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'Return of the King' still No. 1

Los Angeles -- The final installment of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy continued to reign at the box office despite a handful of new openings as Hollywood had its best Christmas weekend ever.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" pulled in $51.2 million in ticket sales for a total of $224 million since opening two weeks ago, according to studio estimates released Sunday.

Four movies opened over the holiday weekend, including "Cheaper by the Dozen." The Steve Martin comedy was No. 2 with $28.2 million over the weekend.

The Civil War epic "Cold Mountain" opened in third place with $14.5 million.

Other estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.:

4. "Something's Gotta Give," $14.2 million.

5. "Paycheck," $13.9 million.

6. "Mona Lisa Smile," $11.5 million.

7. "Peter Pan," $11.4 million.

8. "The Last Samurai," $8.4 million.

9. "Bad Santa," $4.5 million.

10. "Elf," $4.3 million.

A grand dame moment

Los Angeles -- Golden Globe nominee Helen Mirren says embarrassment drives her to tears, and she almost broke down recently at Buckingham Palace when she was given the title of dame.

"I felt myself going just as I was walking up," said Mirren, 58. "Prince Charles was waiting there. The throne is behind him and the band is playing. Everyone's families are sitting in the ballroom.

"It's amazing and I thought 'Oh, my God, this is so embarrassing. Stop (crying) right now. Do not go there. Control it.'"

Mirren's role in "Calendar Girls" led to a best actress Golden Globe nomination.

Ferrets for all

Sacramento, Calif.-- Thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger, there could be hope yet for ferrets, banned as pets in California for 70 years on fears they might weasel their way into the wild and ravage populations of ground-dwelling birds.

Some ferret owners believe the new governor, who worked with a ferret in "Kindergarten Cop," will sign legislation legalizing the animals.

"We have an inequity here, and this man is sensitive to that kind of thing," said Jeanne Carley, founder of Californians for Ferret Legalization.

A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman refused to comment Saturday on what his stand might be on the ferret issue.

'PTL Club' singer dies

Nashville, Tenn. -- Vestal Goodman, a pioneering gospel music singer who performed for half a century, including a stint on "The PTL Club" with Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, died Saturday. She was 74.

Goodman died in Celebration, Fla., funeral officials said. The cause of death was not available.

Goodman and her late husband, Howard "Happy" Goodman, were part of The Happy Goodman Family act, which recorded 15 No. 1 gospel music songs.

In the mid-1980s, Howard and Vestal were regulars on "The PTL Club" television show starring the Bakkers. The Goodmans left in 1988 after three years on the show and were not linked to financial improprieties as others on the show were.

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