With all the crazy stuff about Michael Jackson last week — his nose, court appearances, etc., — I got some other startling news about the self-appointed King of Pop.
He's signed a new deal for a CBS special in 2003, but in the process has molted one more feature. His pal David Gest, husband of Liza Minnelli and producer of Jackson's solo 30th anniversary spectacle last year, will not be at the helm.
For Gest, this can't be good news.
His planned reality show with Liza over at VH1 was recently aborted before it got off the ground, and now this. Is it a coincidence that CBS and VH1 are related by their Viacom ownership? It's something to ponder, considering that Gest's introduction to CBS in the first place came through his connection to VH1 through Jackson.
Or maybe Les Moonves is worried that the very much passed away Leo Jaffe, once the head of Columbia Pictures, is still listed as the head of Gest's American Cinema Awards Foundation.
For Jackson, though, the CBS special is something of a boon in troubled times. But sources inside his camp say that the 30th anniversary special was enough of a hit that the network wanted him back on the air as soon as possible.
Of course, when they signed the deal they didn't realize Jackson would indeed be on the air again soon — in his now-infamous continuing trial.
To readers of this column, the trial out in Santa Barbara can't come as much of a surprise. We also know that another court case, even more potentially damaging, is brewing for Jackson in Los Angeles Superior Court.
That's the one brought by former business manager Myung-Ho Lee, the Korean lawyer and Harvard graduate with whom Jackson signed a $14 million promissory note last year. Lee, like current complainant Marcel Avram, is complaining in his suit that Jackson agreed to perform at concerts, etc. and then reneged.
The Avram business seems to have occurred during Lee's short reign over the Jackson empire, while regular Jackson overseer John Branca was on the outs with the star. Branca, Jackson's longtime attorney, gets a percentage of Jackson's music holdings as payment in addition to legal fees. It's only one of the ways that lawyers, accountants and others (I suppose, including doctors) manage to keep their fingers in the Jackson pie.
For example, Jackson has two managers: Trudy Green of Howard Kaufman Management is the proper manager. But partnered (read: commissioned) with Green is John McClain, a DreamWorks Records executive who nevertheless lays claim to a taste of any money Jackson makes.
Ditto attorney Zia Modabber, the litigation lawyer who's representing Michael in the Lee and Avram cases.
All of this begs the question, whatever did happen to the business announced by Michael's dad, Joseph Jackson, on the day of his solo concert back on Sept. 7, 2001?
Jackson — sensing Michael's comeback — invited yours truly and a clutch of journalists to a hotel suite, and told us that he was going to start marketing Jackson 5 video clips for profit.
But the company — called JacksonMusicStudio.com — does not seem to exist. Jackson has been promoting a 20-year-old singer named Crystal Marven, who lives with her mother in Las Vegas.
Cynthia Marven said: "He's been trying her out all over the world, in Germany, Russia. We're going to announce a record deal soon, but I can't say with who. It's a big company." Mrs. Marven said that she'd met the whole Jackson family except for Michael, whom she'd spoken to on the phone only. "They put him on and he kept saying, 'It's really me, Michael.' He was so cute! They're the nicest people."
Cynthia Marven also told me that Jackson had an associate named John Wilson. Minutes later, Wilson, unprompted, called from Las Vegas. The former singer (from the little-known Motown group called Sly, Slick and Wicked) told me that he knew nothing about JacksonMusicStudio.com and that he had to "check me out" before he spoke to me. Then he hung up.
At that press conference in September 2001, Joseph Jackson told me his philosophy of parenting.
"You have to be strict with kids," he said. "There's nothing wrong with punishment as long as you know how to punish."
What would be a typical punishment? "Beat his back," Joe Jackson replied before I could even get the question out.
As for the subject of Michael's alarming appearance last week, specifically his nose, all of which has now become something of a public debate. Readers of this column will recall that exactly two years ago I sat on a couch in a Manhattan living room with Jackson, along with then-New York Daily News gossip writer Mitchell Fink.
Fink later categorized Jackson's nose as a "child's pink eraser." It barely existed. I noted in this column that Jackson's face was sunken, that he had pronounced cheek bones from implants as well as a fake chin. His skin was whiter than parchment and he wore aviator sunglasses indoors, at night.
The reason? "I cry a lot," he said.
It's also quite clear that that mane of cascading, shimmering black hair is a wig. At his TV special, in the "You Rock My World" video and at most times, Jackson's hair is very short. It seems that at non-musical public appearances it's long, but always exactly the same. At no times is it short and kinky, which is what it was when he was younger. No amount of straightening fluids could cause what we see now.
Why would a man go so far to change his looks? And why have his brothers and sisters done the same thing?
A former associate of Joseph Jackson told me recently that the father used to lock a 10-year-old Michael in closets when they were first on the road, performing in their pre-Motown years. It was to give him "focus" for his performances.
Jackson senior and his wife, Katherine, are said to no longer be living at the family estate in Encino, Calif., by the way. Son Jermaine has taken over that house, my sources tell me, where Katherine Jackson spends much of her time. Joseph Jackson spends much of his time residing in Las Vegas.
Just so you know, waiting in line at a Manhattan movie theater is no fun. Just ask Meryl Streep.
The two-time Oscar winner tried to get into an afternoon showing yesterday of Far From Heaven at the Chelsea West Cinemas. The show was sold out and Meryl was turned away in the rain by the ticket seller in the booth who did not recognize her. And Streep, gracious as ever, didn't say a word after standing on line in the cold rain for tickets.
She probably wanted to see her pal and co-star Julianne Moore from The Hours, who is a cinch for a Best Actress nomination in Heaven. Ditto Dennis Quaid, for Best Supporting Actor from the same movie.
Before I escaped from L.A., our hearty gang made it to Spago Beverly Hills on Friday night just to see how Wolfgang Puck was doing. We weren't disappointed.
At one table: Michael and Shakira Caine, dining with Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Poitier. At another table, not far away: best friends Don Rickles and Bob Newhart, with their respective wives.
Spago continues to be the center of the Hollywood universe. And the food is remarkable, especially the tantalizing desserts. Pastry chef Sherry Yard will publish a book next year, written with great food writer Martha Rose Shulman (check her out on amazon.com), with all her recipes, for Houghton Mifflin.
I also ran into Terry Stewart, head of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland, who told me he was disappointed, too, that the New York Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation excluded famed R&B group the Dells for the umpteenth year in a row in favor of "ground-breakers" AC/DC. Also not in: the O'Jays, who actually come from Cleveland. Their song, "Backstabbers," rings truer all the time.
Congratulations to Entertainment Weekly music critic and author David Browne and his wife Maggie Murphy, the magazine's assistant managing editor. On Sunday morning they welcomed a bouncing, healthy six-pound baby girl into the world. I hear she's already listening to Jeff Buckley and planning the Christmas issue. Mazel tov!