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Jacko Defense: He Wasn't There

Michael Jackson | Whitney and Bobby | Rosie O'Donnell | Saying Goodbye

Jacko Defense: He Wasn't There

What kind of defense is Mark Geragos putting together for Michael Jackson? How about: absentee molester?

The word is coming down that Geragos will use the specific dates mentioned in the charges filed against Jackson to exonerate the singer. Those dates — Feb. 7 to March 10, 2003 — will work in Jackson's favor, I am told.

The defense will reconstruct a timeline of Jackson's travels, primarily to Miami, to show that he was rarely in town or at Neverland when the D.A.'s office says he allegedly molested a 13-year-old boy suffering from cancer.

What is known already is that Jackson was in Miami on Jan. 16 last year for the funeral of Bee Gees singer Maurice Gibb. Further, according to sources, he was also there on Feb. 6, the night ABC aired the Martin Bashir documentary "Living with Michael Jackson." He was then a guest of Miami lawyer Alvin Malnik.

The defense, I am told, will sketch out Jackson's trips through the six weeks in the police complaint, showing that Jackson was either in Miami or away and didn't have much access to the boy or his family.

Prosecutors will counter that the boy made a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., during that time, and that Jackson saw him there. But even if that turns out to be true, all nine charges against Jackson specify that they took place in Santa Barbara County, Calif., and not anywhere else.

One source close to Jackson suggested to me that possibly he'd been in the Miami recording studio The Hit Factory in early February. But a Hit Factory source went through the facility's 2003 schedule book and concluded for me that Jackson had not been there at all last year.

Jackson did make several public appearances in Florida last year. He spent time there in May, when he appeared at a 1970s theme party in an Afro wig. He also stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami for the month of August 2003.

Whitney and Bobby: No Fireworks on New Year's

Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown not only spent Christmas apart — as I told you last week — but they also ushered in 2004 at a safe distance from each other. This meant, alas, no fireworks.

Brown stayed in Atlanta, where he partied up a storm at P. Diddy's Justin's restaurant. Houston remained at her Mendham, N.J., estate with family — including daughter Bobbi Kristina — and friends. She is trying to put together a lucrative mini-tour of concerts in Russia scheduled for early next month. The only problem, I am told, is that no one wants to be the tour manager. Go figure.

Brown's arraignment on domestic abuse charges is scheduled for Wednesday in Atlanta. The big question is whether Houston will be at his side, or wisely stay away. The thinking among friends is that for Whitney to have even called the police in the first place says a lot. "She's so private," a friend told me. "She wouldn't have done that unless she were at the breaking point."

Houston's Christmas album, by the way, has not been the slam-dunk hit it might have been. There was certainly a lack of marketing involved, but I'm sure Arista Records and Whitney's handlers were worried about a repeat of last year's publicity debacle. The public associates Houston with Brown, and Brown with jail, abuse and drugs. It's that simple. When Whitney finally acknowledges this, I do think she'll be in line for a huge comeback. Until then, her magnificent voice will remain overshadowed by controversy.

Rosie's 'Taboo' Gets a 'Producers' Tweak

Not too far into Mel Brooks' musical "The Producers," Max Bialystock advises his partner Leo Bloom never to put his own money in a musical. Only in the current version of the Broadway show, which features the original Tony-winning stars, Nathan Lane has a new punch line to the joke. "It's taboo," he says. He takes a beat and says it again. "Taboo." Another pause. "Get it?"

Indeed, yesterday's matinee audience at the St. James Theatre got it. Lane was, of course, referring to Rosie O'Donnell putting millions of her own dollars into "Taboo," a show that is still playing despite struggles. It was one of many little asides delivered by Lane, whose return with Matthew Broderick to "The Producers" seemed to me like medicine for anything that might ail you.

In this return, which ends sometime in April, Lane now seems more like Zero Mostel than ever. Even his haircut has become overly Mostelish. Nevertheless, his Bialystock is his own creation, and Broderick's Bloom carries his own stamp. Seeing them yesterday — the first time I've been at one of their performances since the show opened in spring 2002 — drove home the point that this is their signature show. There's been a lot of talk about how the two stars "make" the show, but really, what's wrong with that? Like Carol Channing was Dolly and Anthony Quinn was Zorba, so are Lane and Broderick Bialystock and Bloom. And thank goodness for that.

I've no doubt every single ticket is sold for this run, and yesterday afternoon, certainly, there was not an empty seat in the house. Lane and Broderick got the reception of rock stars, with much wild applause and bravos at the end of individual numbers, and a standing ovation at the end. With the exception of Cady Huffman, the rest of the original cast is back, too, which means Gary Beach gets to really strut his stuff as Roger DeBris, the preposterous director of "Springtime for Hitler."

Isn't it time to start thinking about a movie version of this "Producers?" And there's no question that Lane and Broderick would have to be the stars; this is one time when Hollywood would be hard pressed to find substitutes. Maybe just as an inside joke about the casting, Brooks started a story arc last night on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in which he picks Larry David to play Max on Broadway after hearing him sing in a karaoke bar. Ben Stiller, another decided non-singer, is set to play Leo. The whole things looks like it will be hilarious, and it points up the obvious. With "The Producers," you don't fool with the magic.

Saying Goodbye to the Stars of 2003

I guess what they say is true about people dying close to New Year's. Besides John Gregory Dunne, there were several other notables I wanted to mention: Earl Hindman was 61 and a fan favorite from his days as avuncular Bobby Reid on "Ryan's Hope." He was also a prolific voiceover star of commercials and had appeared on "Home Improvement" as Wilson, the mostly unseen next-door neighbor. He will be missed ... Isabelle Stevenson was president of the American Theatre Wing and head of the Tony Awards as long as anyone can remember. She was 90 when she passed the other day, but she was a presence right through this past June's awards ceremony. It's the end of an era on Broadway ... Another great Broadway presence, Gerald Gutierrez, was only 53 when he died on New Year's Eve. He won back-to-back Tonys for best director in 1995 and 1996. He also directed two great Off Broadway productions: Wendy Wasserstein's "Isn't It Romantic?" and David Mamet's "A Life in the Theatre" ... Last, sympathies to Gloria Steinem, who waited a long time to get married, and when she did the lucky man was actor Christian Bale's father David Bale. David Bale died at age 62 of brain cancer last week. He and Gloria had been married a scant three years.