Help Jacko | Angels in America Soars, Disses Reagan

HELP —  Jacko Really Needs Somebody

HELP — the Scientology-based literacy program — is back on the Web site Michael Jackson is using to raise money for charity.

HELP was removed as one of the groups that would receive money from Jackson's single "What More Can I Give?" after I reported the connection last week.

But unbeknownst to Jackson, his supporters insist, the HELP logo was added back to his Web site over the weekend. And, unknown to him, there is a simple reason. The Web site, www.whatmorecanigive.com, was registered on Oct. 14 to a high-level Scientologist.

Welcome to a mess.

According to Jackson insiders, the singer himself chose only one charity, Oneness, as a beneficiary of his single, which can be downloaded for $2. Otherwise, Jackson is said to have left the selection to the Web site operator, who, according to Jackson's friends, failed to tell him she was a Scientologist and that she was choosing one of that church's subsidiaries to receive the funds.

The site operator, Valerie B. Whalin, hosts an Internet radio show for Earthlink under the name "Surfer Val," the same name under which she registered Jackson's Web sites.

Efforts to contact Whalin were unsuccessful. But sources at both Clear Channel Communications and Broadway Entertainment, the companies that hired her to run the Web site, told me yesterday that no money would be going to Scientology.

The HELP logo and link, however, remained on the Jackson Web site as of early this morning.

The fact that Jackson could let "What More Can I Give?" operate as a charity without checking the people involved points to a larger problem in his world right now. No one seems to be in charge.

His longtime attorney, John Branca, is only peripherally involved in Jackson's businesses. Financier Charles Koppleman was said to have the inside track to take over, but that may no longer be the case. Credits on his new greatest-hits album omit several of his intimates, including Frank Cascio, aka "Tyson," his longtime youthful aide.

Still said to be exerting untold influence is Marc "Fred" Schaffel, who gained his own notoriety last year when it was revealed that he was a producer of gay pornography. Schaffel and his partner, Florida strip club owner Paul Hugo, are still advising Jackson, according to sources.

Their advice, apparently, is to start selling things to raise cash. Jackson has just put his 2001 Bentley up for auction and recently sold personal memorabilia items in Las Vegas.

But the big question is: How will the many celebrities who sang on "What More Can I Give?" feel about their work contributing money to causes other than Sept. 11 victims and families?

Reagans: First CBS, Now HBO Movie Skewers Them

Fresh from fending off CBS, former president Ronald Reagan and his family get skewered in the HBO film of "Angels in America," the HBO film of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. 

In the Mike Nichols-directed movie, which debuted last night in front of a star-studded crowd at the Ziegfeld Theatre, reference is made to Reagan possibly being gay. The Reagans are also referred to as not being much of a family, with their personal relationships arranged by assistants.

Nevertheless, "Angels in America" — a six-hour movie divided into two parts — is something of a tour de force. Were it not for some graphic content, HBO would be able to put at least the first part in movie theatres.

It's that good. It begins showings on HBO in early December in different time configurations (six one-hour episodes, two three-hour ones, one six-hour marathon, and so on).

Nichols' casting of Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson and Mary-Louise Parker was brilliant and power-packed. He also "introduces" sensational actors Justin Kirk and Ben Shenkman and uses Jeffrey Wright to tremendous effect.

Streep, Thompson, and Wright each get to show off their enormous skills by playing multiple roles. Wait til you see Streep as an Orthodox rabbi and Thompson as a homeless grifter — both men. They're terrific!

Tony Kushner, who won the Tony Award and the Pulitzer for his play, wrote the adapted screenplay. HBO Films head Colin Callender quipped that Kushner had the distinction of writing the only screenplay "that we didn't give notes on." Kushner told me basically that Nichols managed to keep the HBO honchos away from him during the grueling 10-month shoot.

"Angels In America" is not about to treat the Reagans with much love. The movie, after all, is about the politics of AIDS in the mid-1980s. There is no shying away from the subject, right down to the very specific medical condition of main character Prior Walter , magnificently played by Kirk, a 1997 Obie award winner for another gay-themed play, "Love! Valour! Compassion!"

There are many firsts and distinguishing moments in "Angels in America," not the least of which are the appearances of Pacino and Streep, each doing some of the best work of their careers.

Pacino plays "Roy Cohn," a fictionalized version of the real-life controversial lawyer who served as advisor to the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, was close friends with Richard Nixon, led the witch hunt that ended in the 1953 executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and was ultimately disbarred just before his own death from AIDS in the late 1980s.

Highest on the list of Cohn's cronies was Barbara Walters, who testified for him along with the New York Times' William Safire at Cohn's disbarment hearing. Walters, coincidentally, now competes for high-profile interviews at ABC with director Nichols' talented wife, Diane Sawyer.

Ironically, Pacino told me last night, Cohn had told friends before he died that he always wanted "The Godfather" star to play him on film. Pacino came to last night's premiere with a wild beard and unruly hair for a film version of "The Merchant of Venice," which he has just begun.

Pacino, who was voluble and in a good mood, said he'd been spending a lot of time with all three of his kids lately, and beyond "Merchant" didn't know his next plans.

As for his cameo in the ill-fated "Gigli," he explained: "I did it for [director] Marty Brest, who's made a lot of good films." Pacino said he was out of the country at the time the movie was savaged in this column and in every other media outlet in the United States.

In Part 2 of "Angels," which the press will see on November 11th, Pacino's "Cohn" finally meets his maker at the hands of "Ethel Rosenberg." This will be a bittersweet moment for many who believed the Rosenbergs' executions were unjust.

Certainly this fictionalized ending will feel that way to Ivy Meeropol, the 35-year-granddaughter of the controversial couple. She was there last night, too, and told me her HBO documentary about her family, called "Heirs to an Execution" is being considered as an entry in the Sundance Film Festival before it airs on the cable network.

Still, it was sort of amazing to be there when Meeropol got to meet Streep, who plays the grandmother she never knew.

"All I had were still pictures," Streep said, which surprised Meeropol.

"We have film footage of her," Meeropol replied, "and you look and sound just like her."

That Streep can do anything is no revelation; she will the Emmy Award handily next September for her roles in the film.

Did I mention the other celebs at the "Angels" post-party at Cipriani 42nd St.? Candice Bergen with daughter Chloe, Rob Morrow, Fisher Stevens, Marisa Berenson, Brian Dennehy, "The Sopranos" star Vince Curatola, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald with sister Allison (she works on the Whoopi Goldberg show), Evan Handler and the newly married Griffin Dunne were just a few.

Everyone loved the film, but the most ringing endorsement came from George C. Wolfe, who got a Tony Award for directing the original stage production. Nichols, not known to show too much emotion publicly, nearly blushed as Wolfe sang his praises.

P.S.: Yes, that was "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon there last night, out with Danny Mozes , the father of her two children and her companion since 1988. A recent report in a local paper claimed the couple was split, but they seemed together last night.

Nixon appeared simultaneously in two Nichols-directed Broadway plays in 1984, "Hurlyburly" and "The Real Thing." She later appeared in the Broadway production of "Angels."