Published September 14, 2006
If it’s true, and Whitney Houston is really breaking away from Bobby Brown after 14 tumultuous years, then "Hallelujah!"
On the other hand, a source close to Houston and Brown is skeptical that this separation will stick. “They are addicted to each other,” my source said.
But a couple of things may be motivating Whitney now. For one, she needs money, and Brown is nothing but a drain on her. For another, Brown has been publicly linked to another woman, a model named Karin Steffans.
Brown, however, is famously erratic. One minute he can tell a magazine writer that his marriage is intact. The next, says my source, he can be on all fours and barking at a dog — something my source says Brown was doing just two months ago.
If Whitney has really gotten herself away from Bobby and is serious about making a new record for Clive Davis, it’s the most exciting and happy news in the world.
No one could touch Whitney in her prime. Her voice is magic. And her last album, with the exception of a rude opening single, wasn’t even that bad. It’s just that Houston’s PR by that time was such a mess that nothing could help her.
A Whitney Houston-Bobby Brown divorce, though, could get very ugly if it goes public. The Browns are domiciled in Fulton County, Ga., which is probably where the action would take place. Houston owns an estate in Mendham, N.J., but it’s likely that it’s in her name only.
Houston’s family uses the Mendham home as their headquarters, and Brown is rarely seen there. Whitney bought the Mendham estate in 1987 for about $2.2 million, according to public records, with a $1.4 million mortgage. In 2003, it seems from public records that she refinanced and took out a $2 million mortgage. It was most recently appraised at more than $5 million, which seems low.
Whitney also owns a home in Alpharetta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. But sources there tell me that the house seems “abandoned” and that “no one is around.” She bought that house herself in 2003 for $1,388,900 with a $1 million mortgage.
In addition to the two main homes, it seems that Whitney has also been actively buying and selling property for relatives. The most outstanding purchase is a condo in North Bergen, N.J., that she refinanced in 1998 with a $3,450,000 mortgage.
I told you last winter that Houston had been holed up in a rented Atlanta townhouse with another singer, named Cherrelle, where it rumored the two of them were doing drugs. The landlord of that house is now trying to sue the pair for $20,000, but tells me he can’t find them.
If she’s really cleaned up and feeling better, Houston would do well to clear up that mess and close the books on it rather than let it get into a courtroom.
Brown’s financial situation is shaky by all accounts. He’s already been spent time in jail for missed child-support payments. In a divorce, he would be required to contribute something to his daughter with Houston, Bobbi Kristina.
Brown’s busy lifestyle, however, is mostly funded by Houston, with the exception of income from his reality TV series and occasional royalty checks from his days long ago as a pop star.
Houston, on the other hand, has a more complicated financial situation. Aside from the real estate, she depends on live performances to make money. Her album sales are well behind her.
And even a new album with Davis will likely be counted toward the $50 million or so she received from BMG under L.A. Reid when he renegotiated her contract in 2001. Houston’s two releases since then were poor sellers and didn’t come close to earning back her huge advances.
I reported in this column that when that contract was signed, Houston got a $20 million check almost instantly. Since then she’s been paid at least that again.
But BMG is now part of Sony, and it’s unlikely that more money will go out to her until something is produced. Sony, you see, has already lived through Michael Jackson. They’re not going down that route again.
If Houston is really going to work again, there is no doubt she can have a huge second act to her career. She will have to listen to Clive Davis, who will assemble the best songs, writers and producers on the planet to make it happen. Can he do it? Oh yes, he can. He just needs a willing partner.
Al Franken is still on Air America radio, despite reports to the contrary. I saw him last night at the premiere of his documentary, “God Spoke,” and he and his staff are working away. They say that there have been layoffs, but everyone’s got their fingers crossed that the money people will fix their situation.
“God Spoke” is directed by my friends Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob. Despite the many jabs at FOX News and right-wing media pundits, “God Spoke” is a very funny film as it traces Franken’s transition from comedian to potential Senate candidate in Minnesota.
Last night, Arianna Huffington turned up at the premiere at the IFC Center in New York, as did legendary film director Sidney Lumet. Of course, DA Pennebaker himself, a legend and Hegedus’ husband, was on hand to help the directors accept praise from all sides.
Franken, whom I do not know very well, spoke after the screening and took questions from the audience. Even though he’s taken an apartment in Minneapolis, he says he still doesn’t know if he’ll run for the available Senate seat in 2008. But my guess is he will. He says his presence at any local meeting makes the guest list from “300 to 600.”
“God Spoke” opens today in New York and then in the next couple of weeks in L.A., San Francisco, Austin, Texas, Boston and other major “hip” hubs around the country.
Just some thoughts from Toronto since I escaped yesterday morning: A dinner with Adrian Caetano, the director of the appropriately named “Chronicle of an Escape,” proved very interesting.
When we saw “Escape” in Cannes, it was called “Buenos Aires 1977.” But the Weinstein Company has restored its proper title and will release it this fall. They are hopeful that Argentina will submit “Escape” as its Oscar offering. I hope so, too.
This amazing thriller documents the kidnapping and torture of soccer star Claudio Tamburrini by army insurgents in Buenos Aires in 1977. He escaped, and to this day little is known of the kidnappers except this: One of them turned up as a male nurse years later in a local hospital!
“Chronicle” is a fascinating, exciting thriller, and star Rodrigo de la Serna is excellent as Tamburrini. Bravo! ...
Jessica Lange got short shrift in this column a couple of days ago for her work in "Bonneville," a kind of updated "Thelma and Louise" story for the "Golden Girls" generation. Actually, Jessica and all the actresses — Kathy Bates, Joan Allen and Christine Baranski — show off their Oscar best in "Bonneville."
Tom Skerritt is also a welcome presence. Some may call it “Grumpy Old Women,” but the three ladies (Lange, Bates, Allen) play their many scenes together with panache …
Oscar Isaac is another hot newcomer. He co-stars with Paddy Considine and Radha Mitchell in "The Half-Life of Timofey Berezin," shown in Toronto. At the same, he’s making "The Nativity Story," in which he plays Jesus’ father, Joseph.
Keisha Castle-Hughes of "Whale Rider" fame plays Mary, and Isaac tells me 14 different babies were used for Jesus. This should be one rockin’ retelling of the manger story, since Catherine Hardwicke, known for the edgy “Thirteen,” is directing …
And usually we don’t report on who’s dating whom, but it was pointed out at Entertainment Weekly’s swell party that Zach Braff and Rachel Bilson, of Tony Goldwyn’s “The Last Kiss,” were much more than co-stars or even "good friends." I’m so behind on reading Us Weekly, I thought Bilson was with her “O.C.” costar Adam Brody …
And finally: We ran into the cast of Anthony Minghella’s new “Breaking and Entering” right before they took a group photo for People. One of the stars, Robin Wright Penn, wife of Sean, told me a little bit about being the mother of two teens (ages 15 and 13). She’s hanging in there, folks.
Robin is one of those actresses who doesn’t do a lot of publicity, so she flies under the radar. But what a lovely, unpretentious woman. She and the whole “B&E” cast — including Jude Law and a newly blonde Juliette Binoche — will be headed into the awards season now …