* Harold Russell, the handicapped former Army man who won an Academy Award as a handless sailor in The Best Years of Our Lives, loves his Oscar, but he loves his wife more. So he's selling the golden statuette to the highest bidder - over the protests of those who awarded it. "My wife has to have an eye operation, and we had a problem with the house, and I need some money," the 78-year-old Russell said in a telephone interview Wednesday from his home in Hyannis Port, Mass. The Oscar that Russell won in 1946 as best-supporting actor will be sold Aug. 6 in New York by autograph specialist Herman Darvick, who estimated that it will bring $20,000 to $40,000. Actor Karl Malden, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote Russell a letter criticizing his decision. The statuettes, Malden wrote, should not be ''sold away like an autographed baseball." Russell said, "My wife's health is much more important than sentimental reasons."
ON THE ROCKS
* Grammy-winning gospel singer Sandi Patti is divorcing her husband and longtime manager, John Helvering, after 13 years of marriage. Patti, 36, who moved out of their home in Anderson, Ind., called the breakup "my last regrettable option." The couple share custody of their 4-year-old twins (a girl and a boy) and daughters ages 8 and 2. "This relationship has been very difficult for me," she says. "It is after much prayer and counsel that this decision has been reached. It is certainly a sad and unfortunate situation, and I covet your prayers."
* Singer Patti LaBelle ended a concert abruptly after complaining onstage about backstage food, according to a manager of the Warwick (Rhode Island) Musical Theater, who said Wednesday that he'd never book the Grammy award- winning singer again.Manager Larry Bonoff said LaBelle left the stage abruptly about 90 minutes into Tuesday's show after complaining about the food served her and her crew. About 1,600 people paid as much as $25 to hear LaBelle, one of two Grammy winners in this year's rhythm-and-blues performance category. They won't receive refunds because LaBelle fulfilled her contract obligation to perform for at least 70 minutes, Bonoff said. LaBelle plays the Etess Arena in Atlantic City today and tomorrow.
AN ACTIVE MARRIAGE
* Most relationships go through their ups and downs, but the marriage of Ivan Espana and Dessi Kehaiova will certainly have flips, tumbles and high- flying adventure. That's because he's a trapeze artist and she's an acrobat with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. They were married last night in the center ring before about 12,000 "guests" in a lavish wedding in Houston. After the ceremony, in which the entire circus cast and 16 elephants participated, they went back to work.
* Paul Reubens continues to separate himself from his Pee-wee Herman persona. He showed up at a recent screening of the new movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which he plays a 1,200-year-old henchman to a master vampire, in black leather with shoulder-length hair and a goatee. "The role is a real departure from Reubens' previous characters," Roger Birnbaum, president of Twentieth Century Fox, said in a massive understatement.
SWEET SUE SCENE
* Donald Trump has sued his former wife, Ivana Trump, for $25 million, saying she failed to keep mum about his affairs. The lawsuit, filed this week in a Manhattan state court, accuses Ivana of fraud for "willful, deliberate and surreptitious disclosure" of his personal, professional and financial dealings. Ivana wrote a novel, For Love Alone, which is generally regarded as a thinly-veiled account of the couple's marriage. She agreed not to publicly discuss her marriage or Trump's affairs in the couple's divorce settlement, under which she received nearly $25 million.
Not that she's spending her honeymoon worrying about it, but Whitney Houston is suing her condominium association for $248,000 over water damage to her North Bergen, N.J., apartment. The singer says that she first complained in 1991 about water leaking in through faulty siding, but that despite a lot of promises to fix the problem, she hasn't seen any results. Houston married singer Bobby Brown on July 18.
Finally, the Sun, a London tabloid, has agreed to pay John Cleese of Monty Python fame, $48,000 to settle a libel suit filed over two articles making allegations about the actor's sex life. Cleese said he will donate the money to the Fulbright Foundation. "The money is going toward scholarships for British screenwriters . . . and I'm delighted the Sun has been able to help."