Published June 16, 2004
Some defendants make sure their appearance at trial is preceded by only the most serious public profile, low-key behavior and as little self-promotion as possible.
Not Michael Jackson. With his trial for child molestation set to begin officially on Sept. 13, Jackson will release a boxed set of greatest hits, remixes and rarities in late August, I learned yesterday.
The three- or four-CD set, including four new songs and lots of hard-to-find material, is still being assembled. But sources tell me that it's a go for release around Labor Day at the latest.
"It can't come out during the trial," my source said, "and it's not going to come out after the trial, that's for sure. So they have no choice but to get it out right before the trial."
The package, which will trace Jackson's history post-Jackson 5 through the present, is key to the pop singer's contractual life. It will be his final release on Epic Records as part of his long-term deal with Sony Music.
This is completely separate from Jackson's 50 percent interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing and/or including all outstanding loans. But it frees him to start his own label, seek a deal elsewhere or renegotiate with Sony for an entirely new recording deal.
Of course, no new deal is likely to be concluded until after the trial, which probably won't really begin until later in the fall or even the beginning of 2005.
A couple of Jackson insiders voiced surprise to me yesterday when they read my story about the Sony-BMG merger being Jackson's way out of his financial mess.
I wrote that Sony would have to consider selling its publishing company, jointly owned with Jackson, and that Jackson could then bring in new backers and buy the whole deal.
Sony/ATV Music Publishing, one insider points out, is probably worth close to a billion dollars at this point, with the Beatles catalog only being a small part of it.
"There are 251 Beatle songs," my expert observes, "but hundreds of thousands of other titles, including song catalogs by people like Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers."
Point taken, but the Beatles' small number of songs alone is probably worth between $400-$500 million.
Meanwhile, the Jackson camp is scrambling this morning in the light of the unauthorized release, to Court TV's intrepid Diane Dimond, of the settlement agreement between Jackson and his pre-teen accuser from a decade ago.
The papers are not a complete surprise. They say that Jackson paid the child $15 million to be put in a trust, with another $1.5 million for each of his parents. All of this was put on a payment plan.
But the really interesting part of the agreement is a $5 million payment to the family's attorney, Larry Feldman.
The very same Feldman who, a decade later, represents the family of Jackson's current accuser and stands to profit again if Jackson is found guilty — kind of a cottage industry for one attorney.
The "release" of the settlement agreement is a scoop for Dimond, but it does raise the question of where the papers came from. They were sealed by the court, and, I am told, destroyed by some of the lawyers in the case so they could never be fingered as sources.
Certainly the family of the accuser from 10 years ago didn't want the papers to come out. You don't have to be Columbo to figure out that leaves Feldman and prosecutor Tom Sneddon as prime suspects.
Interestingly, in February 2003, literally right after the special "Living with Michael Jackson" aired on ABC, the highly salacious complaint against Jackson from the 1993 case, which had also been sealed, surfaced.
The papers had a court stamp and were drawn up on Feldman's letterhead, something I asked him about at the time. He insisted they did not come from him, but said the guilty party was close at hand and that "just a little connecting of the dots" was needed to get a name.
Now that sealed documents have twice surfaced and wound up in the same place — Court TV/The Smoking Gun Web site — maybe it's time to think about who had access to them and how they could possibly have gotten out.
New York's most famous swanky restaurant, Le Cirque 2000 at the Palace Hotel, was born a few years ago with a series of swell parties that included A-list celebs roaming through the new open kitchen and sampling haute cuisine.
Last night, with the end of Le Cirque 2000 about six months away, there was a lot of symmetry as the restaurant threw almost the same party.
As it began, so it shall end: with foie gras on toast, trays and trays of sumptuous desserts, caviar, risotto, hot scallops Provençale with tapenade, lots of Champagne and Donald Trump.
The guests at last night's soirée — ostensibly a publication party for legendary owner Sirio Maccioni's memoirs — were average age, let's say "senior," most of them either having attended Ronald Reagan's funeral last Friday or presumed to have been there.
Besides the Donald, there were, in no particular order: our pal Liz Smith, Joan Rivers, Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Arlene Dahl, Denise Rich, Rudy and Judy Giuliani, famed bandleader Peter Duchin with his equally famous wife Brooke Hayward, and, most exquisitely, Martha Stewart, who posed for pictures, most happily, with members of her magazine's staff. (I guess they don't hate her after all; if they do, they all deserve Oscars).
There were also other restaurateurs, notably the very legendary André Soltner, who owned and ran Lutèce for 24 years; and Michele Jean, whose 18-year-old Provence on MacDougal Street has grown into a Soho and New York landmark that should never be missed.
But mainly those who gabbed and gobbled and drank and downed the unbelievably delicious free vittles were faces of those who looked familiar but managed to stay out of the press.
They are the power people, Tom Wolfe's "social X-rays," the A-list insiders who wear Sulka robes and bespoke suits, carry real Chanel bags and sport pearls the size of cherries.
You don't know their names. But they are Maccioni's mainstays, and I do think they are a bit relieved that Sirio is folding his tent at the Palace and moving back uptown to smaller, more exclusive pastures.
How much Le Cirque and times have changed was all too sadly obvious last night. Back in 1983, when I first started dining at the old, tiny restaurant on East 65th St. with the late great Pierre Franey, you wouldn't dare set foot in Maccioni's emporium without a tie and jacket and, preferably, a suit — forget the sport jacket.
Diana Ross ate cheek-by-jowl with Henry Kissinger. Newcomers were scared to death, appropriately, by the haughtiness and the sizzle.
But Le Cirque 2000 was too large and too public to sustain those old-world charms. At the party (I don't think it's permitted at meals), there were open collars, T-shirts, no jackets!
I saw sneakers. Granted, these were few, but still, I had to stop a very nice TV producer from swigging water from a Fiji bottle.
"I do it at the gym," this person complained to me.
"This is Le Cirque!" I cried, feeling like I had just been rushed through the Time Tunnel from Edith Wharton's Manhattan. "Get a glass!"
But, oh: the beloved La Caravelle is gone, and so is La Côte Basque. The Russian Tea Room is in heaven, too, along with Lutèce. Older types recall Quo Vadis and Pavillon. Lespinasse is a memory.
Nature abhors a vacuum, but only the oddly named Donatella and David Burke, set up in the old and much-missed Nanni Il Valetto, recalls the glory days of the East Side. (It's Jean-Luc on the West, but I bet you can wear flip-flops in there.)
Mortimer's is gone, too. There's very little left of the beautifully intimidating: the Four Seasons, '21', Café des Artistes, Le Grenouille, Le Périgord, Le Bernardin.
I think Sign of the Dove is a Gap now. Laurent is a nightclub.
"Didn't this used to be?" I keep asking very young hostesses who never know the answer and shrug.
So we'll flip open Sirio's book, "The Story of My Life and Le Cirque," written with Peter Elliott, and try to remember. At least until Le Cirque, the way we loved it, comes back to us next year.