Michael Jackson's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, the mother of his two oldest children, is putting her wedding ring up for auction.
In fact, I am told by sources close to Rowe that a plan to sell the ring on eBay has emerged and will be executed within the next month — possibly around the time Jackson begins to stand trial on child-molestation charges.
The 2.13-carat diamond ring is described by sources as a brilliant round-cut, but its actual value has not been determined yet. Jackson bought it in Sydney, Australia, and gave it to Rowe on Nov. 14, 1996.
A jeweler from Hawaii who asked for anonymity is handling the sale of the ring, along with other pieces of Rowe's jewelry, as she attempts to liquidate some assets. A letter of authenticity from Rowe will accompany the ring.
Rowe, as I reported in the last couple of weeks, is in the middle of a double dispute with Jackson over the terms of their 1999 divorce. The first part of the disagreement concerns visitation rights for Rowe to see the two children she carried for Jackson, Prince and Paris, now ages 7 and 6.
Initially, Rowe had been designated time with them. But she hasn't seen the kids since before the Nov. 2003 police raid on Jackson's Neverland Ranch. As his child-molestation scandal unfolded, Rowe is said to have gone from "publicly ambivalent" about her role with the kids to wanting custody of them.
Rowe's second fight with Jackson has to do with money. According to her divorce agreement, she was receiving $1 million a year every October since 1999.
But this year, Jackson refused to send the annual payment, claiming that an interview Rowe gave to "Entertainment Tonight" in which she spoke about her horses and plans to sell her home violated a confidentiality agreement she'd signed with the singer. The result is that Rowe is said to be in debt as she battles Jackson and attempts to run her business.
"Michael is trying to bankrupt her, so she can't continue the fight," a friend of Rowe's told me.
Rowe's attorney, Iris Finsilver, did not return calls.
Oddly, Jackson doesn't seem to care about the danger in making an enemy of Rowe. This column reported last month that she has been subpoenaed in the child-molestation case by the prosecution.
The decision to sell her wedding ring, I am told, came as Rowe's expenses continued to rise. She recently moved to a farm, where she's raising horses and completing college courses. Without Jackson's annual alimony payment, her finances are severely pinched, sources say.
Rowe, I am told, has told friends the ring sale on eBay "is a done deal," which means potential buyers may be able to start bidding on it as soon as this week.
Meantime, updated records at the Los Angeles Superior Court family division indicate that the next hearing in the custody case will take place in February, three days after jury selection is supposed to commence in the child-molestation case.
It's unclear if Jackson's current attorney in that case, Michael Abrams, is still on the case. His name has disappeared from the latest court entry.
The State of California v. Michael Jackson is set to begin on Jan. 31 in Santa Maria, California.
A star is born — maybe — in the London production of Mel Brooks' hit musical "The Producers." In the process, the show has had a little power shift.
You may recall that Richard Dreyfuss was supposed to play the role of Max Bialystock in the London edition of the musical. But Dreyfuss was replaced before the show began by Nathan Lane, who originated and won a Tony for the role in the Broadway production.
Dreyfuss made the mistake of telling a BBC interviewer in October that the show, which was scheduled to open on Nov. 9, was not ready and that fans should put off buying tickets until after Christmas. Whoops!
"'The Producers' opens Nov. 9. Come from Christmas on," Dreyfuss said. "Do not come before that, OK? The general manager just had a heart attack when I said that."
Lane was drafted to join British performer Lee Evans, who took over Matthew Broderick's role of Leo Bloom. But last week, after opening the show, Lane hurt his back and asked to be removed. He was leaving anyway on Jan. 8.
In his place came understudy Cory English, whom I saw on Friday night along with Evans. Brad Oscar, who played Max on Broadway after Lane and Broderick ended their runs, will take over from English on Jan. 10.
It suffices to say that English, despite doing what I'd call an imitation of Lane, survives the abrupt rescue admirably. The part of Max is so demanding that it's a wonder anyone can do it at all.
English, sometimes channeling Woody Allen, was up to the job and managed to elicit a rare standing ovation from the skeptical British audience on New Year's Eve. The big news from this "Producers" is that Evans has managed to make Leo the lead character in the West End production.
As much as Broderick was always at a deficit with Lane, who had the showier part, Evans has used all the casting changes to make Leo a fuller character.
This isn't to take anything away from Broderick, who will always be Leo in people's minds, but Evans is just spectacular. Hopefully, he'll get a chance to play the part on Broadway after his British run is over.
The other big news is that, after all is said and done, "The Producers" is holding up quite nicely without any of its original stars — including Cady Huffman, Oscar, Roger Bart or Gary Beach.
Leigh Zimmerman is outstanding as Ulla and James Dreyfus (no relation to Richard) is a hoot and quite different from Bart as Carmen Ghia.
All the jokes worked very well on the stage of the cavernous Drury Lane Theater. And while some cultural changes have been made, "The Producers" remains hysterically funny and wildly appreciated by audiences.