Michael Jackson's teen years have been profiled in books and movies. But until now, it's never been revealed that his parents, Katherine and Joseph, were nearly divorced when he was 15 years old.
According to legal documents obtained by this column, Katherine Jackson, disgusted by her husband's philandering, obtained a petition for divorce on March 9, 1973, and filed it with the Los Angeles County clerk.
According to several people I've spoken with in the last few days, Katherine Jackson was finally convinced to rescind the divorce papers at the urging of elders at her Jehovah's Witnesses church.
Katherine also attempted to divorce her husband in or around 1979, but again was persuaded to drop the action, my sources said.
One motivation for Katherine's unhappiness, at least in the second instance, was the revelation that her husband had fathered a love child with his mistress.
That child, a girl named Joh'Vonnie Jackson, is now 30, lives with Joseph Jackson in Las Vegas and for some time worked at that city's McCarran International Airport. Joh'Vonnie's mother is Cheryl Terrell.
Joseph Jackson's extramarital affairs, including one with a Motown Records assistant named Gina Sprague, have been detailed in a TV movie about the Jackson family as well as in several books, including one by the Jacksons' daughter La Toya.
In her 1990 memoir "Growing Up in the Jackson Family," La Toya wrote that during the tumultuous early '70s, when the Jackson 5 were busy accumulating hits and touring all over the world, her mother never considered divorce. The papers indicate otherwise.
"That was all in La Toya's book," Jackson's spokeswoman told me yesterday and promised to get back to me.
Joh'Vonnie Jackson, according to my sources, has held several positions at McCarran Airport, including working as a baggage handler. She is not included in Jackson family events and has never visited Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch.
When the Jackson siblings appear in court together to show solidarity for Michael, Joh'Vonnie is not present. As far as I can tell, neither Michael nor Janet has ever referred to Joh'Vonnie in any interviews.
On Katherine Jackson's 1973 divorce petition, she listed the five of her nine children who were still minors at the time: La Toya, Marlon, Michael, Steven (aka Randy) and Janet.
Rebbie, Tito, Jackie, and Jermaine were all over 18 by that time. Joh'Vonnie, the youngest child of Joseph Jackson, is eight years the junior of Janet, who was born in 1966.
Even though neither of Katherine Jackson's divorce petitions was ever finalized, the couple do not live together, insiders say.
Katherine spends most of her time in Encino, Calif., and Joseph lives in Las Vegas. His wife was not present this year when he had his annual birthday bash in Sin City.
Here are the main contenders so far for best picture at the next Oscars.
I am naming them because yesterday, one of the craziest articles I have ever seen in the New York Times claimed that the field was wide open and that everyone in the "business" was waiting for "The Phantom of the Opera."
This article goes beyond one in the Times in 1996 that named "Jerry Maguire" as the favorite to win in a year when "The English Patient" and "Fargo" were considered the favorites. ("English Patient" won in a sweep, with 9 statues from 12 nominations).
Back to those contenders. The ones that have been released so far are Walter Salles' "The Motorcycle Diaries," Marc Forster's "Finding Neverland" and "Kinsey," Alexander Payne's "Sideways," Taylor Hackford's "Ray," Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" (Uma Thurman and David Carradine especially).
Also quite good, but probably not included: "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," in which Alfonso Cuarón did a masterful job.
Then there are the films still to be released. "The Aviator," Martin Scorsese's biopic of Howard Hughes starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is the biggest, but there are several more, including "The Sea Inside," starring Javier Bardem, Mike Nichols' "Closer" with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law and Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby."
Pedro Almodóvar's daring "Bad Education" and Zhang Yimou's superlative "House of Flying Daggers" are also in the running, but will probably be confined to the foreign-film category. Personally, I am hopeful that the nice work done by Mario Van Peebles in "Baadasssss" is not forgotten.
But I must be the one to tell you and The Times that "The Phantom of the Opera," while I am sure it is quite theatrical, is not high on anyone's list for best picture. Instead, think costumes, score, art direction and lighting. That chandelier should be quite a character.
You can pretty much scratch off Kevin Spacey in "Beyond the Sea." As one observer put it, "Only one dead singer biopic is getting awards, and Bobby Darin's isn't the one."
Also off the radar, at least for best picture, is Oliver Stone's "Alexander." Again, think technical awards. But it hasn't been a good year for epics like "Troy" or "King Arthur."
If anything, the trend for Oscar 2004 is small and intimate films like "Sideways" or left-field surprises like the career take-off of Jamie Foxx. Also scratch "The Passion of the Christ" and "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Bigger problems loom as the last two months of the year come into focus. Miramax is waiting on its release of "Proof," hoping to give it a push in the spring. That's too bad, because Gwyneth Paltrow is excellent in it.
Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic" from Disney is said to be quirky, but not exactly jelled enough to break out like "Rushmore," which is Anderson's best work.
When someone tells you they preferred "The Royal Tenenbaums" to "Aquatic," you know there's trouble. The music, however, is said to be excellent.
Of course, nothing is set in stone, and it's possible one of the so-far-unseen films will be a huge surprise awards-wise. History suggests this will not happen.
This year did not produce a bumper crop, and some of the really fine work, such as "The Motorcycle Diaries," needs the attention. Between Salles's excellent rendering of a young Che Guevara, and Almodóvar's kinky antics, my guess is the critics' favorite actor will be the versatile star of both, Gael García Bernal.
Someone tell The Times. Please.
Contrary to some reports yesterday, this column was first to break that news that Sean "P. Diddy" Combs would be starring in "Carlito's Way: The Beginning," the prequel to Brian De Palma's 1993 film. I told you on Oct. 14
There was some kind of commemoration for the 20th anniversary of the novelette "Bright Lights, Big City," but for the life of me I cannot imagine why.
Author Jay McInerney said in a published interview this week that back in the early '80s, there were no movie premieres or other parties in Manhattan, just people snorting cocaine and staying out until 5 a.m.
Well, maybe he wasn't invited to the premieres, but there were plenty of them and there always have been.
Back in the fall of 1986, McInerney and his editor, Gary Fisketjon, spent most cocktail hours holed up in the latter's office at the Atlantic Monthly Press — where this reporter was the publicity director — toasting themselves while the rest of the city functioned quite nicely.
I used to see them as I passed Fisketjon's office on my way out to those events. But McInerney and friends always possessed the self-importance of outsiders who had no interest in what was happening in the world beyond their own.
If everyone had really done as McInerney said on a daily basis, an entire generation would be missing from the New York scene.
Ironically, the rest of the people who were well known from that time are alive, kicking and prolific. "Slaves of New York" writer Tama Janowitz, for example, is about to publish a terrific new collection of essays.
Meanwhile, "Bright Lights" — the title was taken from an old blues song — ranked at number 17,961 on Amazon.com as of last night.
Finally: The joint was jumping at Elaine's last night, where diners included former Kennedy speechwriter Richard Goodwin (who predicted a John Kerry win on Tuesday), actress/memoirist Tatum O'Neal (eating with Court TV's Lauren Howard), authors Gay Talese, Carol Higgins Clark and newly minted award-winning writer Alison Clark, plus the ravishingly beauteous Marisa Berenson, writer Jill Brooke, "Today" fashion maven Judy Gordon, "Celestine Prophecy" producer Beverly Camhe, news anchor Marvin Scott, Forbes PR star Monie Begley, "Broadcasting & Cable" editor Max Robins and Men's Health editor Dave Zinczenko.
TV producer Russ Kagan was also there with his pal, talent agent Jim Sarnoff, celebrating the "overnight" success of two clients: CBS's "Guiding Light" executive producer Ellen Wheeler and head writer David Kreizman.
In just a few weeks the pair has resuscitated the crippled soap in ways no one would have expected — including finding a hot young actor named Tom Pelphrey. Bravo!