You may wonder why Jessica Simpson and her sister Ashlee have not turned out like Britney Spears. After all, Jessica tried out to be among Britney and other Orlando-based Mouseketeers Ryan Gosling (who turned out to be a real actor), Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.
The reason is simple, says their dad and manager, Joe Simpson.
"We have a real family," he told me Monday. "You can’t just put these kids out in the world and they’re on their own. I can remember a time when Jessica was singing at Madison Square Garden and her outfit ripped before she went on. We were there for her."
I had an iced-tea break with Joe on Monday at Café Un Deux Trois while the busy Texan was promoting the new ABC series he’s producing, "Women’s Murder Club," starring Angie Harmon. It’s one of several projects Joe is occupied with now that Jessica and Ashlee’s careers are up and running nicely.
Simpson and wife, Tina, married almost 30 years ago when they were 20 and 18; today, they live in Encino, Calif.
Joe Simpson got some raw deals in the press when he started managing Jessica’s career. But you can’t argue with success. He put both of his girls on the map and survived some ugly times.
One episode he weathered, of course, was Ashlee’s "Saturday Night Live" debacle.
"She’d lost her voice, and Jordan Schur [then the head of her record label] insisted she lip-synch," he said. "She’d never done it before. She didn’t want to do it. Anyway, she’ll never do it again. We just did a huge tour, and there was no lip-synching."
Simpson is very candid about that bad night. They’ve learned their lesson.
Some may think he’s a controlling father, but he says, "I don’t tell my girls who to date or marry or what to do."
He had no control over Ashlee’s rhinoplasty, for example. When I mentioned that her old look was more distinctive, he just shrugged.
"Girls have their own ideas," he said. "Anyway, there was a real problem with her breathing and that was cured."
Ashlee is preparing the release of her third album on Geffen, with much of the producing by Timbaland and the Neptunes. Then she will hit the road again.
"She has a huge following," Joe said.
Jessica, meanwhile, has just finished her role in "Major Movie Star," a "Private Benjamin" for the 21st century.
"We had a real director, Steve Miner, who would tell her if something wasn’t right." Joe said.
Jessica did a lot of work to get up to speed as an actress. "When the movie wrapped, Steve told her, 'You’re going to be a movie star.'"
She’s also going to be a country star. Simpson says Jessica’s next CD likely will be recorded in Nashville.
"Willie Nelson really likes her," he said. "We’re going to go down there and really get into it."
Given that Reba McEntire and Kenny Chesney are on top of the pop charts this week, this doesn’t sound so bad.
Before she goes country, though, Jessica will make another movie, this time in a role as a biker chick "with tattoos."
And that’s not all for Joe Simpson, whose father died when he was 27 and left him only a watch and a penknife back in Texas.
The 49-year-old former youth pastor is quite an American success story, which is why maybe so many media types are skeptical of him. But I say give him credit. He survived having Nick Lachey for a son-in-law, you know.
"I have nothing against Nick," he told me. "But they got married very young. I told Jessica, 'You’re going to hit an age when it’s all going to be clear to you — life that is — and you’ll know what you want to do.'"
Joe told me, "I do blame 50 percent of their break-up on the media."
And just in case you wondered about the couple’s "Newlyweds" show on MTV, it was not scripted. Jessica really did not know that Chicken of the Sea was canned tuna.
"She had a very Lucy-like quality," Joe reflected, "and we went with it."
The TV show "Women’s Murder Club" comes from Simpson’s recent friendship with best-selling novelist James Patterson. Now they have several more projects cooking for TV and the movies.
Simpson also manages singer Ryan Cabrera and a few new acts, all of whom he’ll release on his own label, Papa Joe Records.
George Clooney’s excellent performance in his new movie, "Michael Clayton," is no accident.
But his actual accident — on a motorcycle — took place because he drove to visit his pal, Waldo Sanchez, in Hoboken, N.J., Clooney told me last night at the "Michael Clayton" premiere.
Sanchez has been his hairstylist for many years. He invented that Caesar-like haircut that Clooney sported on "E.R." and turned him into a sensation overnight after years of struggling for success.
Clooney’s friend Sarah Larson was with him. Now she’s on crutches with a broken foot.
"She was thrown over the handlebars," George said.
Larson was a sport to come to the premiere, although she sat most of the time while George greeted well-wishers at the Ziegfeld and then at the Harvard Club. Among them: Brad Pitt, Carla Gugino, Ellen Barkin, Renee Russo (sister-in-law of director Tony Gilroy), Caroline Rhea, Richard Belzer and best pal, actor Richard Kind.
I told George — jokingly — his first mistake was going to New Jersey.
"I know, I know," he chuckled.
Clooney said that he rides bikes much better in another upcoming film, "Leatherheads."
For the moment, though, we must address "Michael Clayton," a solid, old-fashioned big studio thriller that really works.
Clooney maintains a dour expression that suits the main character well — a "fixer," who is, to paraphrase another character’s observation, a cop who thinks he’s a lawyer and a lawyer who thinks he’s a cop.
It’s a deceptively low-key performance, much like Clooney’s Oscar-winning one in "Syriana." This time he should have no trouble copping a Best Actor nomination.
The rest of "Michael Clayton" is exceptionally well cast, too. Former Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson does some of his best work ever as a lawyer who snaps during a long case, and Tilda Swinton proves to be a savvy choice as a corporate insider who’ll do anything to save the company.
In sum: "Michael Clayton" should be a crowd-pleaser, a kind of character-driven mystery that combines the best elements of "The Verdict," "Silkwood," "Erin Brockovich" and even "Save the Tiger."
Clooney, meanwhile, tells me that his work to save Darfur in Sudan is not over. He’s already raised $9 million for aid with producer Jerry Weintraub and actor Don Cheadle.
"We’re keeping the pressure on France too," he said. "[President Nicolas] Sarkozy and [Foreign Minister Bernard] Kouchner have been very instrumental in helping us. I’m going to go back there soon for more talks."
Last year, Clooney visited both Egypt and China with Cheadle and some Olympic athletes to plead for an end to the genocide in Darfur.
Nevertheless, reports of genocide continue, including new ones that the Darfur violence has spread into neighboring Chad.
You can read all about their work at www.notonourwatchbook.com. (This is not to be confused with a similarly named site that has something to do with gangs in the Chesapeake Bay area!)
Monday night's Bruce Springsteen rehearsal show in Asbury Park, N.J., showed the Boss in good form, I am told.
He even included "Thundercrack," a personal favorite of this writer, plus many of the songs from his new "Magic" album.
Springsteen plays another show down there Tuesday night, then starts his tour.
"Magic" is released next Tuesday, but so far there are no advance copies of it for review. It’s just going to appear one day, I guess, like … magic! ...
Warner Music Group stock share price skidded to $9.80 at close of business Monday. What’s been done to this once great record company is nothing short of tragic. Currently they have nothing on the charts.
On Oct. 2, Matchbox Twenty’s greatest hits may help a little. The following week brings new CDs from Eric Clapton (more greatest hits) and Kid Rock. But that’s it.
How long before Thomas Lee and partners insist on drastic changes? Rome is no longer burning at WMG. The fire is out. All that’s left is detritus and the charcoal-covered ruins of Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker’s former empire. ...