Give Robert Altman His Due

Robert Altman | Michael Jackson

Robert Altman to Direct Miller's Last Play

Ran into famed director Robert Altman and his beautiful wife Kathryn last night at Elaine's. The couple was celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary. Mind you, each of them was married three times before their 1959 hitching. But they were the couple that was obviously meant to be.

The Altmans have just returned from Minneapolis-St. Paul, where Bob directed the film version of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and an all-star cast.

Now Altman — who should have an Oscar by now and doesn't for classics like "Nashville," "MASH" and "Gosford Park" — is getting ready to take on a new challenge. He will direct Arthur Miller's last play, "Resurrection Blues," in London's West End.

Robin Wagner, famed production designer, has signed on and casting has begun.

Again, I say to the Academy Awards governors, it is time to give Altman an honorary Oscar. How can this situation continue?

"The Player," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "A Wedding," "Cookie's Fortune," "Brewster McCloud," "Vincent and Theo," "Streamers," "California Split," "Three Women," "Short Cuts," "Popeye," "Gingerbread Man," and so on — not to mention all his early TV work on shows like "Bonanza" — make Altman, who will turn 81 right before next year's Academy Award show — a living legend.

Paul Thomas Anderson, Tim Robbins and countless other young directors emulate him and aspire to his greatness.

Not only that: Altman has launched countless careers. From Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, Julie Christie, Warren Beatty and Sissy Spacek to Liv Tyler, Glenn Close, Tim Robbins, Richard Gere and Helen Mirren, dozens of actors owe great moments on screen to him. It's time to give Altman his due.

Jacko Jurors Sing for Supper

Those Michael Jackson jurors! Originally I gave them credit for being smart enough to smell a set-up. Now I'm starting to wonder who set whom up.

There are reports that two of the jurors have sold books. This is no big news. One of them, Eleanor, the 79-year-old grandmother who uttered the now well-known line, "Don't snap your fingers at me, lady!" during our post-verdict interview, had been shopping a book since the middle of the trial.

Her granddaughter was reportedly doing a poor imitation of Swifty Lazar, trying to make deals left and right.

Immediately following the trial, several jurors got on a private plane provided by Disney and headed to New York. There they did "Good Morning America" and had a fine time. They fit in "Larry King Live" the night before, as well.

Was it all planned prior to the verdict being read? All I can tell you is, the scene outside the courthouse following the delivery of the verdict was wild. NBC brought one booker per juror.

Back then, only one juror seemed queasy with the acquittal: Ray Hultman. He was the one who said from the beginning that he thought Jackson was probably a pedophile but there wasn't enough evidence for a conviction.

The trip to New York that night, I'm told, was not so easy. Foreman Paul Rodriguez got either a stab of conscience or commerce, but he pulled out of the plan and returned to Santa Maria the same night. He didn't do the interviews.

Six or so others went through with the deal. But Rodriguez complained that as long as he was in New York, he'd like to do a couple of other shows. Would ABC/Disney mind? You bet they did.

Granted, ABC didn't exactly put the jurors up in the Pierre. Instead, they chose the largely inexpensive On the Avenue, a homey place on the Upper West Side.

Once all the jurors got home, they still did another episode of "Larry King." And then, from what I can tell, they started squabbling. Everyone wanted to write a book. None of them could make a deal on his/her own. Rodriguez and his wife contacted yours truly to see if I would co-write or ghost write, but they didn't know what they wanted. They just knew they wanted money, and to make sure their one time cash-in would be worth it.

The Rodriguezes were not nearly as venal as some of the others. At one point, six jurors banded together to do a book. Then there was a proposal from five. Hultman and the grandmother seemed to be aligned. Rodriguez's group included two women who'd spoken calmly and rationally at the press conference. They had not seen enough evidence to convict. One of them said, plaintively, "Where was the evidence?" They were disappointed in the state's case.

For some of the Jackson jurors, the case was about fame. For others, it carried a more serious weight. One of the jurors, bound to a wheelchair and evidently not terribly social, said at the press conference that he was mostly happy to have met 20 or so new friends.

Santa Maria is a small town with no central areas except foreboding malls. There is no mass transportation. The Jackson trial had provided a life for some of the jurors. It was clear they didn't want to give it up.

Now I'm hearing the same stories as you: Jurors will write books claiming they thought Jackson was guilty. Too late, folks. No one's interested. If you thought Jackson had harmed children, you could have convicted him. You did not. I sat in that same courtroom with the jury for weeks. The most they could have gotten him for were four lesser misdemeanor charges of serving alcohol to a minor.

Nearly every prosecution witness was tainted. Almost all the witnesses on both sides lied, and blatantly. There was a lot of perjury. There was backstage stuff about which the jury had no knowledge. In fact, they probably know less than almost anyone about what happened in that courtroom, because some key things are beyond their purview.

This is what they could see: Jackson went on an unannounced hunger strike and self-emaciated, knowing, I think, the jury would see him wasting away and feel sorry about it. They obviously did.

But the time has passed for the jurors to change their minds. They had many days for deliberation. They took time off to attend a high school graduation. They asked few questions of Judge Melville, maybe the fewest any juror has ever posed in a high-profile case since O.J. Simpson waltzed out of his courtroom.

No one was rushing them. They could have stayed another week or two, looked at all the evidence twice, and returned with a different verdict. They didn't do that, and no one is going to buy a book to find out why.

Want to know what they were thinking? Watch the videotaped interview with all of them that followed the announcement. All the answers are there. And they're free.