Just when you thought she was "over," finished, down for the count, Britney Spears is bigger than ever. The teen pop star, she of the sexually overcharged lip-synching, is going to have the No. 1 album in the country this week with her new offering called "In the Zone." Early indications are that Spears will sell between 500,000 and 750,000 copies of the CD, putting her in a comfortable selling zone compared to her last release in 2001. As P.T. Barnum said, there's a sucker born every minute.
But CD sales are bringing good news and bad news for Michael Jackson. His "Greatest Hits" album will probably wind up in the 100,000-150,000 range, a substantial fall off from "Invincible," which sold 370,000 copies its first week in 2001. This means that Jackson still has his loyal following, but the combination of his scandal and the fact that the songs are all available previously means he'll be lucky to get a gold record (500,000 copies) out of this, his possibly final new release for a long time to come.
On the upside for Jackson, the Beatles "Let it Be ... Naked" should sell about 250,000 copies. Technically, Jackson co-owns the publishing to the Beatles song catalog with Sony Music Publishing. I say technically because of course he's leveraged his half in loans he can't repay from Sony. The Beatles should be pleased, though. Their marketing skills are still spot-on, since they've managed to make a hit out of a record that's 33 years old. In this atmosphere, that's quite an accomplishment.
Michael Jackson isn't the only one in his family with money woes. His dad, Joseph Jackson, filed for Chapter 7 four years ago.
I am telling you this exclusively, so let's not see this news uncredited in a million places or we're going to start naming names.
Jackson, who created and managed the Jackson 5, filed as an individual for bankruptcy on March 1, 1999. According to records, the bankruptcy was only resolved two months ago.
This is distinctly separate from another bankruptcy involving the Jacksons that was filed in 1996. Back then, federal marshals seized a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and a baby grand piano from the parents.
Father and son have had a rocky relationship at best. Michael admitted to being abused by his father in the Martin Bashir documentary "Living With Michael Jackson." Two weeks ago, Joseph Jackson told British interviewer Louis Theroux for the BBC that he'd "whipped" Michael when he was a child with a switch and a belt.
I wrote in this space on Sept. 10, 2001, that the elder Jackson told me during an interview that if Michael stepped out of line, he'd "beat his back."
"You have to be strict with kids," he said. "There's nothing wrong with punishment as long as you know how to punish."
In the same interview, Joseph Jackson was trying to promote a new venture called JacksonMusicStudio.com. He was going to sell films of the Jackson 5. He was also launching a singer named Crystal Marven. Last year, in the Nov. 18 edition of this column, I interviewed Crystal's mom, Cynthia, about the progress of her career.
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 only spoken to on the phone.
"They put him on and he kept saying, 'It's really me, Michael.' He was so cute!" she said. "They're the nicest people."
A year later, Crystal's career has not taken off. And Michael's financial situation — even with the help of his friend, Miami lawyer Al Malnik — is not resolved enough to be supporting his household and his parents'.
But if the senior Jacksons have been in that much of a financial bind, and Michael has been footing their bills as well, this would be some explanation for his constant, unexplained need for seeking loans.
We interrupt this Jackson coverage to tell you about the hit musical "Wonderful Town," which opened last night on Broadway.
Do you know who Donna Murphy is? I'll tell you. She is the winner of the 2004 Tony Award for best actress in a musical. Those awards won't be given out until June 2004, but let's just say the prize is hers for the losing.
Murphy has wowed Broadway audiences before in "Passion" and "The King and I," but nothing prepares you for her performance in "Wonderful Town." She is simply the heir to Ethel Merman with a full, rich instrument of a voice that can do anything — jazz, blues, belting. There are going to be lines around the block to see her starting today.
"Wonderful Town" is a revival of a 1953 musical that has music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by the incomparable Adolph Green and Betty Comden. Only Comden is still with us, but she can be proud that director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall — the incredibly talented sister of "Chicago" movie director Rob Marshall — has brought her creation to life with such love and care.
Jennifer Westfeldt, whom I found annoying in the movie "Kissing Jessica Stein," is a revelation in the secondary role as Eileen Sherwood, sister of Murphy's character, Ruth. Westfeldt is making her Broadway debut and, really, a star is born.
Can you say a show is perfection? "Wonderful Town" is just that, from the clever set by John Lee Beatty to the innovative lighting by Peter Kaczorwoski. All the supporting characters are perfectly cast, from Gregg Edelman as the sisters' naïve suitor to David Margulies as their landlord in Greenwich Village circa 1935.
But it's the Comden-Green-Bernstein score, more than anything else, that just shines. A half-century old, and all of the score sounds new. Complex, gorgeous and catchy and witty as hell, very little can equal it. Rob Fisher has restored it the way a curator at the Louvre might take on the job of brightening a Renaissance painting. The result is that it glows.
Jerome Chodorov adapted the musical with Joseph Fields from their equally famous play, "My Sister Eileen." Are you following this? They based the play on short stories by someone named Ruth McKenney, with whom I am not familiar.
The story actually sounds more like a Dawn Powell novel, especially "A Time to Be Born." I asked nonagenarian Chodorov about Powell at the premiere, and he laughed: "It was unconscious plagiarism!" he said.
At Chodorov's table last night at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel dining room: the immortal Kitty Carlisle Hart, who continues to astound, confound and resound. She is now officially the most famous living person in the history of New York, also the most elegant, enduring and gracious. Brava!
When you see her in reruns on the Game Show network, she looks no different today, some 40 or so years later. This is well beyond plastic surgery, too. It's some kind of inner spirit. Ditto for the considerably younger Lauren Bacall, who commandeered the adjoining table. Remarkable.
"Michael Jackson is over. His career is over. And if he's not careful, he will wind up logging some jail time before his life is over."
I wrote those words on Feb. 7, 2003, in this space. The title of the column was "Michael Jackson's Unacceptable Behavior Revealed."
Prescient? This was my response to the Bashir documentary that aired the night before on ABC. Jackson was shown holding hands with a 12-year-old boy. Jackson said, toward the beginning of the film, "Just because you've been abused, it doesn't make you an abuser."
Think of this film, and all its outtakes, as an unofficial deposition in this case. All of Jackson's quotes will be used against him by the prosecutor. All of them. This quote in particular will be a problem, since Jackson's defense team will no doubt use his childhood as a justification for his actions.
Ironically — and perhaps not coincidentally — Michael's dad conceded two weeks ago in a British interview that he beat Michael when he was a kid. This jibes with what Jackson senior told me on Sept. 10, 2001. "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.
"Joe Jackson used to lock Michael in a closet," a source of mine says. We will be hearing from this source for the next few months. He/she has impeccable credentials in matters of the Jackson family, the equivalent of a Ph.D.
"The abuse just goes on and on. Janet was also afraid of him. I once found her in the kitchen with a huge knife. She was going to use it on him. I hold Katherine responsible for what happened to the children," the source says of Michael's mother. "She knew what was happening and let it."
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. I'm sure Diane Dimond feels the same way. The Court TV anchor was there with a camera crew at Neverland on Wednesday morning when Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon arrived with a search warrant.
She had the scoop. Dimond flew out to California and was there with her crew, otherwise alone, before dawn. How funny it must have felt the next day when hundreds more "journalists" were out there with her.
I kind of enjoyed reading a story yesterday in the London Daily Telegraph by two women I know and respect, Caroline Graham and Sharon Churcher. They managed to include several "scoops" in their Jackson story that came right from this column: that Jackson's alleged victim had been plied with wine and sleeping pills, and that Malnik had been loaning or giving Michael money.
No credit to us, and — I guess in England this is OK — they name the boy and his mother, something we cannot and will not do.
But this kind of thing seems to be the norm in the Jackson case. Very often within an hour of this Web site posting a story, other sites, as well as syndicated TV shows, will simply lift the material they read here and call it their own.
As soon as we said that the family of Jackson's accuser had hired Larry Feldman, the lawyer who represented another Jackson accuser 10 years ago, so did everyone else. And announced it was their "scoop."
Same thing for the news that Mark Geragos had been hired by Jackson last winter; all of sudden, many reporters on TV were discussing this is as a "fact" they had just divined on their own.
If only we got royalties on stories!