POLL CITY: Clint Eastwood is America's favorite movie star, according to the annual Harris Poll released Wednesday. No. 2 is Mel Gibson, No. 3, Tom Cruise and No. 4, John Wayne. (Yes, that would be the dead John Wayne. The one who hasn't made a movie in 20-plus years.) Women stars (living ones, even) fared poorly in the poll--the highest ranked actress was Demi Moore at No. 23.

SEVENS DEUCES: Garth Brooks new studio album, Sevens, hit No. 1 on the U.S. pop album charts for the second week in a row. The Princess Diana tribute collection, meanwhile, bowed at a disappointing No. 15.

OSCAR WATCH: The National Board of Review is the first out of the box with year-end movie awards. Honored today as best picture: the crime-noirish L.A. Confidential. Jack Nicholson was selected best actor for the upcoming As Good As It Gets; Helena Bonham Carter, best actress for The Wings of the Dove. Let the Oscar handicapping begin.

YOU, THE PEOPLE: Who says Jenny McCarthy and Bob Newhart don't have anything in common? The two were among nominees announced Wednesday for the 24th annual People's Choice Awards, to be broadcast January 11 on CBS.

MORE YOUNG LAWYERS: John Grisham's latest novel, The Street Lawyer, hasn't even been published yet. But like The Rainmaker and everything the author has published since, reports out of Hollywood say the studios are lining up to bid for the film rights--one film-house is ready to cough up $8 million.

TON O' CHARITY: Elton John handed over a check for $32 million to Princess Diana's charity organization today--the funds representing the proceeds from the pop star's mega-selling "Candle in the Wind" single.

SCAPEGOAT: Somebody had to pay for Warner Bros. lousy year at the box office, and now somebody has. Chris Pula is out as the studio's marketing chief after only 11 months. At least he gets out before suffering from likely bomb damage from Kevin Costner's upcoming The Postman.

PEACOCK PLUCKED: From first to worst. For the first time in a year, NBC finished a ratings week in third place. The usual lowly ABC took the week, ended Sunday, with the help of a No. 1-rated installment of Monday Night Football.

BACK IN THE POOL: Disney is ready to deploy its secret weapon for the holiday box-office: The Little Princess. The studio will release the animated feature back into theaters (again) December 19 to go head-to-head with the likes Titanic and Mouse Hunt, from bitter rival DreamWorks SKG.

SADDLING UP? Kevin Kline may reportedly step into the Wild, Wild West role vacated this week by George Clooney. Kline would play Artemis Gordon, to Will Smith's James West in the big-screen remake. For all the casting news, see The Dotted Line.

LOSING THE FARM: Bette Midler apparently didn't take a liking to the bucolic life, dropping out of Green Acres--yet another based-on-a-TV-show film project. Milder was to have starred and produced.

NO DICE: Tupac Shakur's long-lost biological father William Garland played a "minuscule" part in his son's life, and deserves no cut of his estate, a judge ruled late Tuesday.

SERVING SIMPSON: Owners of a Brentwood, California, eatery have forked over $500 to make amends for refusing to serve O.J. Simpson and his party. The ex-footballer was turned way from the Brentwood Inn because his presence was upsetting to the other diners. His lawyer complained--and now O.J.'s got $500, enough to take a party of six out for a bite of dinner.

FINGER POINTING: Edward James Olmos is blaming Harvey Keitel for the latest sexual assault allegations to dog the ex-Miami Vice star. Olmos' lawyer says Keitel sent a P.I. to South Carolina to pressure police there to investigate a woman's complaint againt him. Keitel admits to hiring the detective, but says Olmos' problems are his own.

COSBY TRIALS: In Los Angeles, a lawyer for accused Ennis Cosby killer Mikail Markhasev says the case is so complicated he'll need the scheduled February 17 trial date pushed back so he can get more prep time....In New York, sentencing is expected this week for Autumn Jackson, convicted last July of trying to extort money from Bill Cosby.

MOVING PLANS: Pop oddity Michael Jackson has purchased a two-story palace in Warsaw, Poland. Work is underway to make the property a fitting site for Jacko's 40th birthday celebration next summer.

CYBER STONE: Mick Jagger has a dream: bring cricket games to the masses, via the Internet. Thus his new venture, Jagged Internetworks.

BLUES CHRISTMAS: Blues great B.B. King has been tapped to play for Pope John Paul II on December 19 at the Vatican's equivalent of the annual office party.

OR BEST OFFER: The nine-bedroom, seven-fireplace New York "love nest" that Sony Music mogul Tommy Mottola built for songbird wife Mariah Carey can be yours: for $40 million. Mottola, now split from Carey, reportedly put the mansion on the market in recent weeks.

LOVE STORY: Woody Allen is back doing that thing he does (besides filmmaking): Defending his romance with Soon-Yi Previn (aka, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter). "Taking it at its absolute worst...you would say, 'Yeah, this was something that one shouldn't do.' And you know, yes! So what!," the 62-year-old funnyman tells today's New York Observer.

DAN THE MAN: Give Dan Rather a boat-load of money, watch your viewership soar. Rather's CBS Evening News perked up all the way to a tie for first place with the NBC Nightly News, for the week ended Sunday--the latest in a series of ratings' surges since the newsman inked a big, fat new contract with CBS.

FUNDING ANGEL: Hold the shovels. The bankrupt Hollywood Memorial Park--burial ground to stars like Rudolph Valentino, Jayne Mansfield and the kid who played Alfalfa in the Little Rascals shorts--was saved from some very bad karma today when another morturary paid $375,000 to rescue the cemetery from the red.

MAESTRO'S STUFF: A Sotheby's auction of personal mementos belonging to the late conductor/composer Leondard Bernstein is scheduled to close today in New York.

EXIT: Bereft of its star power (supplied previously by Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg and David Alan Grier), the Broadway revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum will close January 4, after 715 performances, it's been announced.

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