CBS | Marilyn Monroe| Liz Smith | Michael Jackson

CBS Antes Up $2 Million for Charity Show

CBS will announce today that it's going to broadcast an hour-long version of "The Concert for New York" on Oct. 31. 

The price for the program: $2 million, according to insiders. 

Of course the Tiffany network will have to winnow down five hours worth of music and comedy to get such a short show out of the Madison Square Garden event. But the abbreviated version makes sense since the concert was already broadcast in its entirety on VH-1 and PBS. 

VH-1, like CBS, is owned by Viacom, so the purchase makes sense. VH-1 put the show together with Miramax Films, America Online and Cablevision. 

Among the highlights likely to make the final cut for the CBS version: The Who, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Adam Sandler's Operaman routine, some of Billy Crystal's jokes and Destiny's Child

What we probably won't see will be Senator Hillary Clinton being booed. But I would wager a guess that the warm receptions given to former president Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be included. 

I do hope though that some of the audience reaction and a few of the children of victims of the World Trade Center disaster will be part of the program. Those testimonials were very moving in person and made the show more special than the average charity event.

Marilyn Monroe: A Good Stepmom 

Forget all that stuff about how Arthur Miller — author of The Crucible, Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge — is the greatest living American playwright. Forget too that his only novel, Focus, originally published in 1945 to swell reviews, has been turned into a film opening this Friday. Fargo's William H. Macy and Laura Dern turn in exceptional performances, too. But listen, gossip must prevail! 

At the premiere for the movie, which is directed by Neal Slavin and financed by New York mayoral hopeful Michael Bloomberg, I posed the really important question to Miller's son Robert, who produced Focus

Just how was Marilyn Monroe as a stepmother? 

The junior Miller, now in his 50s, attended the modest premiere and dinner with his sister Joan (named for Miller's actress sister Joan Copeland) and his mother Mary Grace Slattery, whom Miller left for Monroe in 1956 after 16 years of marriage. 

Young Miller's answer: "Lovely. She was married to my father from the time I was about 8 to about 12. She was old enough to be my mother, but she was more like a big sister. She related to children very well. And she was very intelligent. Very bright. And a lot of fun to be with." Miller said he kept up a correspondence with Monroe even after she was divorced from his dad in 1960 until her death in 1962. 

His sister, Joan, however did not seem to be of the same opinion. When I asked her a similar question, she balked. I offered that many daughters do not take warmly to stepmoms, to which Joan Miller sort of laughed and shook her head. After all, the Millers have a lot going on in their family. Not only was Marilyn their stepmother, but moody Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis is their brother-in-law thanks to his marriage to their half-sister Rebecca

So, when Day-Lewis gave up acting and cobbled shoes in Florence, Italy, what did the Millers do, I wondered? "We asked for a pair of shoes each!" Robert said. 

Robert Miller was about five years old when his dad's most famous play, Death of a Salesman, was produced on Broadway. The play concerns, among other things, two ne'er do well sons, Biff and Happy. Had he ever identified with either one? "No. It's a good question, but I was pretty well-adjusted," Robert said. "And I never took it personally."

Liz Smith Taken by Bandits 

I'm happy to tell you that my pal Liz Smith devotes a chunk of her column today to Barry Levinson's new movie Bandits. She interviews co-stars Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis

Bandits is one terrific movie but it's suffering at the box office from post-Sept. 11 indifference. Maybe the audience is afraid of potential violence. Well, there isn't any! Bandits is smart, funny and refreshing. It will take your mind off of anthrax, bin Laden and other related headaches. 

Harley Peyton wrote the screenplay, although Levinson — the very gifted director of Rain Man, Diner, Tin Men, Avalon and Good Morning Vietnam — certainly put in his ten cents. The dialogue is crisp and charming, much like the best episodes of Moonlighting. Willis, who is usually pugnacious in his roles, really shines as a would-be bank robber. Thornton couldn't be better as a latter day Felix Unger with a hairpiece. They're very funny together! 

But my two favorite things about Bandits are Cate Blanchett, who is possibly our best actress right now, and Troy Garity. Blanchett takes an ordinary role of a bored housewife and invests it with so much va-voom that she will most certainly be up for a bunch of awards. Garity, the latest member of the Fonda family acting dynasty, is humorous and self-assured. Levinson has definitely positioned him for some leading man roles. 

Please, by all means, go see Bandits this weekend. You deserve it.

Invincible Inches Toward Tuesday Release 

Michael Jackson's new album, Invincible, gets released next Tuesday in the U.S. This column ran the first review of the album last Friday, Oct. 19. 

Yesterday, the New York Daily News's Jim Farber, concurred with me that the album is tired, unexceptional and removed from reality. 

Invincible, in short, is a weak offering. 

Jackson's personal life, odd behavior and appearance do not figure into these evaluations. If Invincible had been the least bit vibrant — forget innovative — critics would have taken to it immediately. Believe it or not, we all want hit records in the stores, the more, the better. Flops are fun, but artists without portfolio don't make for much copy. 

What concerns me, and seems to escape Michael's fans, is the lack of organization surrounding this release. First "You Rock My World" was released to radio. Four weeks later, when the single was already dead on radio, came a very weary looking video short film that featured the dreadfully unhip Marlon Brando

These releases were followed by another radio leak, of the ballad "Cry." Then, no one played "Cry." Then Jackson announced his charity single, "What More Can I Give?" which isn't even on Invincible

Yesterday, planetjackson.com, Michael's Web site, announced a video for "Cry," that he's not even in. 

And the album has yet to be released. 

Where is the Sony marketing department? Where are the geniuses who are supposed to be the architects of a campaign to get back the money Jackson has borrowed from the company? 

The answers are almost here. As Michael likes to say lately, brace yourselves.

To read Roger Friedman's review of Michael Jackson's latest album, click here.

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