Is Mariah Carey's ex-husband getting into the publishing business? It sure looks like it.
Former Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola once made Carey a star when she was his wife. Now he's determined to do the same for his third wife, Mexican soap star Thalia Sodi.
Mottola, who's now the head of Universal Music Group's Casablanca Records, is ponying up $300,000 for three issues of a magazine all about Thalia. Mottola is underwriting half the budget — a total of $600,000 will be spent — at David Pecker's American Media group. They're the same people who put out the National Enquirer, The Star and assorted special publications. (Full disclosure: Last year I edited a magazine about the Oscars for American Media.)
Mottola is Thalia's manager, even though he's the head of a Universal group label and she records for EMI. But in the music business it's not unusual for an exec at one company to be managing someone at another. Irving Azoff did it with the Eagles for years, and John McClain has been with Michael Jackson for eons while also doing his job at DreamWorks and, before that, A&M. Double-dipping is more common in the record business than at Baskin Robbins.
Nevertheless, Mottola's devotion to Thalia — as she is known in Mexico where she's a superstar — is admirable. Mottola has also devised a clothing line for Thalia at Kmart, which is said to be a bestseller.
A source who is knowledgeable about all these things told me yesterday: "She's a big star with a huge following in the Latin community. I don't know what the split is, but I doubt Tommy paid for the whole thing."
Nevertheless, I'm told that's exactly what Mottola did, with American Media handling the production and circulation. There will be separate, different editions sold in Mexico.
Mottola, through his assistant, said, "That's a months-old rumor and it isn't true."
Pecker, however, confirmed the whole thing to me yesterday.
Meantime, you might wonder what's happening at Casablanca since Mottola revived it last July. The answer is: not much. Their big current release is a mid-tempo modern R&B record by a San Francisco recording artist called Ryan Duarte. The song, "You," is not particularly exceptional in that it sounds just like about 400 other songs out right now.
Same for Mariah/Whitney wannabe Tarralyn Ramsey, the winner of VH1's "Born to Diva" show, which Mottola produced. Her eponymous debut album — with a very poor Houston-like single called "Up Against All Odds" — has failed to ignite much interest. Like every other cookie-cutter "diva" song, it's about having the "courage to go on." Really.
(Imagine if Dusty or Linda or Aretha or Gladys had bothered with that notion. Never! They simply went on. Period. No discussion.)
But don't count Mottola out yet. With Def Jam's Lyor Cohen very likely heading to the new, bizarre Warner Records — or is it Bronfman Records? — Tommy may wind up with even more responsibility at Universal.
Patty Duke, perennial teenager from TV in the early '60s, hasn't seen her son yet in his new movie. When she does, I think she'll agree he's on his way to an Oscar nomination.
Sean Astin — whose dad is John Astin, aka TV's Gomez Addams — gives a bravura performance in the final installment of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Return of the King."
Astin told me last night that Patty, best loved for playing twin teenage cousins, is in Idaho and hasn't been to a screening yet. "She also had a health problem, but she's better now," he said without further elaboration.
John Astin, currently teaching drama at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, caught the film last week and loved it, Sean said at the mini-premiere last night of "King" here in New York. Among the guests of honor were the other Hobbits Elijah Wood (Frodo), Billy Boyd (Pippin), and Dominic Monaghan (Merry). New York's Governor George Pataki brought his family, as did artist-director Julian Schnabel.
Well, you might say parents are biased, but there's nothing not to love in "Return of the King." And Astin's Hobbit Sam, loyal aide to Frodo, is the kind of Best Supporting role that should not be overlooked.
"Return of the King" is Jackson's tour de force. For one thing, the whole last half hour is devoted to six different endings that wrap up the fate of every single character. It's mesmerizing — and hard to imagine how he constructed this thing. It's like looking at the Egyptian pyramids or the Eiffel Tower.
It's also three hours and 12 minutes long. Right before the lights went down, Wood shouted to the audience: "Don't forget to pee." It's better advice than Gandalf ever gave anyone.
But then you have this incredible feat of cinema that unspools before you. Jackson, Frances Walsh and writer Philippa Boyens have added a prologue of sorts to the very beginning of "King" in honor of actor Andy Serkis, who plays Gollum. For the first two installments, you only see Serkis as the CGI character. Now we get a 10-minute introduction explaining how he became this rotten creature. Serkis is every bit as good "real" as he is computerized.
Sir Ian McKellen also reprises his role as Gandalf, and though he was only nominated for the first episode, I think his chances are excellent this time around. McKellen has a much more active role in "King," and he is as charming and powerful as ever.
But mostly, "Return of the King" is a phenomenon to behold and watch. Most of the time you'll find yourself whispering, "How'd they do that?" Giant pachyderms with long ivory tusks trudge by, pterodactyls swoop in and out — as do humungous eagles — as if they were simply transported from a very special zoo. It's hard to believe they're not real.
Of course, the battle scenes — there are many and they are long — are the real treasures of "King." They are the most exciting in a movie season that sports a lot of swords (sorry, "Samurai"). The choreography of humans and computerized objects is astounding. So are many of the camera angles. Even though they are largely rendered against blue screen, you never once feel they're faked.
The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy does exactly what "The Matrix" didn't: It's improved with each film, fleshing out the characters, simplifying plotlines and making them plausible. The human dimension of the trilogy is what has made it such an incredible hit. Jackson and everyone involved at New Line Cinema — most especially composer Howard Shore and co-executive producer Mark Ordesky — can take pride in having made three landmark movies that are instant classics.
By the way, "Return of the King" was selected yesterday by the New York Film Critics Circle as Best Picture. You know it's on its way to the Oscar final five, along with "Cold Mountain," "Mystic River," "Master and Commander," and either "Lost in Translation" or "Seabiscuit." Jackson can look forward to Directors Guild honors and his own Oscar nomination as well. The odds are the Academy will reward him this time around, and rightly so.
Meanwhile, over at Clive Davis' J Records, they're going to be celebrating for the third time this year. When the albums are all counted today, J will have the No. 1 and No. 2 albums for the third time this year. And the other two times, they had Nos. 1, 2, and 3.
The lucky winners are Alicia Keys and "American Idol" Ruben Studdard, who are very close in sales. Keys' "Diary" may surpass Studdard's "Soulful" by a nose, but last minute figuring could reverse them.
Everyone in the record business should have this problem.
The No. 3 album for the week is OutKast's double CD, on Arista, which is J's sister company under the BMG umbrella. And that brings up an interesting point about the Sony Music-BMG merger. When heads start to roll following consummation of this deal, won't more Sony people than BMG staffers be vulnerable? Sony currently has no new hits. Their highest ranking original CD, by Harry Connick Jr., is at No. 23.