Jacko Box Set Dead on Arrival?

Michael Jackson | Brando's Friends | Studio Musical Chairs | Howard Keel

Jacko Box Set Dead on Arrival?

We're one week away from the release of Michael Jackson's box set, to be called "The Ultimate Collection."

But now there are concerns that the audience for this $60 item may not be lining up in droves to get it.

Right now, Amazon.com lists "The Ultimate Collection" at around No. 1,196.

By comparison, The Beatles' box set of their first four albums already ranks at No. 67. The Fab Four's release even has a slightly higher suggested retail price.

Because so much is riding on the success of Jackson's boxed set, Sony/Epic has stuffed it with 13 unreleased tracks. Several of those are new songs like "Cheater" and "Monkey Business."

There is also a rare demo of Michael singing "We Are the World" by himself. A DVD of a 1992 HBO concert is also part of the package, harking back to the days before Jackson had any child-molestation scandals to deal with.

But the boxed set is very important to Jackson's finances. Even though the album represents the pop singer's severing of ties with Sony Music, "The Ultimate Collection" has already thrown off about $1.5 million in advances for Jackson, who sorely needs the cash.

The former King of Pop is currently managing to live on $1 million a month, with which he must pay all his expenses, including overhead at his costly Neverland Ranch.

It's not exactly news that Jackson's popularity has been crippled in the United States by his forthcoming child-molestation trial.

Two weeks ago, SoundScan concluded that he sold a total of 15,000 units of all of his CDs and DVDs. Most of those were his "Greatest Hits" album. He's completely prevented from touring and there's no longer any income to be had from television specials — at least until the trial is over.

Remembering Marlon Brando

"Jaws" actor Roy Scheider addressed a glittering room of celebrities and entertainment-biz types who dined last night at the Pierre Hotel thusly: "Hello to our disconsolate Democratic friends. Now we all know the meaning of shock and awe."

The occasion was the annual fundraiser for the Stella Adler School of Acting, which salutes the late, legendary acting teacher.

The main order of business — besides giving out prizes — was to replace Marlon Brando as the celebrity chairman of the school.

That honor went to Warren Beatty, who showed up sans wife, publicist or agent. The Hollywood heavyweight worked the room and had a big grin on his face most of the night.

Beatty was not the only friend to toast Brando. Also on hand was Brando's late-in-life friend, producer Mike Medavoy, and a surprising friend, Whoopi Goldberg.

Jessica Lange arrived with the father of one of her kids, Mikhail Baryshnikov, a man with whom she has not been romantically linked in many years. This set tongues to wagging, but the famous diminutive dance legend assured me that he and his ex are just good friends.

Lange, as far as anyone can tell, still lives with "True West" actor-playwright Sam Shepard.

There were plenty of other famous faces in the black-tie crowd last night: Ron Howard and his luminous actress daughter Bryce Dallas Howard, Mike Nichols, Lauren Bacall, Eli Wallach and Ann Jackson, playwright Tony Kushner, Lois Smith, director Arthur Penn and director-writer Rebecca Miller, who was pinch-hitting for her 88-year-old father, playwright Arthur Miller, who was under the weather.

Also in the crowd: Marian Seldes, Tony Danza, Bebe Buell and "On the Waterfront" writer Budd Schulberg.

Now that Beatty's wife, Annette Bening, is on her way to an Oscar with "Being Julia," you may wonder what he is up to himself?

"I wish I knew," he said mysteriously before chatting up Schulberg.

I asked Beatty what he thought of his wife's performance in "Being Julia."

"I think she's amazing in everything she does," Beatty replied while gossip columnist Lloyd Grove's date fetched him a Diet Coke — talk about service.

So what did the notoriously eccentric Brando discuss with friends on phone calls?

"We talked about the leaves changing in New York and whether Rice Krispies would ever be in fashion again," Ellen Adler said.

Adler, who is the daughter of Stella Adler, also said she and the rotund greatest actor of all time once discussed if they'd even be remembered once they were gone.

"Ellen," Brando said without irony, "I'm sure I'll be remembered more than you."

Is Jude a Law Unto Himself?

Could the disappointing ticket sales for "Alfie" spell good news for Miramax's Harvey and Bob Weinstein? It's quite possible.

"Alfie," which stars Jude Law, was just about the last straw to break the ailing Paramount Pictures. The film took in a disappointing $6.5 million for the entire three-day weekend.

That's less than a tenth of what Pixar's "The Incredibles" did in ticket sales. Add that downer to "Team America: World Police," "The Stepford Wives" and a half-dozen other flops and you can see why studio chief Sherry Lansing has finally called it quits.

Paramount is now on par with Disney for the most high-priced failures of 2004. The only difference is that Disney has Miramax and Pixar in its stable.

But that situation doesn't have much longer to go either, as Michael Eisner seems determined to destroy the two pieces of Disney that make it a viable motion-picture studio.

So what went wrong with "Alfie"?

For one thing, the reviews were just bad enough to discourage an ambivalent audience. Charles Shyer, who used to partner with ex-wife Nancy Meyers ("Something's Gotta Give," "Baby Boom"), managed to jettison all the edginess of Michael Caine's swinging "Alfie" of the 1960s. The new character is a metrosexual living on the fumes of charm and not much else.

The original movie at least posed a moral dilemma in its question: What's all about it, Alfie? The new movie contained none of that nuance.

The question now is: How can Paramount rebuild the studio inside and out after Lansing leaves?

One suggestion I've heard bandied about recently is drastic, yet possible. Could Paramount be the destination of the Weinstein brothers if they can't make a deal at Disney to stay with Miramax?

It's not as strange a concept as you might think. Under the Weinsteins, several Miramax-Paramount joint ventures were successes, including "The Hours," "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Sliding Doors."

Not only that, Harvey Weinstein maintains excellent relationships with Viacom's Les Moonves and Tom Freston.

Paramount's chief filmmaker Scott Rudin has also been the subject of related gossip lately. Some insiders say he may interview with Eisner to take over stewardship of Miramax if the Weinsteins leave the company they invented.

What we have here could be a gigantic game of musical chairs among major studio executives instigated by Eisner's spite. That can't be a legacy that the exiting Disney honcho — once a maverick himself — can possibly want to see reiterated in Hollywood history books for years to come.

Howard Keel Sings Final Song

On Sunday night, during the "Dallas" reunion on CBS, I looked up Howard Keel on the Internet to see how old he was.

Keel, like a lot of "Dallas" stars, was completely omitted from the special and I was going to write about it. Sadly, he had died that very night at age 86. What a shame.

While I know he was a favorite in Westerns and musicals of the 1950s, Keel had found a whole new life as "Dallas" matriarch Miss Ellie's second husband, Clayton Farlow, on the nighttime soap. For 10 seasons he played the patriarchal but sensitive Clayton, a stepfather who was forced to endure J.R. Ewing's weekly Machiavellian affronts.

Occasionally, Keel would turn up on a PBS special doing what he liked best and what he excelled at: singing. But thanks to reruns, and no thanks to the folks who produced that special on Sunday night, he will live on forever now at the Southfork Ranch.