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Billy Crystal will host the Oscars again

Plus, Charles M. Schulz; ‘N Sync, Gwyneth Paltrow, Helen Hunt, Heath Ledger, and more

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Billy Crystal
Susan Sterner/AP/Wide World

HE’S BACK Bravely saving the world from another night with Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal has signed on to host the Academy Awards again this March. This will be his seventh go-around as the master of ceremonies; he last served in 1998.

COMIC GOODBYE Adieu, fair Linus: We knew you well. Charles M. Schulz has announced that he will retire from drawing ”Peanuts” on Jan. 4, the day after the last installment runs. Schulz, 77, has been drawing the staunchly unaging kids since Oct. 2, 1950, and has decided to stop in order to focus on his battle with cancer. This truly will be Charlie Brown’s final ”Aaauuuugh!,” as Schulz has a clause in his contract that no one can take over after his death, unlike other strips like ”Blondie” and ”Popeye,” which went on long after their creators had passed away.

TOP GROSSERS ‘N Sync triumphed over the Backstreet Boys in 1999, at least when it came to concert grosses. In the top 10 of this year’s box office tallies, as calculated by Amusement Business Boxscore, ‘N Sync came in fourth with $44.3 million, while the Boys were in 10th with $24.5 million. (Another important comparison factor — decibels reached by screaming prepubescent fans — was not tallied.) The top 3 acts were significantly less plagued by the shriek factor, however: The Rolling Stones ($89.3 million), Bruce Springsteen ($53.0 million), and the Dave Matthews Band ($44.9 million).

CASTING Gwyneth Paltrow may get rid of that whole ”classy” image but fast, seeing as she’s considering starring in a Farrelly Brothers‘ comedy. ”Shallow Hal” centers around a man whose father always taught him to only date young hotties, but he finds himself pining for a real uggo. Or should we put that in layman’s terms?… In ”Pay It Forward,” Helen Hunt will play the mother of ”The Sixth Sense”’s Haley Joel Osment, a young boy who tries to encourage his neighbors to do good deeds. In order to make time to join this project, Hunt dropped out of Mel Gibson’s ”What Women Want,” in which he plays a sexist who can suddenly read women’s minds (kind of like ”Dr. Dolittle” meets ”In the Company of Men”). But Gibson’s not going lonely: Marisa Tomei has signed on to ”Women,” although not in Hunt’s ex-role…. Heath Ledger (”10 Things I Hate About You”) will play a peasant who secretly takes the place of a dead knight on the jousting circuit in ”A Knight’s Tale,” to be written and directed by Brian Helgeland (”Payback”)…. French acting legend Jeanne Moreau (”Jules et Jim”) will have a five-episode stint on ”ER” starting in February, playing Alex Kingston’s mother. Hopefully next sweeps we’ll also see Jean-Paul Belmondo as a cranky landlord on ”Two Guys and a Girl.”