Motown historians know the name Bob Jones. The PR whiz started working at the famed record label in 1970, where he met and represented Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 during their halcyon days. Michael was 12 years old then, and no matter what scandal has cropped up over the years, Jones has always been there for the self-proclaimed King of Pop.
But no more after yesterday. Jones, who functioned as vice president of communications for MJJ Productions, Jackson's company, since it began almost two decades ago, is out. I'm told he was unceremoniously and ungraciously terminated by Randy Jackson Wednesday with barely an acknowledgement of his tremendous contribution and loyalty.
Nice, huh? Jones was unavailable for comment, but that would be par for the course. In all the years the press has covered Jackson's antics, Jones has kept the lowest of profiles.
Nevertheless, I am told by Jackson insiders that Jones never signed a confidentiality agreement with MJJ Productions, and is free to publish books or sing like a canary about his experiences, if that's what he chooses to do. From the Elephant Man's bones to Lisa Marie to the 1993 settlement, Bob Jones knows where every single body is buried in Jackoland. Imagine the possibilities.
I don't get Michael Jackson. Didn't anyone ever tell him, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer"? The people he now does not speak to or whom he has alienated are the ones he needs the most in this crucial hour of his life. Won't it be strange if he winds up doing himself in when all is said and done?
'Stepford Wives' Arrives, Ready for Long Knives
Tomorrow, at long last, Frank Oz's remake of "The Stepford Wives" comes to theaters, and people like you will get to see what people like us saw last week: a mess.
The new "Stepford" has already gotten a lot of bad press, from its over-the-top budget to the actors fighting amongst themselves on set. I can tell you, however, that really nothing about this new version of Ira Levin's suburban satire can be blamed on the actors. The trouble is entirely with the production itself.
There are three main couples in the new "Stepford": Glenn Close and Christopher Walken; Bette Midler and Jon Lovitz and Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick. There is, to make it seem more modern, I guess, a gay couple as well, played by David Marshall Grant and Roger Bart, who is seemingly reprising his role from the Broadway musical "The Producers." The country singer Faith Hill also has a small part.
The best part of the new movie, ironically, has nothing to do with "The Stepford Wives" at all. It's the opening segment, in which Kidman plays a network executive in charge of reality programming. Delivering news of the new season to network affiliates, Kidman is note-perfect playing an extension of what her weathergirl-wannabe character from "To Die For" might have become had her career lasted.
If only all of this movie were like this set piece, "The Stepford Wives" might have been a triumph. But "To Die For" was written by Buck Henry, and this wasn't. And that's what makes this movie so frustrating. The screenplay is credited to the very funny and usually astute Paul Rudnick, who does get in his share of one-liners and zingers. ("We tried to find a place where no one would notice our people were robots," Close confesses — I'm paraphrasing — toward the end of the film. "Connecticut!" Funny stuff.) But Rudnick is really lost here. He doesn't seem to know how to broaden the old "Stepford" concept from horror into dark comedy. The result is that all the framing of the story has a contrived, out-of-date feel to it, with implausibility telegraphed from every turn of the page.
It's too bad, too, because there was a great movie lurking in this remake. A social satire of the suburbs in 2004, with all the requisite soccer games and SUVs and omnipresent Prada and McMansions — that was the movie. That, and what happened to the housefraus who became high-earning career women: did it not occur to someone making this movie that men would not want their wives to abandon their jobs and become submissive robots, because of the lost income? Evidently not. Instead, someone thought it would be funny, and possible, to see a group of women working out in June Cleaver-type dresses. Huh?
The other big problem with the new "Stepford" is that, having seen it, I'm still not sure if the women are robots, androids or had some kind of brain surgery. At one point, Kidman's character — the idealistic city career woman who comes to "Stepford" — is sent for some kind of reprogramming and comes back looking "Stepfordized." But was she killed, turned into a robot, implanted with brain chips or just hassled? And if she escaped, how did she do it? But this is the point when you realize logic is beside the point. "The Stepford Wives" is about having a house that looks like the Williams-Sonoma catalogue.
So what will happen to these "Wives" at the box office? My guess is that producer Scott Rudin, who tacked on a new ending and reconfigured some of the biggest problems, has to some extent saved the day. "The Stepford Wives" may be awful, but it's no worse than anything else out there right now, and a lot better than a real turkey like "Gigli." There are no cringe-inducing moments or heart-stopping lines of B-movie dialogue. The worst you can say about it is that it doesn't make sense. On the other hand, there are just enough laughs and enough attractive people and things to take the edge off a hot summer night.
I was remiss yesterday in not mentioning that June 9 would have been the 70th birthday of R&B great Jackie Wilson. The man whose hits included "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," "I'll Be Satisfied," "Lonely Teardrops" and "Reet Petite" — and inspired Van Morrison's classic "Jackie Wilson Said" — died an ugly death in 1984 at age 49. In 1975 he collapsed on stage during a performance, wound up in a coma for three months and then lived for eight years with brain damage. His death is still the subject of controversy. But let's not forget his immeasurable contribution to popular music. He was one of the giants, and will always be sorely missed.