Not everyone in the Jackson family is being supported by Michael Jackson or Janet Jackson.
Meet Margaret Maldonado, the ex-common-law wife of Jermaine Jackson and mother of two of his sons, Jeremy (18) and Jourdynn (16).
Margaret, who's 40, has an incredibly successful business representing photographers and stylists in Hollywood. Her Web site — www.margaretmaldonado.com — speaks for itself.
At last, someone in the family has gotten up off the couch and done something with her life.
Margaret's followed the playbook invented by Jackie Onassis for her kids, Caroline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., and raised them away from the glare of their famous family.
I spoke to Margaret recently about her son Jeremy's interview last December with Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies. The investigators were following up on rumors that something inappropriate had happened between Michael and Jeremy.
Margaret says nothing could be further from the truth.
"We were shocked," she told me. "They waited until he turned 18 and was home alone. They knocked on the door one afternoon. We couldn't believe it."
Maldonado says she raised her two kids completely separated from the Jacksons. She was never married to Jermaine, but they were together for seven years. She says she's never received a penny of child support, even though she has a court order for it.
"I just said, 'Forget it.' It wasn't worth going to court and fighting with him. I knew I could make it on my own."
She does not use the Jackson name, and until I called, had never made her association with the family public.
"All I ever got from them was groceries from Costco," she said. "It was a long time ago."
Maldonado laughs at rumors that her Range Rover and a recent family trip to Hawaii were gifts from Michael.
"I really resent that," she said. "It [ticks] me off that people don't think a woman can do this on her own. We take two family trips a year. My son goes to private school. That's my Range Rover."
Maldonado does concede that Jeremy has finished high school via home schooling. That was a result, she said, of the bad publicity following the Nov. 2002 incident when Michael dangled his baby, Blanket, over the balcony of a German hotel.
"Kids can be cruel," she says. "He was having a bad time."
As for Michael, Maldonado says she's close enough to her two sons to know that nothing happened between them and Michael that she needs to worry about.
"He was always just the eccentric uncle," she said. "The kids used to follow him around like ducks. But there's nothing else."
Suddenly, there's a rush to explain Michael Jackson's finances. The Wall Street Journal tried it yesterday; others are attempting it today.
The authors of these pieces are either cobbling together information from FOXNews.com or relying on bad numbers to make some kind of case.
Yesterday, for example, Court TV — hell-bent on helping secure a conviction for the Santa Barbara District Attorney — broadcast a lot of hooey about Jackson's wallet.
One of these stories was that Miami attorney Alvin Malnik would certainly come rushing to Jackson's side the minute the singer was finished with this case.
Wrong. Malnik, who gave Jackson an interest-free $5 million loan in 2003 and helped keep him from disaster in 2004, has washed his hands of the ungrateful Jackson, according to my very informed sources.
More: The Rev. Jesse Jackson did indeed attempt to contact Bank of America to discuss Michael's loans. But he didn't do it until after B of A had sold the loans in their entirety, $270 million, to Fortress Investments in New York.
The good reverend's calls were rebuffed by bank head Ken Lewis and referred back to Michael's personal banker and longtime champion at B of A, Jane Heller. You should also know that Heller, contrary to reports, did not reject a payment from Michael Jackson.
According to insiders, what she declined to accept was a "bridge loan" from an outsider to catch Jackson up on his current bills. One of the covenants of the B of A loan was that Jackson could accept no other loans.
This is called robbing Peter to pay Paul. B of A does not like clichés, apparently. And they were concerned that this "bridge loan" (as in, I'd like to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge) would have been collateralized with Jackson's remaining asset, his parents' home in Encino, Calif.
Jackson has since used a private $2.2 million "bridge" over troubled water to pay bills. It's pretty much gone. As Jackson said in a taped interview seen in court, "Chimps love snacks."
Confusion reigned supreme yesterday at the Michael Jackson trial. What else is new?
Around 1:30 p.m. PDT, the press was told that someone in the court wanted to issue a written statement.
It wasn't about the jury's deliberations, we were told, but it was also explained that we could not know the source of the statement.
But this is the way Judge Rodney Melville deals with the media. Everything is cloak-and-dagger. We live with an unworkable gag order and ridiculous rules governing press credentials. Alas, the pain and suffering are almost over.
At 2:30 p.m. comes the much-awaited statement. In the interim, dozens of journalists have jammed together in a small space waiting to hear these powerful words.
Will the statement be from the prosecution or the defense? The prosecution and the defense? Will it concern press conferences, witness tampering or an anticipated half-day on Thursday?
When it comes, however, the statement is a letdown. It's from defense attorney Thomas Mesereau: "I have not authorized anyone to speak or hold any press conferences on behalf of Michael Jackson or his family. A gag order is in effect which the defense team will continue to honor."
Someone immediately says the statement is available on mjjsource.com. This is Randy Jackson's Web site, written and posted by a bunch of women who are said to be current or former girlfriends of Randy's along with Michael's stylist, Karen Faye.
But something is wrong. There is another statement altogether. This one is titled: "A Note from Michael Jackson and the Jackson Family Regarding Unauthorized Statements."
It reads: "The efforts of Michael Jackson's friends and supporters are noticed and very much appreciated at this time. However, only Michael Jackson's attorneys of record have been authorized to speak on his behalf."
Very quickly, the two statements are confused. So are the people reading them.
Is the first one Mesereau's criticism of Jackson's publicist, Raymone Bain? Is the second one concerning the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dick Gregory? Is Bain being dumped? (This would be a dreadful mistake at this point.) Is Jesse Jackson getting a hint? Chaos ensues.
Jackson's world now resembles the planet Krypton in the movie "Superman." All the council leaders are fighting with each other. Buildings are starting to shake and fall to the ground. Marlon Brando is racing to put a baby in swaddling clothes in a rocket ship destined for a safe place. Implosion and destruction are imminent.
Indeed, Jesse Jackson, after making many pronouncements, is gone from Santa Maria. He's taken his entire entourage with him, including grocery-store magnate Gregory Calhoun.
Right before Calhoun left yesterday, he admitted to me that he was the "money guy." He came to town to bail out Michael Jackson. No doubt he will return.
Dick Gregory has not been seen in a couple of days. He is likely gone as well.
Bain is still Jackson's publicist. Somehow the two statements criss-crossed.
To wit: Mesereau does not want Melville to think he's voiding the gag order. His statement is designed to say that he has not authorized Bain to give press conferences. The wording absolves him of responsibility in these matters.
In fact, it is Randy Jackson's statement, written and posted by his gal pal Taunya Zilkie, that has caused trouble.
Even though this second statement is attributed to Michael Jackson, he has nothing to do with it. It's pure Randy and Taunya, remarks an observer. And it's a misinterpretation of Mesereau's comments. Is it done on purpose? Randy's statement makes Bain look foolish and undermines her authority.
You see, we are playing Neverland: The Board Game. This is a game where grown people continue to jockey for position, even though at any moment the whole enterprise could be exploded by a guilty verdict.
It's a game in which a scheming younger brother plays a bad game of chess, trying to manipulate the pieces while his older brother, the family cash cow, remains in isolation and pain as his future is debated by 12 strangers.
Why, it was only a couple of nights ago that a press rep spotted Randy Jackson and two female friends getting tossed out of the parking lot of the Best Value Inn on East Main Street in Santa Maria.
It has also been only a couple of days since Randy "Sonny" Jackson got involved in a melee in front of the courthouse when he came to retrieve his confused father from the crowd.
It's Randy now who has authorized a statement placed on his own Web site to be mistaken for one issued by Mesereau — a statement that paints everyone who has tried to help Michael as wrong or bad.
Michael Jackson's star may be falling, but he's still a hero to some.
Jackson is polling in the Top 100 so far in the Discovery Channel's online voting for the Greatest Americans.
Among the top vote-getters: Oprah Winfrey, the only woman in the top 10. And Elvis Presley, currently ahead of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr .
You can check out the list of finalists at www.discovery.com. It's probably the last and only time you will ever see Albert Einstein and Donald Trump mentioned in the same breath.
Jackson, by the way, is one of four pop performers on the list — the others are Presley, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and Madonna. Otherwise there are no composers (The Gershwins? Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein ? Aaron Copland? Leonard Bernstein?) and certainly no artists, poets or writers.
Where are Robert Frost, Robert Motherwell and William Faulkner? Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut and William Styron?