The list of con men and hustlers who've taken advantage of Michael Jackson continues to grow, especially where charity causes are concerned. Jackson has been in Washington this week talking about raising money for new charities, but his old ones are still dogging him.
You will recall that Jackson was involved in something called Heal the Kids with Rabbi "Shmuley" Boteach. I've told you before that the most recent filing for Boteach's charity, L'Chaim Society, under which Heal the Kids fell, listed as one of its directors James Meiskin, a man currently in trouble with the Manhattan District Attorney's office for extortion.
But it now turns out that when you call the number for the L'Chaim Society, all you get is a recorded message that says the charity is gone and so is the rabbi. There are no forwarding numbers, according to the message. There is an old, non-working number listed in Boston for the man who signed the last L'Chaim Society tax return, one Arash Farin, and no listing anywhere for its other director, Avri Vantman.
You can always hear or see Boteach on TV or radio giving his opinion about something or other and plugging one of his books.
But one thing he doesn't seem able to opine is where all the money went from the short-lived charity. And one person who might be interested is Denise Rich, who wrote Boteach a check for $100,000 in the fall of 2000 for the L'Chaim Society right around the time Boteach and his then pal Michael Jackson came to two of her own fundraising events.
That $100,000 shows up in the L'Chaim Society's 2000 tax return. The same return shows no money whatsoever was spent on anything remotely charitable, just salaries and expenses.
Rich, who is the victim in this case, thought she was giving the money to one of Jackson's charities at the time. But a source of mine who was with Jackson at the time says Jackson never saw the money or the check. It went straight to Boteach and the L'Chaim Society.
Now, there is an even more interesting connection between all these people: Boteach's American benefactor is famous stock trader and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt. Steinhardt has been one of the staunchest supporters and business associates of Rich's ex-husband, Marc, a financier convicted of tax evasion and racketeering who was then pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001. Steinhardt lobbied hard for the pardon.
Like Michael Jackson, Steinhardt — whose father was the famous criminal "Red" Steinhardt with heavy ties to the mob and Meyer Lansky — has his own zoo, too. Steinhardt financed Boteach's mortgage for a $1.5 million home in New Jersey four years ago. Somehow, he managed to get him a cash loan from a local bank. Why did he do it? According to my sources, Boteach may have saved one of Steinhardt's sons from involvement in a cult, and Steinhardt was grateful. I mean, really grateful.
Yesterday when I spoke with Steinhardt, he denied that either of his sons had had problems with a cult. He said, "I financed Shmuley's mortgage." Why? "Because I liked him. And he needed a big house for socializing."
"He's an odd figure, Shmuley," Steinhardt said. "He has good and bad qualities. He's done things where his judgment is not so good, like being involved with Al Sharpton and Michael Jackson. But his intentions are good."
Steinhardt voiced surprise that Boteach had been running a L'Chaim Society here in New York for the last several years. And that was kind of interesting since he was one of the forces behind the Boteach/L'Chaim fundraiser in February 2001 at Carnegie Hall that featured a panel discussion on children starring Jackson, game show host Chuck Woolery, and others. The money made from ticket sales that evening has never been accounted for. The organization that hosted it — the Seminar Center — folded soon after.
Boteach — who is banned by the United Synagogues in Great Britian from having a pulpit — is best remembered for a quote he gave the London Independent in 1996. He said there is an 11th, unwritten Commandment: "Thou shalt do anything for publicity and recognition."
After all those fake press releases and lots of bluster, who don't you see at the new Michael Jackson grand jury? Quick: the original kid, now 23, from 10 years ago.
I told you he would not testify. In fact, I believe he has not even been subpoenaed by the Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon. In double fact, I doubt many of those who actually witnessed the current case have been questioned yet.
The reason is that many of these people live outside California, beyond the reach of Sneddon. I do know that Sneddon sent a representative to New York recently, but this man got nowhere and returned empty handed.
Now the question remains, did the grand jury find believable the statements of the 14-year-old boy in the current case? I am told — and we've seen it in photographs, too — that he is the robust picture of health, cocky, street wise, and not exactly a pushover.
Mario Van Peebles was 13 years old the first time his mother let him spend any time with his director-writer-actor-composer father Melvin Van Peebles. Melvin had already had a big hit with a film called "The Watermelon Man" and wanted to make an eye-opening piece of art about the life of a black man in 1971. Mario wound up bonding with his father when death threats started pouring in after the film was made. "Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song" was revolutionary.
"I don't know where one of us ends the other begins." That's what the veteran and revered actor Ossie Davis said last week about himself and actor-directors Melvin and Gordon Parks. We were all at the Sony screening room for cocktails, delicious chocolate chip cookies and a showing of Mario's homage to his dad, called "Baadasssss."
Here's the story if you're not up to date. I told you about this movie "Baadasssss" from the Sundance Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release it on May 28, but so far they're making it a really limited release. I think this is a mistake; "Baadasssss" is so moving and intelligent and funny that it needs to be offered to the widest audience of adults possible. Will they go? Can Sony find the missing black audience that everyone's been looking for? Stanley Crouch wrote about this not too long ago. Where are they?
Back in 1968, '69 and '70, Parks, Davis, and Van Peebles made, respectively, the three films that created black cinema in the United States: "The Learning Tree," "Cotton Goes to Harlem," and "The Watermelon Man." Then, in '71, Parks — who was famous Life magazine photographer already — made "Shaft." Van Peebles took everything he had and made "Sweet Sweetback's Baad Asssss Song." Bill Cosby fronted him a lot of the money. It was embraced by the Black Panthers, and then the audience at large. It was a heroic moment.
Mario Van Peebles' recounting of that journey is called in full "How to Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass." In theatres and ads, though, it will be called "Baadasssss." That's two A's and five S's. The MPAA said Mario could use the word because it was used in 1971. What is this movie like? It's like the black version Bob Fosse's "All that Jazz," but slightly sweeter. It's probably the best Father's Day movie since "Field of Dreams." Melvin is proud and rightly so. He was not a conventional father. But "Baadassssss" is proof that Mario "got" everything his father was doing as an artist and as a man.
Here are the bigger questions though: Why isn't there an American Film Institute tribute to these men — Parks, Van Peebles and Davis? Where are the accolades?
"Have you never noticed that when a black man gets an award he comes out with a walker or in wheelchair?" Melvin asked last night with a chuckle.
I will tell you this: Gordon Parks is 92 years old and looks a little like Sergeant Pepper, even though he's completely mobile and has all his marbles. Davis, who's 87, and his wife Ruby Dee are probably the two biggest influences black actors have had in this country. Melvin is just wild, 73 and still going strong. It's time to celebrate these people.
May 28 can't come soon enough.
Ken Corday is a great example of a son who inherits a business and wrecks it. His parents, Ted and Betty, long now deceased, created the soap "Days of Our Lives" on NBC in 1965. Although they were New Yorkers and not mid Westerners, the Cordays fashioned the show's main characters, Tom and Alice Horton, on themselves.
Ten years ago, the movie actor who played Tom Horton, Macdonald Carey, died and the death was written into the show. Two days ago, ostensibly because she had kept going and was costing a lot of money, Corday killed off Alice, played by Frances Reid since the first episode 39 years ago. In a nod to his own mother that psychiatrists could have a field day with, Corday had her murdered. Alice choked to death on one of her homemade doughnuts, which had been poisoned. It was more like a scene from Carol Burnett's old soap opera parody, "As the Stomach Turns," than a regular daytime drama.
Alice Horton was the tenth major character killed by Corday since last winter, all but one of whom were over 40 and had been on the show a long time. According to the Internet Movie Data Base, Reid — who turned 90 last December — made her first appearance on television in 1948 playing Roxanne in "Cyrano" on the Philco Television Playhouse. She, like the other actors unceremoniously dumped by Corday, will now return to auditioning for new roles.
The systematic destruction of all the soaps began in 1995, when the O.J. Simpson trial pre-empted them for most of a year. When they returned, many of them were campy and kitschy. What a shame since, despite their innate looniness, these shows were the breeding ground for many fine actors and directors in lieu of a national theatre. But the self-destruct button has been pushed on "Days" and elsewhere. In another decade, it's going to be just three or four shows, all relegated to cable.
It was quite a crowd at yesterday's ceremony giving John Belushi a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Among the notables: Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi — each of whom spoke, plus Belushi's widow, Judy, Chevy Chase, Richard Kind, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Sam "Soul Man" Moore, Laraine Newman, Mitch Glazer, George Wendt, Tom Arnold, Penny Marshall, John Landis and Bernie Brillstein. The star is on Sunset Boulevard near Ivar Street... You didn't have to be Italian on Wednesday night to get invited to Miramax's "I Am Not Scared," but it helped. Regis Philbin (half), Joy Philbin (all the way, baby), and Gay Talese qualified so Le Cirque's Sirio Maccione let them in for dinner. Director Barry Levinson, Buck Henry, Jean Doumanian, Annette Tapert, "Station Agent" director Tom McCarthy, and others all dined on Maccione's superb supper (some running back and forth to Elaine's the book party — crazy night!). "I'm Not Scared" is directed by Gabriele Salvatores, whose "Mediterraneo" (1991) is much beloved. This should join it on the list of favorite Italian films... Was a new star psychic born on Wednesday night? Linda Lauren guessed my birth month within a second of meeting me, on the first try. Then she impressed the editor of the National Enquirer, among others, at the Elaine's book party... At the same time, "Oz" creator Tom Fontana must have thought he was psychic. He took one look at Patti D'Arbanville, fresh from her knock-out stint on "The Sopranos," and shouted, "There you are! I've been looking for you!" Fontana told her in front of everyone that he had the perfect part for Patti in his new Fox series, "The Jury." You see, 99 percent of life is just showing up!
Thanks to the Jackson scandal, Sundance, the Golden Globes, the Grammy's, and the Oscars, this column really never took a holiday break. So try not to misbehave everyone, while we take next week off to open the gifts, spin some dreidels, and sing Auld Lange Syne!