Joe Jackson, patriarch of the singing Jackson family, told me today that he does not believe his superstar son was ever guilty of child molestation.
Jackson invited six reporters to a suite at New York's St. Regis Hotel including yours truly and Dan Kadison of the New York Post to promote his new company, JacksonMusicStudios.com. But many of the question were about the Jackson family and their trials and tribulations.
I asked Mr. Jackson what was the wildest untrue thing he'd seen about his family in the supermarket tabloids. (At Friday night's Michael Jackson show in New York there'd been a fan holding a placard emblazoned with "Burn All Tabloids.")
Mr. Jackson replied: "I know what you're referring to. That thing with Michael and the little boy. That's the craziest thing I ever heard. It never happened."
Then why did Michael pay the family with an out of court settlement, I wondered?
"He was tired of talking about it," Michael's father said. "He would have spent 100 years fighting him in court. It was all about money. All about money."
Mr. Jackson proved a combative but humorous interview subject, fielding most of the questions about his kids — Michael especially — with the sly wit of a practiced politician. At one point, when I asked him about Michael's children Paris and Prince, he didn't seem to know to whom I was referring. Finally he did say "They're good kids. I have 28 grandchildren!"
We did not ask Joe Jackson about allegations in the past from his children, specifically LaToya, about abuse in their household when they were growing up. I did ask him though about his parental philosophy. "You have to be strict with kids," he said. "There's nothing wrong with punishment as long as you know how to punish."
What would be a typical punishment? "Beat his back," Joe Jackson replied before I could even get the question out.
Jackson declined to answer questions posed by the Post's intrepid Dan Kadison about Michael's appearance or his financial situation. He did insist, however, that Michael has not had his skin color altered and referred to an aunt who presumably has the same illness, vitiligo, which Michael says plagues him.
Mr. Jackson did say that although he enjoyed Friday night's reunion of his sons as the Jackson 5 — the group he practiced, rehearsed, and managed until Gladys Knight spotted them at the Apollo Theatre in 1968 and referred them to Motown Records — he did not shed any tears when they took the stage as adults. Did Mrs. Jackson cry, I wondered? "I don't know what she was doing."
Mr. Jackson said he had no particular favorites among the strange melange of stars who performed on Friday night. Of Liza Minnelli's weird appearance and song choices he said, "She did what she could do." Referring to Marlon Brando's rambling speech about child welfare, he observed: "He's a family friend." As for Whitney Houston's emaciated look, Mr. Jackson replied tactfully: "You know performers like to stay thin and look good."
Mr. Jackson called the impromptu mini press conference to promote his new company, which will launch new musical talents and also make never before seen archival video footage of the Jackson 5 available over the Internet. Jackson's first artist is an 18-year-old singer from Virginia named Crystal Marven, whom he discovered in a Las Vegas talent show.
Patricia Neal, the Academy-Award winning actress (won for Hud, nominated for The Subject Was Roses), doesn't mince words.
She told me on Friday night that she's not thrilled that her granddaughter, model Sophie Dahl, has been dating Mick Jagger.
The moment came because the 75-year-old Neal was deposited by her yellow cab on the wrong side of Madison Square Garden for Michael Jackson's show. She was one of the much-hyped 50 "Leading Ladies" whom Jackson producer David Gest trumpeted all over the place for their attendance. Apparently he didn't think about how all these grande dames would get to the show.
Neal emerged from her cab with an assistant right at the corner of 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue — quite a distance from the miniscule red carpet entrance on Eighth Avenue near 33rd Street. When I informed her that she should get back in the cab and go around the corner, she bravely said: "Nonsense! I'll walk. I love to walk." OK.
Neal is a sturdy lady with a lot of courage. She also looked beautiful in a red silk ensemble. It wasn't long before the subject of Sophie's social life came up. How did she feel about her 20-something granddaughter globetrotting with the nearly 60-year-old Rolling Stone and man of much sexual history?
"I hope she stays away from that bastard!" the legendary actress declared. "I've never met him, of course, but that's no good!"
Neal told me she was concerned about Sophie, but she was also more concerned that the entrance to Madison Square Garden was still not in sight. She's had at least one well-known stroke, which she's bounded back from nicely. And she was wearing high heels. In the end, we walked the entire length of the Garden Penn Station complex from Seventh to Eighth Avenue, and then broke through police sawhorses so we could stay on the sidewalk as we made it to the red carpet area.
Once we arrived, there was little to no help getting her past the crush of police, publicists and paparazzi. Indeed, the photographers were clueless about who this distinguished actress was, and needed prodding to take her picture. "This is an Oscar winner," I informed them, but 'N Sync was ahead of us and siphoning off all attention. Had Ms. Neal heard of the five boys from Orlando?
"No, what are they?" she asked. It was certainly a generational face-off. In a normal world, she would have been more worried about her granddaughter dating Lance than Mick. But that's another story.
Eventually, I was able to persuade one of Gest's minions to assist Ms. Neal into the Garden. Ironically, when I entered the stadium and found my seat, I found that she was sitting, uncomfortably, in a seat not too far from mine.
Star Jones, the vivacious co-host of The View, was also plunked down in this extremely odd area. (She loved the show, by the way, and looked great in a sexy black outfit.)
Later, when we were all standing at the foot of the driveway of Tavern on the Green for the post-concert party (a true kitsch fest of has-beens, losers and face-lifts), All My Children matriarch and octogenarian Ruth Warrick — also forgotten by Gest and company — was being pushed in her wheelchair through the crowd and past the velvet rope, and then presumably up the enormous driveway! And this was at 12:30 in the morning.
Indeed, by the looks of the waxy faces trying to sort themselves out at the Tavern driveway, the entire Jackson Gest-list looked like that musical number from The Producers called "Along Came Bialy." That's the one in which blue-haired ladies dance on their walkers as they sing about investing their nest eggs with the flighty Broadway show producer.
Nearly as funny was Star Trek star and Priceline.com pitchman William Shatner showing up with his latest wife, who really fits the term "trophy wife." She is a great statue of a woman. His last wife drowned in his swimming pool less than two years ago.
What a party! And did I mention David Hasselhoff was in attendance?
Even as the old and infirm crept along in the darkness to celebrate Michael's return from the outer limits, young hip stars were prohibited from entering the big gala.
Indeed, Sean "Puffy" Combs aka P. Diddy, plus rapper Jay-Z and model Naomi Campbell, were all ensconced by 12:30 in Eugene's, the hot nightspot on West 24th Street. The story was that Jay-Z tried to enter the Jackson soiree without a printed invite and was instantly told to get lost. So he did.
I'm told the trio was nervous they were going to have to spike their Cristal over at Tavern with Ensure.
One of the many bizarre moments in Friday night's Jackson show was a video tribute by a compendium of megastars who cited Michael for being a great guy.
The video, which looked like it was taped about ten years ago, began with Sophia Loren. And then things got really strange. All of a sudden Sammy Davis Jr. popped up on the screen, talking as if he'd been interviewed last week. Then came Gene Kelly. Have they been living at Neverland all this time?
Also included in this weird situation was Gregory Peck, who went on and on about Michael in detail. Can you imagine that they are friends in any way? Imagine what life must be like in the hills around Los Angeles.
But even more wacky were the appearances then, in the same tape, of really old clips of Elizabeth Taylor and Liza Minnelli — both of whom were actually in Madison Square Garden and whose appearance has changed considerably since the interviews were made.
One wonders if these two ladies, Loren and Peck were happy to be grouped with two dead men.
On the other hand, you have it to give it to David Gest. His creepy A-list, which he flew in from the coast, includes the remaining four original members of the group the Fifth Dimension. If Marilyn McCoo had picked up a microphone and sung any number Friday night, she would have blown away the crowd.