You wonder how anyone gets convicted in California unless they’re caught holding the murder weapon standing over the body.
Jeffrey Welbaum was selected last year as an alternate juror in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial. I used to watch him from the public seating; he was young, large (which helped for my eyesight) and with an easy face to read. You could tell he didn’t believe a word of any prosecution witness.
Turns out he had a good reason. His mother-in-law, Patti, had worked for Jackson and his family for about five years. She was actually employed at the ranch when the Arvizo family used to visit. She was on the defense witness list but had a different last name, so no one paid much attention, if they knew at all.
Ironically, the Santa Barbara News Press reported this little fact in February 2004 during jury selection, but either it was a slow day or no one noticed. It was never mentioned again that Judge Rodney Melville, according to the paper, allowed this, and so did the lawyers involved.
Welbaum apparently told the court during his voir dire hearing that he would hold his mother-in-law to the same standards as any other witness if she took the stand.
Luckily, she never had to. And sadly, Patti Henkins died suddenly just last month from a heart attack at age 59.
But imagine if she’d been called as a witness. I mean, we knew sitting there that we were in a kangaroo court, but this is too much. Santa Maria is not such a small town that this could happen by accident. It’s no Mayberry. Frankly, if I were a resident of the county and read this now, I’d demand the entire district attorney’s office be fired.
Henkins’ daughter, Sherri Welbaum, is the wife of Jeffrey Welbaum, who last week put his notebooks from the trial up on eBay for auction.
After getting few bites, he took them down on Sunday morning. Sherri told me they did it as a lark, and that their 17-year-old daughter had been against the whole thing. "It’s history," she said.
Here’s something funny: one of the two bidders who got the notebooks up to $701 was Vinnie Amen, one of the five unnamed co-conspirators in the trial who did not appear but whose name was mentioned often.
Amen preposterously alleged the Arvizo family held them against their will at Neverland and elsewhere, forcing them to eat out, shop for clothes and get full body waxes and beauty treatments. The jury did not find the family credible.
Neither did Patti Henkins. Sherri Welbaum told me her mother had been present when the Arvizos visited Neverland, and that they were terrible kids.
"They were rough," Sherri said.
She also said her mother never believed all the stories about Jackson and other kids. She also dreaded being called as a witness.
I’ll bet she did. It might have been a first in California history. It was just enough that Jeffrey Welbaum came to court equipped with a formed point of view and insider in the case.
Are there more stories like this among California celebrity cases? I don’t know, but I do know that O.J. Simpson lives a free life in Florida, and that I recently saw Robert Blake at a rib joint in Malibu. They were each acquitted of killing their wives.
Be it legit or circumstantial, Paramount chief Brad Grey is not having such a great time right now.
The Pellicano scandal isn’t just nipping at his heels anymore, it’s starting to claw at them. There are many shades of grey in this story — no one’s suggesting he’s guilty of anything, but everyone’s intimating it despite his denials. There are also his own admissions of chats with authorities.
All of this may point to a time out if nothing else for the man who produces "The Sopranos."
That begs the question: who will run Paramount while Grey is away, even temporarily? There were those who suggested that the hiring of Stacey Snider from Universal was a stealth mission and that she would be perfect as a substitute commander in chief.
But Steven Spielberg, according to sources, says no. If Snider’s deals are ever worked out, and she does come to Dreamworks at Paramount, it will be to work with him, and not run the Paramount empire.
So what to do?
The name that keeps coming up is Lorenzo diBonaventura. The former Warner Bros. executive may have the edge for many reasons, one being he’s already there. He signed a new first-look deal (no, not a second-look deal) with Paramount’s Gail Berman on January 1 of this year. And he’s already developing a slate of Paramount/Dreamworks projects and knows the lay of the land.
Lorenzo got kind of a raw deal at Warner Bros, where he was tagged out between second and third during the whole "Superman"/"Batman" catastrophe (I think Alan Horn was at second and Barry Meyer was playing shortstop).
Anyway, these things happen. Eventually a new "Batman" came out, was a hit, etc. Now "Superman" is ready to fly. DiBonaventura has since re-positioned himself as an active and successful producer. The main thing for Viacom, Paramount’s parent company, is that he knows his way around a Big Studio.
But of course, I remind thee: never count out Brad Grey. So far, it’s all talk.
If they’re casting the movie version of my beloved TV series "Dallas" for real, I’ve got some better ideas for the producers than the ones they’ve floated.
Their current list of proposed actors sounds terrible, almost like the MAD magazine version —John Travolta, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson indeed. They’re not getting it, unless this is going to be the campy version of America’s favorite soap opera.
The reason why "Dallas" worked in the first place is because Leonard Katzman, the man who put it together, took it seriously. He would know why John Travolta, so hideous in "Primary Colors," has already tried playing a J.R. Ewing-like character to poor effect.
Make "Dallas" serious, and the rest of it will come together. And while I love Shirley MacLaine, she’s too indomitable for Miss Ellie — unless it’s the Donna Reed version. Barbara Bel Geddes gave the role a wispy softness; she wasn’t brassy.
Clint Eastwood as Jock Ewing
Gene Hackman as Clayton Farlow
Diane Baker as Miss Ellie
George Clooney as JR Ewing
Julia Roberts or Renee Zellweger as Sue Ellen
John Corbett as Bobby Ewing
Liv Tyler as Pam Ewing
Josh Lucas as Cliff Barnes
Amy Adams as Lucy Ewing
Josh Hartnett as Ray Krebs
Rip Torn as Digger Barnes
Kevin Costner as Gary Ewing
Sharon Stone as Valene Ewing
And then there must be very careful casting of the support cast. For one thing, the oil cartel: Jordan Lee, Marilee Stone and that group. They are J.R. and Cliff’s Greek chorus, and "Dallas" lives and dies by their appearances. They give veracity to the whole thing.
At the same time, I question this choice of a director, the Indian woman who made "Bend it Like Beckham." I’m sure she’s great. But why isn’t "Dallas" being made either by a great American director who can handle large ensembles — a la Robert Altman — or recent Oscar-winner Paul Haggis? He has the advantage since his real-life wife, Deborah Rennard, played J.R.’s secretary Sly for about 10 years.