Michael Jackson | 'Cold Mountain' | 'Guiding Light' | 'Anything Goes'

Jacko Hunkers Down at Nation of Islam 'Safe House'

Get ready, because the strangest confluence of people yet in the Michael Jackson story is about to occur.

On Monday at 9 a.m., 27 players in the Michael Jackson inner and outer circles will get together at the Beverly Hills Hotel. This will include the lawyers, accountants, bankers, managers and, of course, members of the Nation of Islam.

The meeting will be followed by a reception and a luncheon. Presumably, Mark Geragos, Michael's attorney in the child-molestation matter, will be the host. And yes, the word is that Michael himself will attend.

I'm told that the conference will include all the names we've come to love in this story: Dieter Wiesner and Ronald Konitzer, lawyers — to name two — like John Branca and Zia Modabber, bankers like Jane Heller, financial managers Charles Koppelman and Al Malnik, accountant Alan Whitman and so on.

Not invited, I am told, is Jackson's steadfast pal Marc Schaffel, who produced his "What More Can I Give?" project. Schaffel is still owed a lot of money by Jackson and is hoping to collect from someone.

The idea for this, my sources said, is "to dispel the notion that the Nation of Islam is in control of Michael. They're going to say, 'Look at all these people. How can you can say that the NOI is in charge?'"

But of course, the NOI is most definitely in charge. Leonard Searcy Muhammad will be there. The question: Will the NOI remain low or have a big security presence? Taste-testers may be more appropriate than anything else.

Jackson, meantime, is said to have pre-paid — through his accountant — six months' rent on his current home in Beverly Hills. The rent is said to be between $70,000 and $100,000 per month. The catch, however, is that Jackson may have been under the impression that the NOI had rented this "safe" house and was footing the bill.

Instead, I am told that the rent bill was submitted to Whitman, the accountant, and paid by him, since Jackson refuses to return to Neverland. Unofficially, the ranch-cum-carnival — the scene of the famous police raid back on Nov. 19 — is up for sale if Jackson can find a buyer.

A lot of people ask me if Jackson has any idea of what's going on in the outside world. The answer, apparently, is no.

According to sources, recent visitors to the house have noticed that no reports are getting through, and that Jackson is shielded from what he considers "bad news" by his Nation of Islam keepers.

"He is totally unaware of anything that's been written or said about him for the last couple of weeks," one visitor reported. "He hasn't seen any TV news reports or anything else."

'Cold Mountain': Too Late for Director's Guild?

In the screwiest Oscar season in some years, "Cold Mountain" director Anthony Minghella was somehow omitted by the Directors Guild of America for a nomination on Tuesday.

The nominees were Clint Eastwood ("Mystic River"), Peter Weir ("Master and Commander"), Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"), Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation") and Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit").

Minghella may have suffered from the fact that "Cold Mountain" came out later — on Christmas Day — than all those other films and probably wasn't seen by all the voters.

It turns out, in fact, that 1,100 regular Academy members still have not signed up to receive "screeners" from the studios. I am here to tell those lollygaggers that you can still fill out the form and get your tapes. Just call the Academy.

As for "Cold Mountain": I do think it is "Lord of the Rings"' primary competition for Best Picture. "Mystic River" and "Master and Commander" come next, with "Seabiscuit" and "Lost in Translation" duking it out for the fifth slot. Ultimately, "Lost in Translation" will probably not make the final five for the Oscar.

Why do I like Anthony Minghella so much? He's almost as good a writer as he is a director. His dialogue skills are excellent, but what I enjoy the most is his ability to handle time shifts and juxtaposed storylines. He goes for the big ideas and always comes out a winner.

'Guiding Light' Packs a Bad Punch

CBS is determined to finish off its longest-running soap, "Guiding Light." Yesterday, fans were treated to something they could never have imagined: Beloved patriarch Ed Bauer, played by Peter Simon and a character on the show for four decades, hit his adult daughter, Michelle, across the mouth and knocked her down.

It was perhaps the lowest moment in the show's history, worse than any of the preposterous plot twists — such as human cloning — that the producers have foisted on viewers in the last 10 years.

Startling, and so way out of character that it seemed like a hallucination, the punch was part of a cockamamie storyline recently invented by the show's desperate writers in which Bauer and four other older male characters are now supposed to have been responsible for the secret "Chappaquiddick"-like accidental death of a young woman in 1977.

The story erases many of the show's long-term character histories and ignores the fact that three of the men didn't even exist in the story then. But who cares? The daytime drama is singing its swan song thanks to hackwork like this!

'Anything Goes' in London

The next musical import from London to New York? My guess is Cole Porter's "Anything Goes."

John Barrowman and Sally Ann Triplett are kicking up a storm in a revival of this showstopper at the gigantic Drury Lane. This is the season of 1930s musicals, so I suppose we'll see this production on Broadway soon.

It's hard not to think of the Lincoln Center revival several years ago with Patti LuPone, but this version seemed bright and fresh. Triplett is just fine as nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, but my guess is New York audiences will prefer to see someone better known to them and just as talented, like, say, Bebe Neuwirth.

"Anything Goes" is 70 years old, but the story — by P.G. Wodehouse —  is remarkably topical. A cross-Atlantic ocean-liner cruise is so hard up for celebrities that when the captain realizes he has genuine gangsters aboard, they become most-wanted dinner companions.

Sort of like Paris Hilton becoming a star instead of a scarlet woman after her infamous Internet sex romp. Anything goes, indeed!

And where is everyone going after the theater in the West End? To a converted car showroom in Picadilly Circus called The Wolesley. This is from the former owners of The Ivy, London's wildly exclusive dining room for showbizzers.

The Wolesley is off to a good start as it is spacious, with soaring ceilings and massive windows built into its vaulted marble. More importantly, a percentage of seats is held each night for the hoi polloi, no reservations needed.

This came in handy one night last week so we could crane our necks to see Jerry Hall at one table, actor John Glover at another and various vaguely-familiar English soap stars from the pages of Hello! Oh, the Brits love their soap stars, the whole motley crew of them!