I told you last Tuesday in this space that Michael Jackson was on the verge of settling his custody agreement with ex-wife Debbie Rowe concerning their two children, Prince and Paris.
Late Saturday, word came from the lawyers: The deal is done.
What they didn’t tell you is why Jackson was eager to conclude the case before the next hearing. There are two reasons. For one thing, the case and all its papers are now public. Anyone can read the ongoing battles between Jackson and Rowe simply by going down to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles.
But the second reason was more pressing: Jackson would have been ordered soon to have a psychiatric evaluation. The only way he could have stopped it was to announce he was a Scientologist and decline on a religious grounds to have a qualified mental-health professional ask him a few questions. Of course, people would have paid more to see those papers than to see him in concert.
I am told that Rowe’s lawyers had already picked out one of the most prestigious and well-respected family psychologists in the Los Angeles area, Dr. Mary Lund. Jackson would have done anything to avoid answering her questions, whether they were posed in her Santa Monica office, in a London or Paris hotel (where he likes to make lawyers go for depositions) or on top of a roller coaster at Disneyland.
Hence, the hurried settlement. As I told you last Tuesday, back in July 2005 Jackson was offering Rowe $4 million to stay away from the kids and see them once a year. This meant Rowe would have to sign away all her parental rights, however, so she didn’t sign on the dotted line. An appeals court, on a separate track, then restored all the parental rights she’d given away in 2001.
Here’s the thing about Rowe: She had Prince and Paris as part of a deal with Michael Jackson. She actually loved him. She knew he wanted to be a parent, but without consummating a relationship or legal adoption. So she married him and had the kids with a donor. She would have stayed married to him, but once the children were born, and she and Jackson were living apart, she had no legal agreement for visitation.
She thought divorce would clarify the situation. But it only made things worse. Jackson, she said, according to court papers, was making her travel long distances to odd places so she could see her children.
In 2001, at a low point, she gave up and petitioned the court to let go entirely. She told the court it was too confusing for the kids to see her occasionally.
But then the child molestation scandal broke on Feb. 6, 2003. On TV, Jackson looked suspect after Martin Bashir’s interview showed the 45-year-old pop star holding hands with a 12-year-old boy. All hell broke loose.
Jackson’s associate, Marc Schaffel, reached out to Rowe and asked her to appear in a rebuttal video. She agreed because she thought that it would show Jackson she was loyal. Maybe he would let her see the kids as a reward. He did not.
In fact, Jackson — who is famously disloyal to everyone around him — did nothing for Rowe at all.
In October 2003, maybe to provoke him a little, she appeared on “Entertainment Tonight” to talk about raising horses. Jackson responded by claiming she’d violated their confidentiality agreement and cut off her sizeable annual alimony payments of $750,000.
In December, a couple of weeks after his arrest, Jackson went into business with the Nation of Islam. Rowe, who converted to Judaism in her first marriage, panicked. Her children were Jewish. The Nation of Islam, she felt, was anti-Semitic. She worried about how her kids would be treated and renewed her quest to see them.
Rowe threw another emotional grenade at Jackson in January 2004. While his lawyers convened a now famous freak show of a public summit meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Rowe lunched with Schaffel at the nearby Ivy restaurant.
The summit meeting showed that Jackson was listening to Leonard Muhammad, son-in-law of NOI leader Louis Farrakhan, who’d once chided Jackson in a speech for being weird.
Rowe, who’d never heard a word from Jackson even after defending him on TV a year earlier — not even a thank-you note — was miffed that she wasn’t part of the summit. She wanted to get his attention. She got it.
And then came the trial. Rowe’s testimony, on Jackson’s behalf, along with that of Macaulay Culkin, is probably what saved him from doing any prison time at all. She told the court Jackson was a good father. That’s all the jury had to hear.
Jackson was acquitted on all counts, and instead of rewarding Rowe, he continued to ignore her. Because the children’s passports had been confiscated by the police, he sent his nanny to get new ones. Jackson lied on the applications and said he had full custody. The passports were issued, and Jackson took his children to the Middle East island of Bahrain.
Rowe would never have seen her children again, except for that brief settlement talk in late July 2005. Things went so well that Jackson sent Prince and Paris back to Los Angeles on Aug. 2 with their nanny.
Rowe spent a couple of hours with them in a hotel but was told not to let Prince or Paris know she was their mother, just a friend. Jackson’s lawyers then sent different wording for the proposed agreement, and everything broke down.
People ask me all the time, what’s the story with Debbie Rowe? Did she have children for money?
The answer is no. She actually did it naively out of love and friendship. She expected a lot from Michael Jackson, and like his family and other friends, like his fans (the ones that are mentally healthy) and his employees, she was deeply disappointed.
P.S. Clearing up the Rowe matter still leaves Jackson with a lot of legal issues on his plate. Darien Dash, cousin of Damon, is still suing him for $48 million, and the courts have allowed the case to proceed. Jackson is also being sued by former attorney Brent Ayscough for unpaid fees. So stay tuned …
Stephen Frears’ “The Queen” opened the New York Film Festival on Friday night and went right into theaters on Saturday. Helen Mirren stars as Queen Elizabeth II, who must deal with the sudden death of Princess Diana.
Michael Sheen plays Tony Blair, only in office a short time. James Cromwell is Prince Philip. Sylvia Syms, only 72 in real life, is the then 95-year-old Queen Mum. All these performances are devastatingly good.
Screenwriter Philip Morgan — who also wrote "The Last King of Scotland" (it’s his year) — captures everything about that moment in time with delicious accuracy.
Philip — evil in every way — is blissfully ignorant, stupid and mean. Blair starts out as a populist and quickly joins the establishment. The Queen Mum is an old lush.
But it’s Mirren’s soon-to-be Oscar-nominated performance that is the most memorable. Elizabeth II is a slow learner, but Mirren makes her mistakes almost defendable …
PR legend Bobby Zarem’s birthday at Elaine’s on Saturday night went on into the wee hours, with urbane director Taylor Hackford (Mirren’s hubby) telling great tales to “Chorus Line” original star Donna McKechnie plus boatloads of A-listers and media types …
Jill Krementz’s Friday night presentation of her 2007 calendar was sold out to the rafters at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Center. Her husband, Kurt Vonnegut, made the introduction, and Jill held us spellbound with stories about all her subjects from Truman Capote to John Guare, who surprised her with an appearance and a testimonial.
And forget the fancy stuff: Jill told the crowd one of her most famous pictures, of Saul Bellow, was taken on a little point-and-shoot camera that she carries in her handbag.
The highlight of the evening was Irving Berlin’s 13-year-old great-grandson reading his quote from the calendar to accompany the late great composer’s picture ...