At long last, it seems as though Michael Jackson is conceding defeat. Sources tell me that his 2,700 acre ranch, Neverland, in Los Olivos, Calif., is going up for sale. As in now, and not six months ago as falsely reported in tabloids.
And it’s not a minute too soon. Sources tell me that Jackson missed the most recent payroll, which was due two weeks ago today. Jackson finally paid his staff on the following Monday. But the remaining staff will likely not be paid today.
Meanwhile, Jackson is indeed in Los Angeles recording his charity single, "From the Bottom of My Heart." For the last two nights, Jackson has had pop and R&B artists come over to Conway Studios on Melrose Avenue to add vocals to the project. A person who answered the phone at Conway confirmed the story today.
I’m told that Jackson managed to get just a smattering of acts to come over to Conway, including The O'Jays, Snoop Dogg, Ciara, Shirley Caesar and James Ingram. The word is that Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and R. Kelly are producing the track.
Kelly is an interesting choice, since he’s currently awaiting trial in Chicago on 14 counts of child pornography relating to a video that showed him having sex with an allegedly underage girl.
The fact that Jackson is in Los Angeles is a surprise to many, including those who are currently suing him for one thing for another. It may also come as a surprise to the people who work for him at his Neverland Ranch. They haven’t seen Jackson since early July.
By the way, “From the Bottom of My Heart” — which is also the title of an excellent Stevie Wonder track on his own new album — was written by the prince of Bahrain. I’m told the prince has had the song for some time and tried to get Jackson to record it back around 9/11.
Jackson, however, opted for his “What More Can I Give,” which was a rewrite of his old hit, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.”
At least six Neverland employees have quit in the last couple of months, my insiders say.
"Everyone is pissed," says a staffer. "It was one thing when this happened during the trial, but now is a different story."
In May and June, Jackson missed payroll several times, and staffers conducted a work stoppage.
More importantly, Violet Silva, head of security at Neverland and a Jackson loyalist for more than 15 years, quit her job last week. She is now working for former Jackson attorney Robert Sanger.
Jackson has been away from Neverland since his acquittal last June on charges of child molestation and conspiracy. In the meantime, Jackson has set up what seems to be a permanent residence in Bahrain, making occasional trips to London.
Recently, Jackson was summoned to jury duty in Santa Barbara County. But he’s certainly not going to be doing that anytime soon. His defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., told the court that Jackson was seeking permanent residence in Bahrain.
One source tells me, "Michael thinks they’re using the jury summons to lure him home. He thinks the prosecutors are still trying to get him."
They may be, but certainly Jackson has other legal problems facing him in the United States, including a $48 million breach of contract suit, a pending action involving mediation in a past suit, another civil suit involving child molestation and Marc Schaffel’s $4 million suit over money he says Jackson owes him.
Selling Neverland will be complicated by liens on the property. Fortress Investments inherited an $18 million lien that is attached to the $70 million loan against Jackson’s Mijac Music Publishing.
That’s separate from the $200 million loan Fortress holds on Michael’s interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, aka the Beatles catalog.
Neverland could possibly sell for $40 million, which — after the lien is satisfied and taxes are paid — could leave him with enough cash to buy some new valueless tchotchkes.
Insiders tell me that Fortress may be extending the December deadline for the loans, but Jackson’s sale of Neverland would seem tied to that date. Jackson had been hoping that the prince of Bahrain would be backing him in a new record label, with distribution by Island/DefJam Records.
But that deal hasn’t happened. Jackson may actually feel like his back is against the wall financially.
I haven’t yet mentioned the extraordinary reading that went on last Saturday at East Hampton’s Bookhampton bookstore as part of the Hamptons Film Festival.
Actors Bob Balaban and Roy Scheider, director Joe Pintauro and Hamptons scribe Steven Gaines memorialized the late Spalding Gray by reading portions on his final monologue.
"Life Interrupted" The Unfinished Monologue has just been published by Crown. Gray’s widow, Kathy Russo, assembled this last tilt against windmills from her husband’s notes. Francine Prose wrote the introduction.
Like anything else from the mind of Spalding, the result is nothing less than mesmerizing.
Indeed, with the entire Bookhampton upstairs filled to capacity, Kathy served the audience beer and peanuts for free.
"It was Spalding’s favorite snack," she said.
One by one, the readers took turns recounting Gray’s fateful car accident in Ireland. He was the only one of four passengers hurt, ostensibly because he didn’t have his seat belt on in the back seat. The story of his recovery, as it were, is poignant and horrifying. In the end, Spalding’s injuries — no matter how healed they looked — overcame him.
"It was like a living death," a friend told me after the reading. Gray took his life in the spring of 2004. This little, final book, which also contains eulogies from his memorial services, is a lovely tribute to him. He will be, and already is, sorely missed.
Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the release of Nicholas Ray’s seminal film, "Rebel Without a Cause." Did you know that star James Dean died in his much-celebrated, now famous car crash a month before the movie came out? I did not.
I learned that and a lot of other things about Dean in a new book about the making of "Rebel" by Al Weisel and Lawrence Frascella, two really good movie writers from Premiere and US Weekly.
Apparently, Simon & Schuster published "Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause" in secret back on Sept. 20, 10 days before the 50th anniversary of Dean’s death.
I’m here to tell you, the secret is out by accident. I don’t even know these guys. Someone handed me their book the other day. Now, that’s a marketing plan!
Maybe the reason "Live Fast Die Young" is sitting at No. 98,000 on amazon.com is because you can’t find it on their search engine by typing in "James Dean." That’s because the publisher didn’t put the subject’s name in the title.
If you do know the proper title, that doesn’t help too much, since S&S gave the book the same title as a 1998 bio of Dean just to make things more confusing.
If you’re interested in film, in Dean or in Hollywood icons, Reiss and Frascella have done a terrific job of recreating the making of "Rebel Without a Cause."
Like Lillian Ross’s famous "Picture," about the making of John Huston’s "The Red Badge of Courage," you can’t put it down. You can read all about the book at the authors’ own Web site, www.livefastdieyoungbook.com.
Since they blew two publicity hooks, maybe S&S will try and give this book a second life aimed toward what would have been Dean’s 75th birthday on Feb. 8, 2006. But of course, that would mean coming up with, you know, a marketing plan!
This sort of thing doesn’t happen just to authors, by the way. I will tell you that no one from Motown/Universal ever sent Stevie Wonder’s new album, "A Time 2 Love," to Entertainment Weekly’s music reviewers. They had to download it from ITunes to review it.
Because no personal attention was given, a young reviewer was assigned who didn’t “get” it (after really not getting it).
Stevie, one of the legends of our time, got a grade of a C after working for a decade on this music. Luckily, I am told, the irrepressible Sylvia Rhone, head of Motown, is making a deal with Starbucks for January concerning Stevie. How about this slogan: "A time for latte, a time for love, a time for Stevie." I like that.
I was amused to read all the hoopla yesterday and the day before about David Lee Roth and Adam Carolla succeeding Howard Stern on the radio. Of course, you read it here definitely on Oct. 11, two weeks ago…
Similarly, Variety waited a day and a half to report on the scandal at the National Board of Review after it appeared here exclusively on Tuesday…
Nearly all music publications reported the hiring of Jason Flom as head of Virgin Records a good two weeks after we announced it this month…
And we were the first to tell you about Madonna’s Kaballah song, “Isaac” about a 16th century holy man…
What’s next? Tune in tomorrow…