You wonder how people spend their money.
Well, Michael Jackson, currently in financial distress and taking a beating in the press from Sony Music's Tommy Mottola, doesn't know the bounds of generosity.
I'm told by reliable insiders that Jackson paid aging genius actor Marlon Brando $1 million last fall to be in his famous 30th anniversary show at Madison Square Garden.
You remember Brando at the Garden, don't you? He waddled onto the stage like a lost circus elephant, took his place in a living-room set and put the audience to sleep with a half-hour filibuster on why he loves Jackson.
The performance was so boring it had to be cut from the televised show.
A week or so later, when the money was counted, Brando was sent $1 million, according to my sources. Even with ticket prices for the best seats going for an average $500-$800 — and top seats at $5,000 — it would have been hard for Jackson to cover Brando's nut (so to speak).
CBS paid Jackson $2 million for the broadcast of the show, so that would have helped.
When I called Brando yesterday for confirmation or denial of this, he got on his house phone, wheezed, said, "I don't talk to the press!" then slammed the phone down.
Neither Creative Artists Agency or International Creative Management still represent him, so they couldn't help out in extracting more information.
A friend of Brando's who's in touch with him (but didn't give me his number), said: "A million dollars? It's not so much these days, considering." He wouldn't confirm the story, but he said he couldn't deny it either.
Another Jackson associate told me: "A million bucks. Yeah, I heard that. That's why Michael has so little cash for himself."
We wondered what was going on that night with Brando. Wearing sunglasses and looking like a Blues Brother, he expounded for a ghastly 10 minutes on subjects of little or no interest to the pumped-up audience.
He said, "You may be thinking, 'Who is that old fat fart sitting there?'"
At one point he actually removed his wristwatch and said, "In the last minute, 100,000 children have been hacked to death with a machete."
He concluded by instructing the audience to go to michaeljackson.com and donate money. The audience — many of whom came from Los Angeles in wheelchairs or on walkers — booed and booed, and with good cause.
Brando's last movie was The Score with Robert De Niro and Edward Norton. He made a cameo appearance and the movie failed to score with audiences.
If Brando has many sources of income besides acting, it's unknown. But his gig at the Garden looks like it might have been his most profitable one in years.
P.S. If you're tired of these Michael Jackson stories, so am I. Tomorrow I'll have some final — I hope for now — revelations about Michael's situation with Sony and where he will go from here.
If paranoid Paramount Pictures actually allowed the press into its premieres, we might have written about Harrison Ford's latest stodgy deal, K-19: The Widowmaker.
Alas, the doors were shut tight so that Ford, galpal Calista Flockhart, Liam Neeson and wife Natasha Richardson could carry on in private.
What do people think of Widowmaker? Those who've seen it say, "It's another submarine movie with Communists. Think Hunt for Red October spliced into Das Boot. It's not good. It's not bad. It's ehhh."
I thought I was hallucinating yesterday: Joan Collins has agreed to play the family matriarch on CBS's Guiding Light for six months starting in the fall.
This is either the best or the worst idea ever from the same soap that has already cloned an adult, done a kidney transplant from an adult to a child and features a mob family several degrees more unpleasant than The Sopranos.
The whole thing recalls the time Christina Crawford became ill and her mother, Joan, filled in on The Secret Storm. It was a disaster.
Of course, Storm was live and Light is taped, but soaps require memorizing hundreds of pages of dialogue every day. The hours are long —12 at a snap sometimes. This will be a far cry from doing Dynasty for old Joan.
Guiding Light has improved anyway in the last few weeks, especially since it brought back the long missing Peter Simon as Ed Bauer. Now all they have to do is convince Emmy winner Maeve Kinkead to return, and the show may have a shot at sticking around. But no more cloning, please.