The Dave and Hillary Show

David Letterman has won his grueling battle to book New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has agreed to go on his CBS "Late Show" tonight.

"It was six solid weeks of phone calls and one Banana Republic gift certificate," Letterman's executive producer, Rob Burnett, told us yesterday. The reference to the gift certificate was a joke, Burnett explained. The real reason? "Having Dave on the air, night after night, badgering her, I think they took that seriously," Burnett said.

Last week, after repeated promises not to chase her around the studio with a hammer, Letterman tried reverse psychology and formally uninvited her. That seemed to do the trick. Clinton's campaign press secretary, Howard Wolfson--"weasel" and "pantywaist" as Letterman calls him--phoned around noon yesterday with the good news.

"She's looking forward to it," Wolfson's deputy, Karen Dunn, told us, noting that Clinton last appeared on the show with Letterman's mom, Dorothy, during the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.

And what will Letterman do with the first lady? "The one thing we know right now, he will not chase her around the studio," Burnett said. "No ashtrays or hammers or anything like that. Everything else, your guess is as good as mine." He added: "We have 63 million viewers a night"--another joke: Viewership is more like 4 million--"and that could be 63 million voters as far as I'm concerned. It's all upside for her, really." Not upside the head, we hope.

Is Paris Burning? No, but the Watergate Was

* Political biographer Richard Reeves, who wrote a critically acclaimed book on John F. Kennedy's presidency and is toiling over a tome on Richard Nixon, got a very rough start on Y2K. When Reeves and his wife, United Nations Washington director Catherine O'Neill, returned to their Watergate apartment last week after celebrating the New Year in their part-time Paris home, they found the ravages of a kitchen fire that had melted appliances, caused smoke damage throughout and, worst of all, suffocated their 14-year-old daughter Fiona's two cats, Dinah and Marco Polo.

"Dinah was a tortoise shell that Fiona has had since she was 4 years old, and Marco Polo was a pretty, gray stray that Fiona had found," Reeves told us yesterday from his third residence, a Manhattan pied-a-terre. "You know the strong attachments kids have at this age. It was and is very tough on her. She's really devastated."

Reeves said their two-bedroom rental in the Watergate West building "was a pretty grim-looking landscape. My Grundig radio, which cost as much as a car and can get the BBC and NPR, is just a melted blob." No word yet on the cause, he said. "I always look at the television pictures of those people in North Carolina in the floods, but you never think that kind of thing is going to happen to you." Luckily, Reeves managed to save his Nixon book-in-progress on the Toshiba laptop he took with him to Paris. And the research papers he stored at the Watergate were not seriously damaged. "I had been greatly concerned that this would be the revenge of Nixon."

"I have incredible respect and love for Melania, and who knows what ulti- mately will happen?"

--Reform Party presidential prospect Donald Trump, reacting to a New York Post report that he has dumped his 26-year-old model- girlfriend, Melania Knauss. The Donald "has to be free for a while," a Trump pal says.

THIS JUST IN . . .

* Baroness Garnett Stackelberg, widow of Baltic Baron Constantine Stackelberg, will celebrate her 90th birthday a bit late Sunday evening at her pal Esther Coopersmith's Embassy Row home. "That I'm still alive is an accomplishment," the Washington society matron told us yesterday. Stackelberg, whose birthday was Jan. 5, said her secret is keeping busy. "I've been to 72 countries doing travel writing," said the baroness, who still writes an occasional travel piece as well as a weekly society column for the Palm Beach Daily News.

* President Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, yesterday denied an MSNBC report that he keeps a collection of Playboy magazines in his attic. "I have represented Playboy since 1984 and I subscribe at the office," he told us. At home he has a stack of National Geographics.

* For a photo op in the Grand Canyon yesterday, Clinton showed off his shiny new Australian cowboy boots--for which kangaroos and crocodiles gave their lives. "Not too politically correct," Clinton remarked. Over to you, Bob Barker.