One of the most anticipated witnesses in the Michael Jackson trial finally showed up yesterday and wowed the crowd.
I am not talking about Larry King, who turned out to be a dud. The person of the hour was Azja Pryor, a beautiful, articulate casting assistant from Los Angeles who also happens to be the mother of comic Chris Tucker's 6-year-old son.
Pryor, sometimes fighting back tears, told the jury how Janet Arvizo wheedled her way in and out of her life. Her testimony was compelling, truthful and exculpatory for Jackson as she blew up the government's conspiracy case against Jackson into even more fragments.
Pryor, with guidance from lead defense attorney Tom Mesereau, concisely laid out the genesis of her friendship with the Arvizos.
Her biggest bombshell was that Janet Arvizo invited her to come on a trip to Brazil for Carnival. This was the same trip that Arvizo and her kids now allege was actually a ploy by Jackson to get them out of the country for good.
According to Pryor, Arvizo was excited about the trip and wanted her to come along. The trip never happened, Pryor said, and eventually Arvizo stopped mentioning it.
The friendship between Pryor and Tucker and the Arvizos began when Tucker met the family at the Laugh Factory comedy club.
The three children and their father, David, got closer to the couple when the oldest boy — now accusing Jackson of molestation — was diagnosed with cancer. Pryor quickly came to the family's aid, even writing them a check for $600 for Christmas presents in 2001.
But soon father David Arvizo was usurped by his wife in the relationship with Pryor and Tucker. Until then, Pryor had seen David sleeping by his son's side in the hospital, never eating or leaving him alone. There was no sign of the mother.
But when the boy's health picture improved, Janet Arvizo suddenly appeared on the scene. Her husband, whom she later divorced, was now painted as abusive and unfeeling.
Pryor's testimony underscored several important points.
Even though she spoke to Pryor regularly, Janet Arvizo never told her that she'd been in a fracas with J.C. Penney, sued them and won $153,000.
She didn't tell her "best friend" a lot of things, apparently.
Janet Arvizo, for example, claimed in the Penney case that store security guards had broken her son's arm.
But she told Pryor that the injury happened during a softball game — because the boy's mitt was worn out. Pryor immediately bought him a new one.
Arvizo is a passive-aggressive master, according to witnesses who have said she never asks for money. She simply lays out for her targets a tale of woe that inspires voluntary contributions. She's an artist — a con artist.
For example, at the same time she accepted the $600 Christmas gift from Pryor, Arvizo was also orchestrating other fundraisers and gifts from strangers. She was also stringing along a boyfriend who took home a big paycheck — a man who is now her second husband.
Janet Arvizo's secret to success was to keep all the parties from talking to each other. It worked.
Pryor, who speaks with a lilting voice and could easily have been a fashion model, provided independent verification of many traits of the Arvizo kids testified to by others.
She characterized the boys as "tough," and said they continually roughhoused. They helped themselves to things that weren't theirs.
Under oath, Pryor conceded that although she had been in daily contact with the Arvizos in February and March 2003, not one of them ever mentioned being kidnapped, held against his or her will or extorted by Jackson. None of them ever brought up molestation, either.
Pryor did say under direct questioning that the family, having been offered a promise of a new car by Tucker, pursued the gift with unrelenting enthusiasm.
Pryor even got an unsolicited fax with Janet Arvizo's driver's license and other pertinent details on Feb. 13, 2003 — a date on which Arvizo claims her family was being held prisoner by Jackson.
Pryor spent a lot of time at Neverland. Her straightforward accounting, along with that of actress Vernee Watson-Johnson the previous day, demonstrated that the conspiracy charges in this case should never have been filed.
Along with next week's testimony from Tucker — widely thought to be the defense's final witness — Pryor's story should seal off a possibility of a conviction in that part of the case for good.
Where is www.mjjsource.com? A lot of people who plunked down $50 for premium memberships in Jackson's online fan club would like to know what happened to the Web site.
Mjjsource had been the way Jackson disseminated information to his devoted fan following. Not only was the site a meeting place, but it also gave premium members the promise of streaming video interviews with Jackson. One such interview was supposed to take place last week, but didn't.
When Mjjsource first became inaccessible 12 days ago, members apparently were told that the site had been hacked into and was under repairs. But there still is no sign of anything happening.
Usually when a site is being worked on, there's some kind of note left behind. In the case of Mjjsource, it simply isn't there anymore.
I hate to say I told you so, but consider this: Back on Dec. 21, 2004, this column reported that Jackson's brother Randy Jackson had upset the legions of fans who regularly turned to another site, www.mjfanclub.net, to get their information.
That site was free of charge. It, and other free sites for Jackson fans, were miffed that Randy was charging money and calling mjjsource the "official" site.
Now of course, the question remains: How many people signed up for the $50 premium, and what happened to the money?
With all the ridiculous celebrity-backed charities out there, it's worth noting a solid and important group looking for assistance.
Save a Child's Heart Foundation is based out of Washington and Tel Aviv, Israel. Its mandate is to provide heart surgery from children around the world in Israeli hospitals. But its mission is not limited to Israeli or Jewish kids. It's been saving the lives of all kinds of kids, including Palestinians.
The group is well-funded, but needs a serious famous person to help bring it attention. There must be one out there. You can read all about this extraordinary effort at www.saveachildsheart.com.
Meantime, I hope the heirs of Nina Simone are paying attention. Some national commercial is using a sound-alike for Nina's famous piano playing on "My Baby Just Cares for Me." Keep your ears open, Simones. Money's on the way.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein aren't letting any grass grow under their feet as they await the end of Miramax and the birth of a new company.
They've been on the warpath at Cannes, buying the rights to three films produced by Dino De Laurentiis: "Decameron," "The Last Legion" and "Hannibal."
The Weinsteins also announced financial backing from Goldman Sachs yesterday. Stay tuned, because this is just the beginning.
Finally: I have to tell you that I didn't want to like Aimee Mann's new CD, "The Forgotten Arm." I thought maybe I'd outgrown her nasal, sometimes droning vocals and similar-sounding songs. No such luck.
As usual, Mann's latest album is full of superior lyrics, tricky and memorable melodies and a zippy intelligence missing from most of today's pop.
Joe Henry did a great job on the production, too. "Goodbye Caroline" and "I Can't Help You Anymore" are standouts. Mann, by the way, records on her own label, Super Ego. You can buy her stuff in stores or at www.aimeemann.com.
P.S.: I bought it twice, once as a download and another time for the excellent album package.