Michael Jackson, as I reported yesterday, flew to Hamburg, Germany, on Thursday with his children, nannies and security.
He’s staying at the home of Wolfgang Schleiter, an executive of Sony BMG Music. Jackson has long been obsessed with Schleiter’s children, particularly his son Anton, who used to dress like Jackson. Anton is now about 20 years old. Jackson wrote a song on his "Invincible" album called "Speechless" about the Schleiter children.
Now pictures have turned up on the Radio Hamburg Web site of the modest Schleiter home, including one of Mrs. Schleiter taking out the garbage. Wolfgang Schleiter may not live in the house anymore, as sources have told me the couple is now separated.
Even that news is interesting. Two years ago, when Jackson was first accused of child molestation, I asked Wolfgang Schleiter if he would defend Jackson. He declined.
Jackson’s typical situation with surrogate families is to divide and conquer. In time, the father is usually usurped by Jackson, who showers the family with gifts. At Christmas, Jackson flew the Schleiters to Bahrain and did just that.
According to the Radio Hamburg Web site, Jackson flew to Hamburg on a commercial Lufthansa flight from Bahrain via Frankfurt. He did not use the private plane belonging to his sponsor, Sheik Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
In the last few months, when Jackson’s traveled, it’s been entirely at Khalifa’s expense — not only airfare, but limos and hotels. Jackson does not have that kind of cash himself right now. As I reported yesterday, his Neverland Ranch staff has been not been paid since Dec. 23, 2006.
Could Khalifa be tiring of footing Jackson’s bills? It’s very possible at this point. Since Jackson started mooching off the Bahraini royal family last July, all he’s done is spend money, not make it.
At the same time, the royal family has suffered two tragedies: the death of Khalifa’s father and his youngest brother. Khalifa may be learning an American adage about house guests like fish going bad quickly.
The 60 or so remaining employees at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch have not been paid for their work since Dec. 23, 2005.
That's five weeks without pay, without being able to pay for their groceries or rent or utilities. Things are so bad that ranch manager Joe Marcus, who testified for Jackson in his child molestation trial, has picked up and moved to Arizona.
"Every employee of Michael Jackson in California is in trouble," one of the staffers told me yesterday.
And yet Jackson does not seem to care one way or another.
Yesterday, he globe-trotted from the Mideast island of Bahrain to Hamburg, Germany, with his three kids, nannies and security.
Jackson is said to be visiting his friend Anton Schleiter, a 20-year-old, and Schleiter's family. Schleiter's father, Wolfgang, works for Sony BMG music in Hamburg.
Jackson's next stops are said to be Munich and then Venice, Italy. How he's paying for all this is anyone's guess, since he's technically in default on a huge loan, with threat of foreclosure on all his assets, including the home in which his parents and siblings live.
The situation at Neverland is said to be dire. Back on Dec. 23, four weeks had passed before those paychecks were delivered. Now five more weeks have passed, and the word at the ranch is that there's no date set for a resolution.
Marcus, I am told, comes and goes at this point, making infrequent visits.
He hasn't actually told anyone that he's moved houses from nearby Santa Maria, but his staff has noted that Marcus has to be picked up at the airport in Los Angeles when he comes to work — a sure hint his commute is longer than usual.
Jackson, meanwhile, has not seen his ranch or its loyal staff since the end of June 2005. And according to my sources, he hasn't bothered to pick up a phone and call anyone who works for him in the United States in at least two months.
At the same time, a Hamburg newspaper yesterday put a bounty on Jackson's head, offering thousands of euros to anyone who could get a picture of the former King of Pop while he was in town.
Thanks to his marriage to Liza Minnelli and his friendship with Michael Jackson, David Gest is considered weird and creepy by most people. He also has a questionable business background.
And of course, there was his almost-marriage to the late actress Ruth Warrick when she was well over 80 years old. And his collection of Shirley Temple memorabilia.
Last night in Hollywood, Gest did a little damage control. He produced a mega-event, Dionne Warwick's 45th anniversary in showbiz celebration. The evening began with a three-hour concert at the Kodak Theater followed by a swanky dinner at the Hollywood Palladium. Wisely, Gest kept a very low profile all evening.
"People really hate him," one guest said.
Yes, and he even fought with the people whose charity he roped in at the last minute. But that's David Gest. He's P.T. Barnum without a lick of sense.
Anyway, the show at the Kodak ran smoothly, which was a surprise. The only funny glitch occurred when, at the start of "That's What Friends Are For," Stevie Wonder could not figure out how to mimic playing his own harmonica solo. Twice he screwed it up, so they decided just to let him play it live.
Wonder, Warwick and Gladys Knight then tore into their old hit and made it incredibly fresh.
The night was not without its mistakes. Olivia Newton-John, though perky, was also quite bland on "Wishin and Hopin." Richard Carpenter, enlisted to play piano on "Close to You," was also without much personality.
Jazz great Nancy Wilson didn't sing at all, but introduced Lesley Uggams, who gave "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" her Broadway best.
Sometimes, the black-tie clad orchestra seemed like a jazz band in a hotel lobby, often playing arrangements from hell. The whole thing veered on being like one of those hideous T.J. Lubinsky-produced PBS specials.
But soul saved the day. Knight was awesome on "A House Is Not a Home," and the O'Jays killed on "Always Something There to Remind Me."
After a flubbed first take, Smokey Robinson, with Gloria Estefan, did a beautiful job on "You'll Never Get to Heaven." Ashford and Simpson got the most out of "Make It Easy on Yourself."
By now you're thinking: that's some guest list of performers. And in the audience, we also had Mary Wilson, Sam Moore, Freda Payne, Sherrie Payne, The Originals (with Marv Marshall, of Motown fame), Ollie Benson of the Temptations. Russell Thompkins of the Stylistics, Billy Paul, Gene Chandler (the Duke of Earl) and Carl Carlton.
It was like a meeting of the R&B Hall of Fame. The show began with 16 gospel singers, including Dionne's sister, Dee Dee, her cousin Cissy Houston, Shirley Caesar, Andre Crouch, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Candi Staton, Bebe and Cece Winans, Donnie McClurkin and the Edwin Hawkins Singers.
Burt Bacharach, who wrote most of the songs played, came on stage for a couple of them and accompanied Dionne on piano. He was grinning from ear to ear; if this thing sells to television — which it should — he'll clean up on royalties.
In the end, though, it was Dionne who stole her own show. She has never sung as well as she did last night, suggesting maybe that she has curtailed her famous smoking. Her voice was full of velvet, and she was able to hit notes and execute triple vocal lutzes like it was 1969 all over again.
She did a number of duets, with Jeffrey Osborne, with Stevie and most of the aforementioned group, seemingly determined to match them every step of the way.
And what of David Gest? He didn't take a bow or even show his face during the show. People voiced surprise. It was the right move. As usual, I am told he made a lot of enemies leading up to the event.
At the dinner, he wore sunglasses and stayed mostly to himself, away from Dionne and the head tables. The only time he took the mike was to tell the audience in the Palladium that Stevie, who was sitting up front, requested Thompkins sing "Betcha by Golly Wow."
Gest suggested that Stevie play piano with Russell, which led to a series of Wonder-fueled jam sessions.
But the downer of the night: no sign or mention of Dionne's cousin, Whitney Houston. Her mother was there, as were her other cousins, but Whitney — who should have been present — has simply vanished from discussion.
And the irony now is that Dionne's 11-year-old granddaughter, Cheyenne, whom I wrote about in this space last summer, wowed the dinner crowd with Whitney's signature song, "The Greatest Love of All." In five years she'll be the next singing superstar, and Whitney will be a footnote in music history.
By the way, even if a TV sale isn't made — which seems ridiculous — a documentary will tell the story of how the evening came about. The doc is being produced by CTW Productions, a new company partnered by Dionne, her manager Henry Carr and veteran actress Beverly Todd ("Crash," "Lean On Me," "Clara's Heart").
Ahmad Rashad gets a new weekly 30-minute TV show beginning tomorrow. "NBA Access" debuts on ABC, with Rashad delving into the lives — as the weeks unfold — of such sports figures as Shaquille O'Neal, Richard Jefferson, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Coach Mike D'Antoni and Sacramento Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof.
And if only you folks had been sitting with me the other day at the Park City Marriott's greasy-spoon coffee shop. The three young men sitting to my right were just a font of information about actor Kevin Spacey, regaling each other with stories about Spacey and director Bryan Singer from the set of the new "Superman" movie. Yikes! It was Eavesdrop 101, and I can't repeat a word of it!
Finally, despite my naïve hope, it does look like Ellen Barkin and Ronald Perelman are over and out. Barkin, it seems, had an enemy who was constantly whispering in Perelman's ear. Seems like it worked. The only upside is that Barkin will go back to work.