Fidel Castro, Richard Simmons, and Henry James made the news this week

By A.J. Jacobs and Casey Davidson
Updated July 12, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Bay of Wigs: What’s on Fidel Castro’s mind these days? The fall of international communism, perhaps? Nah. More like John F. Kennedy Jr.’s George magazine. According to CBS anchor Dan Rather, who spent three days in Cuba taping The Last Revolutionary, a Castro documentary airing July 18, the grande queso had more than a passing interest in the nine-month-old Pol-ywood glossy. ”He was filled with questions about it,” says Rather. ”He wanted to know: ‘Is Kennedy serious? Is he actively involved, or just lending his name to it? Is it going to make it?’ ” Castro, who seemed to bear no ill will toward the only son of the man who once invaded his country, is also reading a Spanish-language version of Primary Colors done by his personal translator. As for George, a spokesman offered that the editors are ”intrigued” by the Cuban leader’s curiosity. ”After the November election an article on Cuba would be of interest to our readers.” A Washington wig fitting, however, has yet to be scheduled.

Rag Tagger: When the Norma Rae of the ’90s, Kathie Lee Gifford, takes her anti-sweatshop crusade to Washington, D.C., July 16, fat buster Richard Simmons will be by her side. ”Kathie Lee will be Snow White, and I don’t mind being one of her dwarfs,” says Simmons, who’ll also speak at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fashion Industry Forum on sweatshops in the U.S. and abroad. Simmons, invited to the hearings by Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich, has marketed a line of plus-size women’s clothes without incident for five years and credits frequent visits to factories from New Jersey to India for his unblemished record. ”Every designer who is serious should be doing the same thing,” says the fitness guru, adding ”This hearing is going to be a big eye-opener.” In more ways, perhaps, than one. Usually outfitted in a tank top and red gym shorts, Simmons is looking for more appropriate attire for the occasion. ”I’m approaching my 48th birthday, and I don’t own a suit.” Just hope he looks for the union label.

Oh, Henry: Back to the shelves, Jane Austen. When The Portrait of a Lady, starring Nicole Kidman, debuts this December, a new chapter in the classic-books-into-movies saga will unfold — this one featuring novelist Henry James. Disney is adapting Washington Square, James’ tale of sex, lies, and prenuptial agreements, with Ben Chaplin and Jennifer Jason Leigh (the 1949 version, The Heiress, won Olivia de Havilland an Academy Award). And costume-drama curio Helena Bonham Carter will lead Miramax’s love story Wings of the Dove. This isn’t the first time James’ novels have been rediscovered: He experienced a similar renaissance in the ’70s and early ’80s when The Bostonians, Daisy Miller, and The Europeans were made into films. But the novelist is not likely to become a salon standard the way the more accessible Jane Austen has. ”James’ novels are tough,” says Lady coproducer Steve Golin. ”There’s a lot of stuff that’s not easy to crack.”