I met him only once, and you could hardly call it ‘meeting.’
We met at the Academy Awards, at the Governors Ball, the big ballroom party immediately following the telecast at which the Academy celebrates the winners and the runners-up. I was sitting on the mezzanine having dinner with my friend Shirley Eder, the Detroit-based show business columnist, her husband Edward Slotkin, and our mutual friend Ginger Rogers. A number of studio executives had stopped by our table to ask me if I would introduce them to “Miss Rogers,” which of course I did. They regarded her as an icon, which of course she was. But since she didn’t regard herself as one, she was always willing to flash that dazzling smile and say hello to perfect and occasionally imperfect strangers, when they approached her. It was the third executive, a senior exec at Columbia Pictures, who asked me if I’d seen “your friend Liza Minnelli. She’s just sitting over there,” he whispered, trying to not to point — “with Michael,” he added almost conspiratorially.
I looked up and saw Liza. She was sitting next to a well-respected young agent, a hotshot named Michael Black. I wondered why the studio exec had whispered his name. Was Michael Black involved in some scandal so new that I hadn’t heard of it yet? I could see that there were a lot of people gathered around their table, and not just the usual table-hoppers. Women in glamorous evening gowns, studio wives mainly, were pulling little instant cameras out of their Christian Dior evening bags and taking snapshots, their little flashbulbs popping. Very odd behaviour, especially at this very A-list event.
Or so it seemed to me, until I got closer to the table. There he was, in the flesh, much bigger and much taller in person, dressed – well, costumed, really — in one of those prince uniforms that looked like they just came out of a Sigmund Romberg operetta. He had his own security team with him, flanking him on both sides, with two more standing behind him. If he was going for incognito, he’d clearly misunderstood the word. I said hello to Liza and Michael Black; I forget who else was at the table. When I said hello to
Michael Jackson, his security goons bristled, but he just looked up shyly, smiled and looked down at his empty plate again. I don’t suppose he or Liza ever had anything to eat that night. Not when they were so surrounded by diamond-laden Hollywood matrons who continued to walk right up to the table and stare at them as if they were freaks in a sideshow.
Later they actually escaped to the dance floor, and Shirley Eder and I (and half the ballroom, if I remember correctly) immediately followed suit. I think Shirley got a cute story out of it — how she’d sorta shared a dance floor with Michael Jackson, that kind of thing. Still later I learned that Liza had discovered that Jackson was a great fan of her father’s film work, and had spirited
him off to the ladies room, where she found a public telephone – this was long before iPhones, kids — dialed her father’s private number, and beamed while Michael shyly interviewed Vincente Minnelli for his own personal pleasure. I thought of that moment when I watched Larry King‘s show on Friday night, with Liza commenting from Paris, looking profoundly unhappy and a little angry. But she rallied, as she always does. On Saturday, before her evening performance at the Palais des Congres, she danced through Paris on a float in the Gay Pride parade, crying “Freedom!”
Over the years I met Farrah Fawcett two or three times, and each time I found her to be refreshingly sweet, polite, respectful. It was always a pleasure to be in her company. Another gal from Texas, my esteemed Manhattan colleague Liz
Smith, shared her February 2 birthdate and thought of her as one of the nicest women in show business. “I well remember how this dear girl, who became an iconic sensation with her good looks and great hair, always remained devoted to her family and worried about their welfare,” said Liz on her website at wowOwow.com. “We never had a conversation that didn’t lead back to her parents!”
I imagine Liz was as intrigued as I was to see all three U.S. majors, ABC, CBS and NBC, turn over most of prime time to news specials remembering Jackson and Farrah. CBS’ Life and Death of Michael
Jackson garnered the most viewers of the three network specials about the singer, drawing 7.6 million, but ABC’s 20/20 special devoted to Farrah attracted more viewers than any of the Jackson specials, leading the 10 p.m. hour with 8.2 million viewers.
At the end of the day, CBS won the night, but not because of its Michael Jackson special. They attracted the biggest audiences of the night with an 8 pm rerun of The Mentalist, followed by a repeat of CSI at 9 pm.
Were younger viewers glued to their TV sets watching the specials on Michael or Farrah?
Nope. They were all watching So You Think You Can Dance, on Fox.
Ain’t showbiz grand?
Raves for stage lions Anne Hathaway and Bruce Dow,
Mia Kirshner’s little sister writes a book,
and Sacha Baron Cohen’s outrageous gay supermodel Bruno
(why wasn’t he in last weekend’s Pride parade?)