahin to expand their Stella Rossa Pizza Bar concept in Santa Monica, Calif. The sister operation, named Stella Barra Pizza Bar, launched Wednesday on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood.

The Melman siblings, of course, have found great success their Chicago hometown, with such hits as their Hub 51, Sub 51, Paris Club, Studio Paris and RPM Italian operations.

† Chef Gaetano Ascione is offering a nice raffle prize to two lucky moms who attend his “Viva La Mamma” Mother’s Day brunch this Sunday at Gioco restaurant. The winners will get to spend a day in the kitchen with Ascione, learning how to cook the kinds of Italian specialties the Naples native has served over the years, including to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

BIG MILESTONE: Veteran boxing promoter Bobby Hitz and his producing partner Frankie Rodriguez are thrilled their “Hitz Boxing” online show has surpassed 5 million cumulative views on YouTube since its launch last August. Hitz calls his program — which also stars the boxing operation’s Renee Tedesco — an “actuality” show rather than a reality show, because they don’t use any of the staging or editing stunts that frequently add drama to the many TV reality shows out there, but merely focus“on the lives of the people who work in the boxing industry.”

SEEN ON THE SCENE: There were sports stars both past and present at Giordanos on Rush over the weekend, including Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the Chicago Sky’s Elena Delle Donne, Cubs pitcher Kevin Gregg and track and field legend Dick Fosbury, the creator of the “Fosbury Flip,” the back-first high-jumping technique that won him a gold medal in that sport at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.



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