HAS NBC-10's

Harry Hairston

socked it to

Aretha Franklin

?

"If I had a dime for everyone who's asked me that question, I would have retired years ago," Hairston told us yesterday.

The TV reporter caught up with the Queen of Soul yesterday for an exclusive interview just before the singer received an honorary doctorate of music at the University of Pennsylvania's graduation.

Hairston told us yesterday that he served as Franklin's date in the early 1990s to the Grammy Awards and to a White House dinner under President Bill Clinton.

Franklin took a liking to Hairston in 1988, when the reporter, then working at a Detroit TV station, was a guest model in a fashion show.

Hairston, who has been married to an auto executive named Ruth since 1999, was single at the time he served as arm candy for Franklin. "She's a very good friend," Hairston said when we asked if he'd ever made her feel like a "Natural Woman."

"OK, so how would you rate her as a lover," we tried, but Hairston wouldn't budge. "She's an incredible person, a gracious friend."

We couldn't immediately reach her for a comment.

Hairston accompanied Franklin and her beau, Willie Wilkerson (who is now engaged to Franklin, the New York Post reports), to the Palm (200 S. Broad) yesterday for lunch with her security team. Franklin went for the lobster and some key-lime pie, of which Hairston says he's a fan.

Kenneth Keith promises laughs

Boothwyn's Kenneth Keith Kallenbach will be seen on Thursday night's episode of "Human Giant," (10:30, MTV) playing a druggie in the sketch- comedy show. Kallenbach says he has "a bunch of lines and I'm hilarious in it no doubt." The Howard Stern wack-packer has his own comedy DVD coming out June 5. It's called "American Icon," and available wherever DVDs are sold.

Meet Billy from

'Melrose Place'

"Melrose Place" alum Andrew Shue and actress Carly Shroeder will hang out from noon to 1 p.m. at City Sports (1608 Walnut) to meet fans and hand out 20 passes to a sneak preview of "Gracie," at the Ritz Five (214 Walnut) at 7 tonight. The film stars Shue, and his sister Elisabeth Shue, and deals with a teenage girl who doesn't let her brother's tragic death end her soccer dreams.

VIPs come out for Magee

Andy Reid, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy King, Dallas Green, Bernie Parent, Billy Cunningham, and Fran Dunphy were among guests at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital's annual Night of Champions gala Saturday at the Sheetmetal Workers Union Local 19 Hall (1301 S. Columbus). The event raised more than $182,000 for Magee. Penn State football player Adam Taliaferro, who was treated at Magee, was also at the fundraiser, at which CBS-3's Beasley Reece served as auctioneer as 610 WIP's Joe Conklin kept the crowd in stitches.

Out and about

Tyler Ritter, son of late "Three's Company" star John Ritter, graduated from Penn yesterday and celebrated the night before with his actor brother Jason Ritter and a few more guys at the Prime Rib (17th & Locust).

* Ty Barnett, of NBC's "Last

Comic Standing," popped into Cascamorto (20th & Arch) Saturday after performing at the Philadelphia Bar Association's Young Lawyers party at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Barnett drank wine and mingled with the crowd at the piano bar where Stu Shames tickled the ivories. *

If you have something you'd like to share with Dan, call 215-854-5963, or e-mail grossd@phillynews.com. To read Dan's recent columns, visit http://go.philly.com/dangross.