Menu

White House Says 'No' to Denzel Washington's 'Great Debaters'

White House Says No to Denzel's 'Debaters' | Jacko's Neverland on Verge of Foreclosure | As the Globes Turn: Strike Kills More Awards | Wyclef Straddles Political Fence | Sightings

White House Says 'No' to Denzel's 'Debaters'

One Golden Globe-nominated movie that won’t be shown at the White House this month: Denzel Washington’s “The Great Debaters.”

The highly praised film, starring Oscar-winners Washington and Forest Whitaker, was just nominated for eight NAACP Image Awards.

But a memo from the White House’s Paris Dennard, which this column has seen, says that “there will not be a screening here at the White House. I could not get time on President Bush or Mrs. Bush's calendars.”

The memo says that three White House staffers saw the movie, which is a fictionalized account of tiny all-black Wiley College’s debate team in Texas beating that of Harvard University in a 1935 competition.

Ironically, Laura Bush gave a speech in March 2005 at an Atlanta high school praising urban debate programs at an event called “Helping America's Youth.”

“How is debate helping children in Atlanta?" she said then. "Debaters learn how to identify a good argument and reject a bad one, so they're better equipped to deal with the hazards of negative peer pressure.”

Dennard, of the White House’s office of Legislative Affairs, told me when I spoke to him Friday morning that “there were never plans to screen the movie officially at the White House.”

Among the movies Mrs. Bush has screened are “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Charlotte’s Web” and “Glory Road," according to the White House Web site.

Jacko's Neverland on Verge of Foreclosure

Michael Jackson’s 2,900-acre Neverland Ranch is about to go the way of all things.

The fabled ranch, scene of many parties for children and at least a couple of police raids, may be vulnerable to foreclosure next Friday.

According to sources, the mortgage broker trying to find refinancing for Jackson on a $23 million loan held by Fortress Investments using Neverland as security has so far come up empty. There is literally no interest from anyone in saving Jackson in this situation.

If Neverland is not refinanced, Fortress can foreclose and sell the ranch at auction. Recently, Fortress laid off $300 million in loans to Jackson on HSBC. The refinancing resulted in Jackson's paying off around $20 million in debt, but it still left him cash-strapped and unable to deal with the Neverland crisis.

Sources say Jackson has recently been living rent-free with his three children in the Palms casino in Las Vegas as a guest of the Maloof brothers. The Maloofs would be the latest hosts upon whom Jackson has mooched, following Prince Abdullah of Bahrain, dancer Michael Flatley and Prince Jefri of Brunei. The former is suing Jackson in the U.K. for $7 million.

The inability to find Jackson a lender for Neverland comes just as a title company optimistically issued notices to lien holders on the properties. The notices turned out to be premature, as no one turned up to loan Jackson the $23 million.

According to the Web site for Santa Barbara County’s Grant Assessor, no action has taken place on Neverland since Oct. 22, when Fortress, doing business as DBCG LLC, issued a default notice for the property.

Jackson, of course, has not lived at Neverland in Los Olivos, Calif., since June 30, 2005. Two weeks after he was acquitted on charges of child molestation and conspiracy, Jackson decamped to Bahrain. Within a year, Neverland was shut down when the pop star fell behind on wages for the remaining employees and did not maintain insurance or workmen’s comp for them.

For a long time, Neverland — which Jackson bought in the mid '80s — with its playgrounds, carnival rides and zoo, was akin to the Hearst Castle as a Valhalla for children. But it soon came also to represent a dark cloud in Jackson’s life as his devotion to the children continually came under scrutiny.

It’s not his only piece of real estate. Jackson also has a $4 million mortgage on his parents’ home in Encino, Calif.

As the Globes Turn: Strike Kills More Awards

The Writers Guild of America has now killed off its own awards ceremony, scheduled for Feb. 9.

This now begs the question whether the Screen Actors Guild will go ahead with its show, set for Jan. 27 on TNT.

And then there’s the Academy Awards. On Thursday, Oscar insiders swore to me that the show will go on, as planned, on Feb. 24. How this will happen considering that the guilds will not want ABC to reap the benefits of advertising is anyone’s guess.

In between, there is the looming issue of the Grammy Awards telecast on Feb. 10. CBS has invested a lot of time and money in the 50th anniversary show. Of course, the show could skip using writers and just have music. No one would object to that.

But still the pending issue in the strike is Sunday’s canceled Golden Globes show. Reduced to a press conference, even that hour may be imperiled. Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press may have to mimeograph their results or send them around by fax. It’s not clear that NBC will even air the press conference.

Around town, there’s talk of what the winners might do once they find out they’ve won. All official parties have been canceled, although Thursday night, Miramax feted director Julian Schnabel at Mr. Chow for his "Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Another Miramax celebration is said to be possibly going on Friday night for "No Country for Old Men."

And the NBC Universal party? Rumors are it’s being sponsored by the company’s luckless Focus Features division, which gave us the disappointing "Atonement" and "Lust Caution" this season, as well as "Talk to Me," a fine film by Kasi Lemmons that was simply abandoned.

Wyclef Straddles Political Fence

Wyclef Jean’s triumphant performance Thursday night on "The Jimmy Kimmel Show" showed that he’s one pop star who knows politics.

Jean, a longtime Clinton supporter, so far has not endorsed a candidate. He sang an amended version of his song, "If I Was President" on the show, alternating between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the lyrics.

Sources say Wyclef, who’s proven himself a powerful asset on the campaign trail, will likely wait to see who the Democratic nominee is before making his endorsement or handing over a song. "Everyone wants him," an insider said.

Jean has just released a new album, "Carnival II," on Sony’s Columbia Records. The release has yielded 800,000 downloads of the single, "Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)" featuring Akon, Lil' Wayne and a hot new female singer named Nia (pronounced Naya). YouTube is filled with videos made by fans to go along with the song.

Ironically, a lot of Columbia employees were laid off the same week that "Carnival II" was released. But now, insiders say, Wyclef’s marketing man, Gary Fisher, will stick around to keep the momentum going.

It’s a good thing. "Carnival II" is one of the best releases of the last year, and Jean continues to be one of a handful of true musical geniuses left in pop.

So what, you might ask, has happened to Jean’s former partner in the Fugees, Grammy-winning Lauryn Hill?

Sources say Hill was living in the Caribbean for a while as the mother of four children by Rohan Marley, son of the late Bob Marley. But now, insiders say, Hill is living in New Jersey with her mother — and the four kids — and may be in significant debt. Her only big solo hit album, "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," was released 10 years ago, if you can believe it.

Sightings

Brad Garrett, the lovable Robert from "Everybody Loves Raymond," at the Grill on the Alley. …

Grammy-winning veteran producer Richard Perry eating with famed singer Julia Fordham at Ago. …

Hilary Swank at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel with screenwriter William Monahan. …

Lauren Hutton flying home to L.A. from New York, chatting with Val Kilmer and Patricia Richardson. ...