Michael Jackson's Custody Case Nearly Settled

Jacko Custody Case Nearly Settled | Salman Rushdie: 'Project Runway' Fan | Clay Beats Justin and Janet Weighs In

Jacko Custody Case Nearly Settled

The long and winding custody and visitation case between Michael Jackson and ex-wife Debbie Rowe is about to be settled.

According to sources, an actual settlement agreement has been reached by the two sides. Jackson has signed off on it, and now Rowe’s lawyers are apparently looking over the final wording before allowing their client to enter into the agreement.

The reason for Rowe’s reluctance is simple: In July 2005 they thought they had a settlement, until Jackson’s lawyers put in new wording that cut Rowe off from her kids forever.

Rowe refused to sign, and the situation became much worse. An appeals court eventually reinstated all her parental rights despite Jackson’s willingness to try and buy them from her.

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Jackson and Rowe have two children, Prince and Paris, while Jackson’s third child, a boy nicknamed Blanket, was acquired by Jackson when he used an anonymous surrogate.

According to my sources, between the now defunct couple, Rowe is the only biological parent of Prince and Paris.

This is how Michael Abrams, Jackson’s lawyer, described the situation in a letter on July 5, 2005, to Rowe's then-attorney Iris Finsilver: “As you know, one of our clients [Jackson] is the custodial parent of two children born by one your clients [Rowe].” He did not refer to Jackson as the children’s father.

Four years earlier, Rowe characterized the reason she had the children in her testimony. “I did it for him to become a father.”

A settlement now would be much different than the one that was drafted in July 2005. Rowe would likely get all the money Jackson has put in escrow since October 2003, when he cut her off from her alimony, and she will probably get a bonus as well.

But the main thing Rowe gains here is the ability to see her children on a regular basis. The settlement comes at an opportune time in Jackson’s strange life for Rowe. Until May, he claimed the non-Hague country of Bahrain as his residence. Now that he is domiciled in Ireland, the settlement will actually be enforceable.

Tomorrow: news of Jackson’s other “divorce.”

Salman Rushdie: 'Project Runway' Fan

Last night was one of those New York nights you actually had to see to believe. It was the opening of the Metropolitan Opera’s fall season, with Oscar-winner Anthony Minghella directing Giacomo Puccini’s "Madama Butterfly" to standing ovations and huzzahs from all over the opera house.

But what followed was almost more impressive: A tented dinner for hundreds of opera patrons, the likes of which are never seen in one place at Lincoln Center.

To give you an idea, my long table, one of three in the tent (the rest were round) featured: Salman Rushdie and wife, Padma Lakshmi, their friends David Bowie and Iman, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Meg Ryan with producer Bill Robinson, Al Roker and Deborah Roberts, Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore, Mikhail Baryshnikov and the tantalizing Bebe Neuwirth.

That was just down one side of the table. On my side: Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts, Jimmy Fallon, Liv Tyler, Sigourney Weaver with husband, Jim Simpson, Channel 4 in New York’s veteran anchor Chuck Scarborough and up-and-coming actor Derek Luke.

And that’s just for starters. Over at Minghella’s table — in case you forgot, he directed "The English Patient," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Cold Mountain" and the forthcoming "Breaking and Entering" — the crowd was even thicker. That’s because Jude Law and Sienna Miller (with her mom) were at the center, with Harvey Weinstein and Sean Connery nearby.

There were also sightings of rocker Lou Reed and folksinger Rufus Wainwright. Former Disney chairman Michael Eisner and peripatetic mogul Barry Diller weren’t far away. Charlie Rose and Georgette Mosbacher were also within spitting distance.

There was a whole table of glittering folks from Tiffany & Co. — with my old friends Fernanda Kellogg and John Loring — and no doubt many others just like it.

Of course, there were some celebs who couldn’t make it: Both Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep had minor illnesses, Russell Crowe simply didn’t show.

But Billy Joel had the best excuse, a real nightmare story. Whoever packed his bags out on Long Island made a huge mistake, and when Billy opened his suitcase in Manhattan there was no dinner suit. All he had were jeans. It was too late to do anything, so Billy and wife Katie opted out. They were missed.

“Madama Butterfly” was such a hot ticket, the hottest Met ticket in years, that the plaza in front of the opera house was outfitted with a huge screen and dozens of rows of ticketed chairs. There were also two more screens, one in Times Square, so that everyone who wanted to see the event could.

Sid and Mercedes Bass — who were part of a huge New York marital scandal exactly two decades ago — donated $25 million to put on the production. The former Grand Tier of the Metropolitan Opera house has thus been renamed the Mercedes T. Bass Grand Tier. As Cyndi Lauper once sang: “Money, money changes everything.”

But meanwhile, back at our table, Fallon was at least there as a witness. After evaluating the scene — Rushdie at the head of his table, Fallon and Bowie cracking jokes with Robbins — Fallon concluded: “Wow. Kind of a great New York night!"

More names tomorrow and more stories, I am sure. But I’ll leave you with one headline of interest. Lakshmi has taken over hosting duties on Bravo’s “Top Chefs” show. Because of this, Rushdie — maybe one of the 10 most important writers in the world — has started watching “Project Runway” on Bravo to see how the same production company fares.

“I’m being supportive,” he said.

“I can see you’re being sarcastic,” Lakshmi replied playfully.

“No, no,” he said to me, “Padma got a letter welcoming her to the NBC Universal family. I just wanted to see our new relatives.”

Clay Beating Justin? Janet Weighs In

Believe it or not, Clay Aiken’s new album of schlocky tunes for blue-haired ladies, "A Thousand Different Ways," looks as though it just outsold Justin Timberlake’s "FutureSex/LoveSounds" and took the No. 1 spot. It was Aiken’s debut week and Justin’s second week. Weird, huh?

Justin tried to bring “SexyBack,” but Clay took it away, and all in the space of a week. I have some quibbles with Justin’s album, but his “What Goes Around ...” with the Benjamin Wright Orchestra is sheer genius.

Aiken’s songs, on the other hand, are offensive pablum. He should be arrested for his cold-blooded murder of Harry Nilsson’s classic “Without You.” It’s a horror …

Oprah had a pretty good interview with Janet Jackson yesterday. But Michael’s one sane sister told Winfrey she’d gained 60 pounds to play a character in the movie “Tennessee.”

However, insiders from that movie claim that no one ever asked Janet to gain that weight, and it wasn’t called for in the script. A very fit Mariah Carey will play the role now when the movie shoots in January …

Tomorrow night at the Bitter End: Seth Adam, rocker extraordinaire from New Haven, Conn. Don’t miss him …