Byline: Aileen Mehle

Minnie Driver says Bonnie Hunt, who directed her in “Return To Me,” looked out for her both emotionally and from an acting point of view in the movie, which Hunt cowrote and costars in. “She made sure my jumper was flattering and my skirt wasn’t too frumpy,” says Miss Minnie. Isn’t that what girlfriends are for?…During the months Kim Basinger spent on location making “I Dreamed of Africa,” she practically fell in love with elephants. Maybe it’s because “they literally tiptoe on soft, cushioned feet,” says Kim, who plays the great conservationist Kuki Gallman in the flick. “You can’t hear them, even if they’re in your backyard. Sometimes you only know they’re around because there’s a cracking of a tree branch — which they love to do to get at the leaves.” Which is a lot better than pussy-footing around to get a crack at Kim.+Toni Collette’s next picture is “8 1/2 Women,” a sexy extravaganza from the notorious British filmmaker Peter Greenaway, opening in New York next month. It’s said that the movie pays homage to the late Federico Fellini and in it, golly-gee and mercy-me, Collette plays an ex-nun whose entire body is shaved when she joins a harem! I mean, even where no hair grows at all! For Greenaway, total nudity seems to be compulsory. He has persuaded such luminaries as Ralph Fiennes, Julia Ormond, Helen Mirren and John Gielgud to bare their all for their art. John Gielgud???!!!

Can we wait until summer for “Blow Dry,” Miramax’s outrageous summer comedy? I can if you can. It stars Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Josh Hartnett, Rachel Leigh Cook and supermodel Heidi Klum, who can fill out any swimsuit that comes her way, you may have noticed. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty”) has gone from steelworkers-turned-strippers to hairdressers-turned-hellraisers in the story about a sleepy, working-class city chosen to host the National Hair Championship. Everyone involved has a hideous hair day complete with frazzled nerves and split ends. It’s said to out-frizz “Hair,” “Shampoo” and “Hairspray.”…”I was really obnoxious and unattractive as a teenager,” says ravishing Cameron Diaz, who now makes at least $10 million a movie, which amazes her as much as it amazes us. “Growing up, I was the plain one. I had no style. I was the tough kid with the comb in the back pocket and the feathered hair.” She’s come a long way, baby, but that hair still has a long way to go.

Three rousing cheers for music industry icon Ahmet Ertegun! The Atlantic Group co-chairman/co-ceo has been selected as a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, no less. Ahmet, who founded Atlantic Records 52 years ago, was honored in Washington as part of the Library’s Bicentennial (1800-2000) celebration. One of only 78 Americans chosen for the prestigious honor, Ahmet received a medal specially created for the occasion at a National Birthday Party and Concert on the East Lawn of the Capitol. The program’s highlight was a concert of American musical forms including Latin, pop, rock, jazz, folk, bluegrass and country. Oh, and Bobby Short, a long-time Atlantic recording artist, is also among those who were honored with the Library’s “Living Legend.”

Nancy Davis’s Annual Race to Erase MS is Friday’s hot ticket at the Century Plaza in Los Angeles. Out there it’s considered the height of cool. The sponsors are Tommy Hilfiger and VH1, and this year’s gala will honor Montel Williams. Among the rock superstars participating will be Bush, 98 Degrees and Wyclef Jean & The Product. Among the stars who will perform in the show are David Foster, Bill Maher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and John Stamos, Natalie Cole and Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna-Hamlin. Expected are Angela Bassett, Dustin Hoffman, Marilu Henner, Kate Hudson, Christian Slater, Penny Marshall, Sidney Poitier, Teri Garr, Rachel Hunter, Roshumba Willians and — who’s left? Among the items to be auctioned are an original Andy Warhol painting signed by Andy and Mick Jagger, a signed baseball bat from Kevin Costner and a Natalie Cole performance in your living room. Kevin Costner?

Arnold Scaasi of the made-to-order Scaasis left his salon just off Fifth Avenue to fly to Palm Beach just in time to give a little end-of-the-season dinner party at Club Colette. In the crowd were the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Emilia and Pepe Fanjul, Christina and Gerry Goldsmith, Lord Charles Spencer-Churchill and his former wife Jane, the famous London interior decorator, Terry Allen Kramer, Palm Beach Mayor Lesly Smith, Parker Ladd, Grace Meigher, Pauline and Bill Pitt, like that. Scaasi and Ladd will open their Long Island house for the summer before flying off to London and a Buckingham Palace evening starring the Prince of Wales. La!

Southampton Hospital’s Summer Party on Aug. 5 is being sponsored by the legendary jeweler Verdura and it’s called “The Beach Ball,” which seems appropriate, particularly when you consider that the late great Fulco de Verdura practically invented shell jewelry. Adair Beutel and Jean Remmel Little are the co-chairmen, and the night will be a salute to all the past chairmen of this annual ball, always the biggest blast of the season. Among the honorees are Robin Duke, Betty Sherrill, Cathy de Montezemolo, Jean Tailer, Dina Merrill, Charlotte Ford, Lynette Gittis, Chessy Patcevitch, Pat Patterson and Pat Wood, Southampton stalwarts all.