As the 27 members of Michael Jackson's inner circle meet today at the Beverly Hills Hotel, one thing will be on the mind of many of them: A major payment is due on Feb. 15 on a Bank of America loan connected to Jackson's ownership of the Beatles song catalog.
Some in the group insist that the bill is just a "technicality" and has nothing to do with the Beatles. Others, however, tell me it's a much more dire situation. Whatever the case, without the cooperation of players who Jackson has lately scorned and dismissed, big trouble could be brewing financially for the beleaguered pop star.
Jackson borrowed $200 million from Bank of America some years ago against the value of his investment in Sony/ATV Music. ATV, which Jackson bought in 1984, contains hundreds of song titles, including 251 songs by the Beatles. When he borrowed the money from Bank of America, Jackson secured it by giving Sony Music a half interest in the catalog.
The battle for the other half of the merged Sony/ATV Music Publishing has since become as ferocious as Gollum's quest to be Lord of the Ring. When Jackson bought the Beatles catalog it was estimated at $40 million. It has since grown by more than 10 times that, with $500 million thought to be its worth by now.
On Feb. 15, Jackson is due to make a significant payment on the loan, possibly as much as $30 million. It was thought that this would not be a problem as one of his financial advisors, Al Malnik, was said by many sources to be ready to assist Jackson with the problem. It's unclear whether Malnik would loan Jackson the funds or help him raise the cash through several deals.
But Malnik and other Jackson advisers — set to meet today at the Beverly Hills Hotel — have been iced out of the picture since the Nation of Islam isolated Jackson in mid-December. Sources say that Malnik, who has worked in the background to bail Jackson out of his financial difficulties, may be so offended by the pop star's recent decisions that he could wash his hands of the whole deal.
"If Malnik walks, Michael's in big trouble," a source told me yesterday.
Malnik — who's been notable for his dogged loyalty to Jackson — did not return calls.
Many other pending deals designed by Jackson's advisers will be discussed today at the big summit. One of them will be a proposal fashioned by Ronald Konitzer for Jackson to become involved with a movie animation studio in Quebec, Canada. Konitzer apparently had the deal in place until the Nation of Islam intervened and cut his access to Jackson.
Jackson's financial woes were first reported here by me nearly three years ago. At that time, the self-proclaimed King of Pop was constantly borrowing money against song catalogs and his Neverland ranch to pay his astronomical bills. At one point he borrowed $2 million so he could pay for a diamond watch he took home on consignment and never returned to a Beverly Hills jeweler.
Jackson's current album, "Number Ones," has sold about 450,000 copies in the United States since its release in mid-December. His last album, "Invincible," sold 2 million copies. Jackson's landmark album, "Thriller," released in 1983, sold 22 million copies.
One of the highlights of last night's New York Film Critics Circle dinner was the appearance of director Quentin Tarantino. He came to present Sofia Coppola with the best director award for "Lost in Translation"; his date was Zoe Cassavetes, the daughter of late director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands.
Tarantino told me that we will not be seeing "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" until April instead of the planned February release. "To make that date I would have had to come back from promoting ['Vol. 1'] and go right back into editing," he said. "I had to take a break."
In that time, a DVD for "Vol. 1" will be released with a few extras, namely songs that were cut from the first chapter. "Eventually we're going to have one big DVD with both movies," he said. Other than the songs, though, "Vol. 1" will be a straight-ahead transfer to DVD.
More importantly, Tarantino is pondering more chapters in the series. "I've thought of prequels and sequels," he said. "I had this great idea where we wait five years and come back not with the Bride as the main character, but Vernita's (Vivica A. Fox) daughter as the main character. It would be fifteen years in the future, and the Bride (Uma Thurman) would be in a wheelchair."
Tarantino wasn't the only interesting character at last night's affair. O.J. Simpson criminal defense lawyer and DNA expert Barry Scheck was there; he's been doing some work for Jesse Friedman, the central character in "Capturing the Friedmans." He was at the same table as Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi. Ephron revealed later that her sister had been a patient of the dentist-father of the boy who was involved in Michael Jackson's 1993 child molestation case. Ah, Hollywood!
The dinner, held at Noche on Broadway, didn't boast a lot of A-list star power, with best picture "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson and best actor Bill Murray each absent. Instead, the star power came from the "Lord of the Rings" cast, including the stunning Liv Tyler (with husband Royston Langdon), Sean Astin, Elijah Wood and Bernard Hill. David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer and comic Richard Belzer came to support their pal, the very amusing Eugene Levy, who won best actor for "A Mighty Wind." Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother, made a good impression presenting best cinematography to Harris Savides, the man who filmed him in Gus Van Sant's hideously boring "Gerry."
How's Ben, anyway, I asked Casey? "He got married, he's having a baby, he's getting a divorce," he said without missing a beat. He's also wearing a Lincoln-esque beard, which made director Alan Rudolph think of him on the spot for a western film he wants to do circa 1887.
"He's pretty good, isn't he?" said Rudolph, making a mental note. And that, my friends, is one of the ways actors get work.
So where was Peter Jackson? In New Zealand, finishing up an extended DVD version of "Return of the King." The film now playing clocks in at three hours, 12 minutes, but Jackson — via a filmed acceptance speech — promised the DVD will be "much longer."
That's good news for Hill, who plays King Theoden in the trilogy (not the king who returns, though). He told me that many of his best scenes were cut when it was decided that Christopher Lee's character, the evil wizard Saruman, would be completely excised from the final installment. Luckily, it will all be restored when Jackson is finished.
I don't know Mike Freeman, a sportswriter for the New York Times, but I've seen his byline over the years and probably read his stories in the sports section. Last week he got in trouble when he tried to move to the Indianapolis Star. I guess they fact-checked his resume and discovered that his claimed degree from the University of Delaware did not exist. Freeman wrote on SportsPages.com: "I was at the university for four years but in fact did not graduate. This was a terrible and unforgivable manipulation of the facts and I have resigned from my newly accepted position as columnist for the Star."
Of course, this is the new, crazy environment brought on by Jayson Blair and other mishaps at the Times. But Freeman's reporting at the Times was never called into question, just this fib. It brought to mind an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in which Rhoda accidentally blurts out to Lou Grant, Mary's employer, that she lied on her resume about graduating from college. (It's Episode 91, if you're interested.) This puts a serious crimp in the friends' relationship, and almost imperils Mary's job. But Mr. Grant — considered the most ethical journalist of the modern era — forgives Mary, and life goes on. If Mr. Grant — who was trained at the Detroit Free Press — can be so understanding, certainly the Indianapolis Star can be, too.