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NOW, AT LAST, it's possible to celebrate the art of gossip. Coral Amende has written a fascinating little paperback book, "If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say . . . Come Sit Next to Me," published in April.

The author has collected hundreds of pithy quotations by celebrities about their peers, from actors to authors, statesmen to socialites, generals to gangsters, bandleaders to boxers, George Washington to Barbra Streisand.Some of the comments are really funny and some are downright nasty.

Here are some examples:

- Liam Neeson about Dan Aykroyd: "I don't think Dan Aykroyd would be as funny if he were built like a marathon runner. I find it refreshing that people like Dan let their bodies go to seed."

- Dave Barry on Cher: "Cher has had so much cosmetic surgery that for ease of maintenance many of her body parts are attached with Velcro."

- Pauline Kael on Charles Grodin: "He keeps threatening to be funny, but he rarely makes it."

- Spencer Tracy on Katherine Hepburn: "Well, we just got used to working together. She butts in and I don't mind, and I pick it up when she leaves off. We just got used to working together, that's all."

- Debra Winger on Shirley MacLaine: "She just behaved badly - like she was competing with me. I understand that Shirley grew up in a different era, when women had flesh under their fingernails from competing with one another, but I'm not like that."

- Robert Redford on Paul Newman: "He looks great and feels great, has lots of money, gives to good causes, is in love with his wife, races cars, is incredibly happy and still has a face . . . After having dinner with him, I wanted to shoot myself."

- Steve Allen on Ted Koppel: "He's brilliant. I love him. But he does have funny hair."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald on Hemingway: "I was the champ and when I read his stuff I knew he had something. So I dropped a heavy glass skylight on his head at a drinking party. But you can't kill the guy. He's not human."

- Bill Clinton on George Bush: "You know, Bush is always comparing me to Elvis Presley in sort of unflattering ways. I don't think Bush would have liked Elvis very much, and that's just another thing that's wrong with him."

- George Bush on Bill Clinton: "First one side of an issue, then the other. He's been spotted in more places than Elvis Presley."

- Nathaniel Hawthorne on George Washington: "Did anyone ever see Washington nude? It is inconceivable. He had no nakedness, but I imagine he was born with his clothes on and his hair powdered, and made a stately bow on his first appearance in the world."

- Dan Dierdorf on Al Michaels: "Al is inquisitive, knowledgeable and incredibly well-prepared. I don't know what his IQ is, but it's probably only a couple of points lower than mine."

- Johnny Miller on Jack Nicklaus: "When Jack Nicklaus plays well, he wins. When he plays badly, he finishes second. When he plays terrible, he finishes third."

- Dick Motta on Danny Ainge: "Ainge hurt his back picking up a suitcase. It must have had his contract in it."

- David Letterman on Joey Buttafuoco: "I had a pretty good summer, kind of relaxing. I think I must have gone 2 months without saying the word `Buttafuoco."'

- Artemus Ward on Brigham Young: "He's dreadfully married. He's the most married man I ever saw in my life."

- Robert Benchley on Albert Einstein: "If Mr. Einstein doesn't like the natural laws of the universe, let him go back to where he came from."