Cynthia Ann Bell, an utterly charming flight attendant for Xtra Jet, did a lot to save Michael Jackson's hide yesterday.
In front of the child-molestation trial jury, Bell recalled a flight she made with Jackson and 10 other people from Miami to Santa Barbara, Calif., on Feb. 7, 2003, by private plane.
At issue was the allegation that Jackson served liquor to a minor in a Diet Coke can.
Not only did Bell deny this allegation, she added some unknown details. She said that she "carded" the then-16-year-old sister of the accusing teenage boy in the Jackson case. Nevertheless, she served the girl liquor.
Bell also said that Jackson hated turbulence and was a "private drinker," preferring to hide his wine or vodka in a container or soda can. She conceded, however, that on this flight he did not ask for the concealment — she did it on her own.
She insisted that Jackson never shared his liquor with the accusing boy.
But Bell had harsh words for the boy, recalling that he started a food fight on the plane, complained that his chicken dinner was cold and was "unusually rude and discourteous."
"It was embarrassing to have him on board, actually," she added.
The stewardess also recalled that the accusing boy talked about "getting a watch from Michael" and boasted that "it was very expensive."
Bell, called as a prosecution witness, did more harm than good to District Attorney Tom Sneddon's case. The jury seemed captivated by her.
Bell's testimony continues today.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein, founders of Miramax, are finally getting their divorce from Disney.
Their new studio, with the interim name of The Weinstein Company, already has an advisory board, according to sources.
It includes Robert Redford and Paul Newman, plus a group of heavy financial hitters, including Steve Rattner, Jim Dolan, Dirk Ziff, Mickey Drexler, Nelson Peltz, Arnon Milchan, Tarak Ben Ammar and Paul Tudor Jones.
The Weinsteins may not be able to keep the company name, but a lot of other things will stay the same.
For one thing, they get to keep the office.
Sources tell me that part of the Weinsteins' separation deal is that they've bought back from Disney the fabled Miramax offices at 375 Greenwich St. in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City.
When Miramax and Disney are finally severed from each other this fall, whatever's left of Miramax will vacate the premises. The Weinsteins will stay on in their offices, along with selected Miramax employees.
The Weinsteins will get more than just the offices. They'll also keep the Dimension subsidiary name, plus interests in restaurants like the Tribeca Grill in New York and Ago in West Hollywood, many lucrative TV projects such as "Project Runway" and "Project Greenlight" and the stage rights to a number of hit Miramax films, including "Cinema Paradiso" and "Chocolat."
The latter, I'd like to add, was suggested as a musical in this column three years ago.
Ironically, the Weinsteins will still be doing some business with Disney — just operating under a new name. They share a lot of underlying rights to projects and Disney will do some of their distribution.
But with independent financing, the brothers will also be able to do more adventurous, big-budget pictures and the kinds of films that Disney has not had the creative imagination to support or execute.
After comedy-club owner Jamie Masada and comedian George Lopez testified in the Michael Jackson trial this week, one thing is pretty clear: D.A. Sneddon is trying to separate the accuser's parents in the minds of the jury.
The goal is to paint the father as a bad guy and grifter, while the mother as simply religious and pure.
But guess what? The father is not going to take this lying down.
His attorney told me yesterday that the father is not the selfish money-grubber depicted by Lopez and Masada. For example, when the accuser's mother was awarded $163,000 in her settlement from JCPenney, the father's "take" was a mere $5,000.
What happened to the remaining dough?
"You'll have to ask her," the attorney said.
Listening to Lopez and Masada, as well as to Lopez's articulate wife Ann, the jury got an earful about the accuser's mother. What's really come to light is that she had an usual knack for eliciting money and gifts without actually asking for it.
Masada said in his often contentious and humorous testimony that the mother never asked him for things.
Rather, he said, she would present a dire situation — no money, no furniture, need for karate lessons — and let him finish the sentence.
Masada, overly generous by his own description, would rush to fill the void.
It was a clever method of passive-aggressive greed on the part of the mother. And while the district attorney would like the jury to think her ex-husband was the only one who was conning celebrities, Masada told a few stories that undermined this strategy.
When the accuser's mother left her husband, her boyfriend, Jay Jackson, then became her tool for doing the fundraising dirty work.
It was Jay Jackson, Masada recalled, who filled in for the father. And it was Jay Jackson who let it drop to Masada that the kids needed karate lessons, but they were "expensive."
"I said, 'How much will take it make this happen?'" Masada recalled.
He wrote a check immediately, not realizing he'd been suckered.
Perhaps he still doesn't realize it, because on the stand he said he never asked Jay Jackson how much his income was. The answer: $80,000 a year.
In trading a husband for a boyfriend, the accuser's mother had moved up financially without informing her steadfast benefactor.
The picture of the accuser's mother that's come in clear over the last few days shows that she was simultaneously accepting welfare, alimony, the JCPenney settlement and charity from a variety of sources — all the time keeping everyone involved in the dark.
Masada ran fundraisers for her at his club, but she never told him about the JCPenney lawsuit or the subsequent six-figure settlement. He first heard it about after the Jackson scandal broke.
Then, while erstwhile comic and radio executive Louise Palanker was giving her $20,000, the mother was not only buying DVD players and cosmetic surgery but was also accepting charity from the LAPD in the form of a Christmas tree and presents.
Within the same year, she was also soliciting press in a local weekly newspaper, which resulted in another "fund" for her poor family.
I can't wait to see a PowerPoint presentation on all this in court. Done properly, it could be the proposal for a book she could publish about how to have it all.
There's more that will come out about the dark side of the accuser's family.
I told you in February 2004 that the mother spent time in a Los Angeles mental hospital in 1998. This was revealed in court papers related to the ongoing bitter custody battle with her ex-husband, who filed an affidavit with Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 28, 2004.
The father claims that his wife spent time at the Kaiser Permanente Mental Health facility in downtown L.A. in 1998. He does not specify how much time she spent there.
H. Russell Halpern, the father's lawyer in his custody case, reiterated yesterday that the statement is true and that insurance records will back it up. Halpern said he didn't know how much time the accuser's mother spent in the facility.
Lopez, his wife and Masada all testified this week that the mother was not a presence when the accuser was being treated for cancer. The father was constantly on hand, even if, according to testimony, he was also looking for a handout.
"[The father] slept in a chair at his son's bedside," Halpern observed. "When [the mother] came to the hospital, she engaged her husband in shouting matches."
In his affidavit, the father — who was accused by his ex-wife of domestic abuse during their divorce — paints a picture of an unstable woman who's convinced her children to make up stories in other situations that might benefit them.
The father also claims in his affidavit that his ex-wife coached their kids to lie in her case against JCPenney.
"She would write questions and answers for the kids," he writes, "to study and practice with her."
According to court papers, the mother went into family court on March 11, 2003, to have her child-support payments increased to $1,499 a month — almost double what she'd previously been receiving.
At the time, the mother was also the beneficiary of $769 a month in public assistance.
The date of the mother's demand for more money from her ex-husband is interesting in that she filed for emergency help on March 3, 2003.
Sneddon's seven counts of child molestation against Jackson are based on incidents that allegedly took place between Feb. 6 and March 10, 2003.
The sudden need for more money seems to have coincided with the family's eviction from Neverland after a year and a half of living off Michael's largesse.