Howie is hands-on, then hands-off

By Mark Shanahan & Meredith Goldstein
Globe Staff / October 19, 2009

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“Deal or No Deal’’ host Howie Mandel had them laughing at Friday’s gala for the National Braille Press. Called “Hands On! Books for Blind Children,’’ the event at the Renaissance Waterfront was co-chaired by InterContinental Real Estate’s Peter Palandjian and his wife, Minou, Greater Media’s Peter Smyth (above, with Mandel), Celts co-owner Steve Pagliuca, and ex-Sovereign CEO Joe Campanelli, and included a special award for Rocco Fiorentino, a 12-year-old New Jersey lad who helped convince the New Jersey Legislature to dedicate $1.2 million to Braille education. Afterward, the appreciative audience wanted to shake Mandel’s hand, but the swine flu-phobic funnyman politely declined.

JoJo has her mojo back
At last, it looks like JoJo will release a new CD. The Foxborough-raised pop singer, who’se been mostly mute since her second CD “The High Road’’ in 2006, confirmed via Twitter that she’s back. “The deal is done! Blackground/Interscope :) Longtime comin’,’’ wrote the 18-year-old singer, whose self-titled debut CD sold more than three million copies worldwide. JoJo, who was set to start at Northeastern in the fall, had earlier filed suit against Da Family Entertainment, demanding to be released from her contract and seeking $500,000 for being in limbo for so long. Word is she’s working with producer Toby Gad, who’s had hits with Beyonce, Fergie, and Natasha Bedingfield.

Justin staying in LA
Pay no attention to those reports that Justin Timberlake is due in Boston any day to begin shooting on “The Social Network.’’ He’s not coming. When cameras start rolling this week for the movie based on Ben Mezrich’s book about Facebook founders Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker, JT will be MIA. Timberlake, as we told you awhile ago, will shoot his scenes in LA instead. But there is some happy news for Mezrich - his wife, Tonya, is pregnant with their first child, a boy, we’re told.

Dining and dishing
Former BU professor and “People’s History’’ author Howard Zinn chowed at Legal Sea Foods in Charles Square over the weekend, as did Qatar’s ambassador to the US Nasser Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, who was in with his son. . . . Joan Rivers-impersonator Joe Posa dished with the diva after her sold-out show at the Wilbur over the weekend. Posa asked if he could borrow the comedienne’s Christian Dior black slacks, matching long-sleeve blouse, and red necklace when he plays the Palm Beach Princess Casino in November. “Anytime, honey,’’ replied Rivers.

Helping out
The Mandarin Oriental hotel played host to a slew of star chefs at Saturday’s Silk Road Gala benefiting the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence. Lydia Shire, Ming Tsai, Michael Schlow, Ting San, Ken Oringer, and Joanne Chang all prepped special provisions for the party. Guests included Hizzoner Tom Menino, his challenger Sam Yoon, City Councilor Mike Ross, do-gooder Don Rodman, the event organizers Marjorie Clapprood and Chris Spinazzola, Boston Harbor Association’s Vivien Lee, and flack Marlo Fogelman. . . . Stellar songwriters Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom and Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses played a benefit Saturday afternoon at the Middle East for Amie Searles, wife of popular Boston music blogger Brad Searles. Amie has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

A-list stunt double
Tom Cruise is doing some of his own stunts in “Knight & Day,’’ but the A-list action man was not on the hood of the car Saturday as it raced along Rutherford Avenue in Charlestown. The lookalike hanging on for dear life was Casey O’Neill (above), who has been Cruise’s stunt understudy on several of the A-list action man’s movies. O’Neill shows up in “Valkyrie,’’ “Mission: Impossible III,’’ “War of the Worlds,’’ “Collateral,’’ and “The Last Samurai.’’

Around town
Before her gig at the Wang, Aretha Franklin summoned two stylists from Patrice Vinci Salon on Newbury Street to her suite at the Four Seasons. Of course, Roberto Echevarria and Larry Hamilton treated the tresses of “the Queen of Soul’’ with much respect. Yesterday, Amanda Palmer was at the salon to get dolled up by stylist Desi for a guest appearance in “Sleep No More’’ at the ART. . . . Sox slugger David Ortiz stopped by Kings Dedham at Legacy Place over the weekend, bowling a few strings with his family while keeping an eye on the Yankees game. . . . Too bad about Wyc Grousbeck’s boat. The Celts CEO was having a great row in the Head of the Charles Regatta until his eight-person boat crashed at Weeks Bridge while passing another team. (The other boat was penalized.) Before the crash, Wyc’s Cambridge Boat Club crew was on pace to finish in the top 10, but placed 13th.

Encore, encore
Barbra Streisand’s significant other James Brolin was the emcee at Berklee College of Music’s annual Encore Gala, held Saturday night at the Park Plaza. In addition to Brolin, whose 21-year-old daughter Molly is a Berklee student, special guests included singer Lalah Hathaway - a Berklee grad - and drummer John Blackwell, who’s kept the beat for the likes Prince and Justin Timberlake.

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