Jacko Fires Lawyer  |  Vanity Unfair? |  Taking Note of This

Jacko Fires Longtime Lawyer, Advisers

There is chaos in the world of Michael Jackson. On Monday he fired his longtime adviser and attorney John Branca. By fax, of all things.

Branca has represented Jackson on and off since 1980 and is considered, with Frank DiLeo, one of the architects of the Thriller phenomenon back in 1983-84.

Replacing Branca is a combination of interesting people, starting with Las Vegas attorney David LeGrande.

LeGrande also represents F. Marc Schaffel, the controversial filmmaker whom Jackson used to sell his outtakes video to Fox Television last month. Schaffel has come under fire for being linked to gay pornography. But he has been involved with Jackson since October 2001, when he helped put together the charity video What More Can I Give.

Also now working with Jackson are a group of Germans, which is why Michael was in Berlin (where the baby-dangling incident occurred) a few months ago. Jackson has had connections for a while with two German businessmen, Dieter Wiesner and Udo Schaar, who themselves have had legal trouble in their own country.

For Branca, the sudden news came just as Jackson's manager, Trudy Green, left the singer. Last week, Jackson also fired his longtime accountant, Barry Siegel, as well. (All parties declined to comment.)

"It's a cleaning of the house," said a source. But not a total cleaning.

Branca set up Jackson's Sony/ATV Music Publishing deal concerning the Lennon-McCartney song catalogue and will receive 5 percent of the income from it.

Branca went to work for Jackson in 1980, right after the Off the Wall album was released. He renegotiated Jackson's contract with Sony then, separating him from the Jackson Five, and went to oversee Thriller. He was let go in 1990 for three years, during which time Jackson was represented by Allen Grubman.

In 1993, Branca was brought back during the Chandler child-molestation case. In 1996, he was "backburnered" when Jackson let Korean businessman Myung Ho Lee take over. In 1998, Lee left and Branca came back into power. Lee is now suing Jackson for $14 million for breach of contract.

Yesterday I told you that neither Branca nor Trudy Green had any idea that Michael had made the deal with Martin Bashir and Granada Television for the documentary that rocked his world. Branca had been negotiating with Sony, according to sources, for Jackson's at least-temporary return to Sony Music following Tommy Mottola's ouster in January.

Jackson has two projects left at Sony, a greatest-hits package and a box set, each of which is supposed to contain two new songs. Branca also made a deal with CBS-TV for a new special (first reported here several months ago).

If Jackson delivered the new songs, promoted the albums and did the special, Sony would give him back the masters to his best-selling albums within a decade.

What's next? Who knows. But sources close to the scene are concerned that Jackson has now ceded control of what's left of his empire to an uncertain group of advisors.

Vanity Unfair to Blacks? Cover Controversy

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Mainstream magazines avoid putting African-Americans on their covers, and Vanity Fair is no exception.

Once again, the upscale monthly, with hundreds of pages of ads, made itself look ridiculous. The annual Hollywood issue has five A-list male stars on the cover, and they're all white.

On the fold-in second panel, however, African-Americans Samuel L. Jackson and Don Cheadle are sandwiched between Hugh Grant, Jude Law and Edward Norton.

These five do not look happy. Some of their thought balloons could be: "What am I doing here?" Others could be thinking: "I'm firing my publicist."

There is no sign of last year's Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington. According to my sources, he was offered that middle panel and turned it down.

I asked the magazine's spokeswoman, Beth Kseniak, about that and she said, "That's not true."

But a cursory look at Vanity Fair makes for an interesting sociological study. In the Hollywood Portfolio section, for example, the only African-American to get a solo shot is Ice Cube. Young black actresses Joy Bryant and Kerry Washington are featured in a group shot with three other, white, ingénues.

There isn't a single picture of Halle Berry, winner of last year's Best Actress Oscar, in the magazine. There is one small picture of Angela Bassett, taken in 1996, as the token woman of color in a large selection of Leading Lady portraits.

Ironically, the only feature on a person of color in the magazine is of Michael Jackson, and it's, as we know, quite negative.

Strangely enough, the best pictures of African-Americans are actually in ads: Actor Laurence Fishburne is in a Tanqueray ad looking swell, and a David Yurman jewelry ad features a full-page shot of a gorgeous black woman.

By comparison, blacks are gaining acceptance as cover subjects in other magazines. Vogue, which outclasses Vanity Fair in the Conde Nast empire, featured Halle Berry on its December cover.

For Red Carpet, the Oscar magazine this reporter edited and which hits newsstands this week, Denzel's picture is right on the cover as one of four actors featured.

Taking Note of This

I'm grateful to my pals at the New York Times' Bold Faced Names column for a little item Thursday about Red Carpet. (It's not my magazine, by the way. American Media owns and publishes it. The Times makes me sound like William Randolph Hearst!)

Somehow the Times got the idea I'm the "columnist who doesn't take notes during interviews." That would be a good trick, but one look around my apartment will offer a different story: boxes and boxes of notebooks, spiral-bound, perfect-bound, blue, green, red, elongated "reporter" kind, "book" kind, square, rectangular. Sometimes I feel like I live in Willy Wonka's notebook factory!

Since I can't remember where my keys are half the time, it helps to take notes. I hate to burst the Times' bubble!