B-Day Blues: Why did ”Happy Birthday” cause an outbreak of stage fright during a scene in Waiting to Exhale? Because Angela Bassett and Lela Rochon didn’t want to trade high notes with Whitney Houston while singing to costar Loretta Devine’s character. ”I was like, ‘I’m gonna lip-synch,’ ” says Bassett, who did just that playing Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It. ”I’m not singing in front of Whitney.” Ditto, says Rochon. ”At first, I was just mouthing the words. Then Forest Whitaker, the director, caught me and yelled, ‘Lela, why won’t you sing?’ ” Eventually, ”we worked it back and forth,” says Bassett. ”We all sang a little and she sang a lot.” The Voice was oblivious to her costars’ performance anxiety. ”Angela said she was afraid to sing?” asks Houston. ”That’s so cute!”
— Cindy Pearlman
Mad About Them: ”Everywhere I go, people think I’m Helen Hunt,” says comic actress Bonnie Hunt, who does bear a passing resemblance to the Mad About You star — and then some. ”My mother gets told, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky that your daughters are doing so well.’ She never corrects anybody when they assume Helen is her daughter,” says Hunt, adding jokingly, ”She’s actually more proud of her work than she is of mine.” Always the comedian, Hunt has decided to bring her other namesakes into the act: ”When a fan holds out Helen’s picture for me to autograph, I usually sign it Linda Hunt — just to make their heads really crazy.”
Name of the Game: Not since Rapa Nui has a movie title caused as much confusion as TriStar’s Jumanji, out Dec. 15. ”Some guy came up to me and said, ‘Jumanji? That’s the movie about the baseball player, isn’t it?’ ” says Robin Williams, who plays a man freed after being trapped inside a magical jungle board game for 26 years. ”It’s amazing how many times it has been mispronounced. I even get ‘You’re doing that bio of Jim Janee. I’ve heard of him.’ ” For the record, Williams reveals that Jumanji is Zulu for ”many effects,” but that has not kept him from toying with fans. ”Now when people ask me what Jumanji means,” he says, ”I tell them it’s an island in the Caribbean. Book your travel there early.”
Peta File: Don’t look now, but Bill Maher, the Politically Incorrect TV host, is acting politically.correct. While appearing on Celebrity Jeopardy!, Maher announced he was donating his winnings to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an organization supported by many hip celebs (Jennie Garth and Cindy Crawford among them). He says the choice is not the least bit ironic. ”Politically incorrect just means being honest and saying what people are really thinking,” says Maher. ”If people are thinking they have dominion over animals, then they’re not politically correct or incorrect, they’re just wrong.” While he supports the cause, Maher admits he still wears leather, though PETA chairwoman Ingrid Newkirk plans to change that. ”We’ll have to tell him to think of leather as hairless fur,” she says.