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SWIMMING IN FAME

"Wet, she's a star!"

So went Fanny Brice's trenchant remark about aquatic movie queen Esther Williams.

Esther's films made lots of money in the '40s and '50s for the greatest studio, MGM -- Louis B. Mayer even built her a huge, special pool from which she always emerged with a glistening and perfect coif.

Now Argus Entertainment has purchased the rights to Esther's bestselling memoir, "The Million Dollar Mermaid," for a TV movie. A sneak peek at the producer's wish list has "Will & Grace" star Debra Messing at the top, along with some well-known Olympic-type swimmers. And don't count out a complete unknown. Esther was a statuesque nobody when MGM first noticed her and then put her into an Andy Hardy picture. She and Mickey Rooney chastely kissed underwater.

Of perhaps even more interest is the casting of Esther's husband, Latin movie star Fernando Lamas. He will be played by her stepson, Lorenzo Lamas. (His mother is the flame-haired screen beauty Arlene Dahl, whom Fernando wed before Williams.)

Esther is thrilled by this casting, though a few folks are surprised, given that Lamas senior could be a difficult and controlling man. That aspect of his personality is clear in Esther's book and the current script.

I adored Esther's memoir, but I still wonder about her tale of breaking off her engagement to the rugged and well-liked movie star Jeff Chandler because she discovered he was a transvestite. This caused criticism of Esther because Jeff was no longer alive to defend himself. His still-living friends say they never ever heard such a rumor.

Over the weekend in Las Vegas lots of today's types showed up for the launch of Juicy Couture's first store. (They make colorful clothes for the young and firm.) Nicky Hilton, sister of Paris, was there, along with Courtney Love, Anthony Kiedis, Tiffani-Amber Theissen, Gabrielle Union, Pamela Anderson, David La Chapelle, Michael Clarke Duncan, Scott Wolf, Jason Alexander, Amber Tamblyn, Chris Kattan and Charlie Hunnam.

Speaking of parties, L.A. is getting ready for the GQ Men of the Year bash Thursday. This is the first time the event -- long a Manhattan fete -- takes to the sunny climes of California. Honorees this year include Gael Garcia Bernal, Usher, the hot men of "The O.C.," Quentin Tarantino and Dustin Hoffman. Also attending will be Djimon Hounsou, Jim Caviezel and Tom Ford. (I'd like to be a fly on the wall to overhear the conversation between Mel Gibson's Jesus (Caviezel) and Ford, this column's favorite hedonist.) The party happens at two tony restaurants, Lucques and Ago. These are separated by a parking lot, but for one night only they'll be joined. A huge tent will allow guests to wander glamorously and manfully between the eateries.

Kathy Ireland, the soft-spoken, voluptuous model-turned-actress-turned-mogul, is No. 5 on Inc. Magazine's "Top 10 Celebrity Entrepreneurs." She's there with the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Paul Newman, Sean Combs and Merv Griffin. Kathy Ireland Worldwide earns more than a billion dollars a year from clothes, home furnishings and various accessories. And Kathy really runs her business.

It's always best to see the writing on the wall -- you can't wobble dangerously in high heels on the catwalk or pose bikinied forever. Intermediate string overflow
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