The New Bickersons: Jay Leno and Who?

Believe it or not, Jay Leno has been squabbling by phone for the past five weeks with Republican presidential contender Alan Keyes's communications director. The star of NBC's "Tonight Show" has tangled repeatedly with Becky Fenger, Keyes's Phoenix-based spokeswoman, ever since his June 23 monologue--in which he joked that the GOP field is "the Ivory Coalition." The next day, Fenger phoned Burbank to protest that her infrequently publicized candidate--who is African American--was being unfairly ignored by Leno. Fenger demanded a "correction." Leno called back. They argued. And it was off to the races.

"Psycho-woman!" Leno told us yesterday, minutes after his latest phone session with Fenger. "Is she really nuts or what?"

"I have to wonder if Jay doesn't get off on rage," Fenger riposted. "Maybe he's a rage-aholic."

The two combatants naturally offered differing accounts of their troubled relationship, and The Source has no intention of taking sides. But here's Jay's version: "She's called a dozen times. I've talked to her around four. The first time, I talked to her for about half an hour. I said, 'Alan Keyes is not an officially announced candidate, right? Right! Case closed! If somewhere down the road he makes news, then I'll talk about him.' She says, 'I want a correction. Why haven't you mentioned him?' 'Because your candidate hasn't done anything yet.' Then she called again today with her demands, saying she's gonna go to the press."

Fenger said yesterday's conversation took place after she phoned to check whether Leno had received her gag gift of Buddy Holly-style sunglasses--"to help him tell black from white," she said. Leno called back and they started in again over his unwillingness to correct his joke. "He said, 'Go ahead, tell the press. Go tell China,' " Fenger told us. "He just called me a vicious woman."

"That's not how I remember it," Leno said. "When she kept saying, 'You have to do this or I'm going to the press,' I think I said, 'There's no reason to get vicious about this.' . . . Here's my problem," Leno added. "Can we not make this a racial issue?" Leno said Fenger threatened to take her complaints to the NAACP.

"Jay is bananas," Fenger said. And Leno complained: "This candidate, in my opinion, probably has the worst staff representing him. That's why Keyes is doing so poorly in the polls. A horrible staff!"

Gore: The Hair Issue

* Lots of comments on the front-page photograph of Vice President Gore in yesterday's paper. Several people told us that he looks, well, different. Fitter and trimmer, of course--he's been jogging like a madman--but what exactly, they wondered, is he doing with his hair?

The Source brought before- and-after photos to the experts at Salon Cristophe-- whose namesake has coiffed the Clintons and was once accused of delaying air traffic at LAX with a $200 presidential haircut on Air Force One. Gore is "definitely coloring his hair," said colorist Krista Depeyrot. "My guess is that he's graying a little bit and just trying to blend it through with his natural color." Stylist Philippe (who wouldn't tell us his surname) said Gore's coiffure is "a tiny bit longer on the top, so he can brush it back" and manage the cowlick on the right. "It's definitely a good look. He's got that je ne sais quoi movie-star thing going."

Gore called us from the road in a baldfaced effort to put the Hair Issue to rest: "I want to congratulate you on the seriousness of the journalism in which you are taking part," he said. "We haven't heard from Cristophe for several years now. But my colorist is none other than Father Time. There is a race underway between the graying of my hair and the losing of my hair. I'm hoping that the graying will win out." Heck, so do we!

THIS JUST IN . . .

* Finally, a direct personal apology from Columba Bush. Florida's first lady--who was caught last month trying to sneak $19,000 worth of clothes and jewelry through Customs after a Parisian shopping spree--told reporters at an Orlando charity lunch that she made "an awful mistake." Gov. Jeb Bush's wife said: "The embarrassment I brought on myself made me ashamed to face my family and friends."

* In case you were wondering, Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) still believes President Clinton is "an unusually good liar," a comment he made several years ago. "What I said was entirely deserved--make no mistake," Kerrey told Kirk Victor of the National Journal.

* Big buzz in Beverly Hills over yesterday's Four Seasons breakfast between DreamWorks mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and uber-agent Michael Ovitz. Comparing their Disney settlements?

Got a hot tip or a nagging question? Dish with Lloyd Grove today at 9 a.m. EDT at http://washingtonpost.com/liveonline.