Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September 5th

On Wednesday, September 5, 1984, Frank Dileo and Norman Winter held a press conference at a West Hollywood sound studio. Norman introduced "what may be an unprecedented move." He read first: "Superstar Michael Jackson today instructed [us] to 'once and for all set the record straight.'" Michael's publicist explained that "the potential risk of reacting to ... unfounded rumors" could no longer silence him. Then, Michael's manager steps to the podium to read his client's response. Once done, he retreats to a control booth. Reporters belt, "Hold on! Frank, come on! Why isn't Michael here himself? What's going on, really?" Norman explains that Michael's upset by reports of his alleged homosexuality: "The fact that they say he's gay is completely ridiculous. If little girls want to grow up and marry Michael, now they know they've got a chance." Norman's comments referred to hundreds of fan letters begging Michael to come out, heterosexually. Michael's statement never mentions homosexuality directly. He starts with, "No! I've never taken hormones to maintain my high voice." He denies he's surgically altered either his eyes or cheekbones. There's no mention of his nose. Finally, he proclaims, "I plan to get married and have a family. Any statements to the contrary are simply untrue."

Five years earlier, Michael confronted a reporter himself: "I am not homo. Not at all. ... I'm not going to have a nervous breakdown because people think I like having sex with men. I don't and that's that. If I let this get to me, it will only show how cheap I am. I'm sure I must have fans who are gay, and I don't mind that. That's their life and this is mine. You can print that." Then, he seemed genuinely dumbfounded that anyone would believe the rumor: "Is it my voice? Is it because I have this soft voice? All of us in the family have soft voices." Michael's vocal coach Seth Riggs, who started with him in 1978, came to his employer's defense before the news conference. Seth's support sounded like a talking point: "We're all fed up with the lies and nonsense about this boy we love so much. Michael is different. ... He's not of this world." When Seth debunked the hormone rumors, he let slip just how mundanely Michael speaks. "He isn't naturally falsetto," he resolved. "His voice is as low as yours or mine. Natural, male, husky. But he doesn't like it. He calls it his 'frog' voice, so for personal reasons, after I had taught him to reach that level and maintain it, he decided to stick with it. But it's just a technique—a trick."

The Wiz was full of them. Michael found everything about filmmaking magical, but he loved his getup. He explains in Moonwalk: "My complexion was still a mess during the filming ... so I found myself really enjoying the makeup. ... I enjoyed having the stuff put on my face. When I was transformed into the Scarecrow, it was the most wonderful thing in the world. I got to be somebody else and escape through my character." Plus, for the first time, Michael lived away from his parents in a New York apartment with sister LaToya. When not on set with Michael, LaToya hung out with singer Stephanie Mills and Diana Ross' younger brother Chico. At night, they'd go to Studio 54, what LaToya called "the hippest night spot." It was just a few blocks away from their Sutton Place apartment.

On several trips, Liza Minelli chaperoned. She made sure they were ushered by owner Steve Rubell into the sanctum sanctorum, the VIP basement. Author Truman Capote remembers watching Michael riveted by a man and woman having sex in the shadows. "I sort of expected him to be absolutely shocked," he reasoned. "But he seemed to be studying them like they were mating panda bears in the zoo." Most others there assumed Michael's sexual orientation. "Of course we thought he was gay—or at least bi," remembered one the shirtless bartenders Rubell handpicked. "If he liked men, that news wasn't for public consumption." Similarly, biographer Randy Taraborrelli defends Michael's public actions, but not the possibility of his desire: "Michael Jackson would never allow himself to have homosexual relationships, even if he did have feelings for other men. He is much too puritanical, a result of his religious background." Sister Rebbie reiterated the family's investment in Jehovah's Witness teachings: "Anyone who turned out to be homosexual would be disfellowshiped, cut off right away."

The elders were already disturbed by his "Thriller" video and suggestive dancing. They threatened to disfellowship him if he didn't destroy it. Panicked, Michael sought his lawyer John Branca's counsel. John knew the video's commercial appeal and suggested a disclaimer. Before the video started, there now appeared this message: "Due to my personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult—Michael Jackson." On set, the star was equally inspired to assert his interest in women. His video girlfriend Ola Ray remembered Michael talking a lot about Brooke Shields between takes. Then, when "a gay guy and his friend came onto the set," Michael dismissed them. "Look at him, he's got his boyfriend with him." Ola concluded that Michael was "a space person" but noted that Marlon Brando's long-haired son Miko was around a lot: "They seemed to be best friends."

Bob Michaelson also noticed Michael's company: "On the road, in the studio, he always had some good-looking guy with him, usually somebody between 17 and, say, 20. Never a woman. Never." One of Bob's failed business endeavors with Michael was a clothing line inspired by his video outfits. Michael never lost money on Bob's ideas. Bob admits he fell for the shrewd business tactics: "Like everyone else, I was caught up in Michaelmania—like a real idiot." Bob confided these details to Christopher Andersen for his Michael Jackson Unauthorized. People who speak on the record about Michael are often disgruntled. The closer to the Gloved One, the less people speak freely. Nonetheless, Bob explains that "all the people aroudn Michael thought he was gay, no matter what they said publicly. ... But if you asked me or anyone else [in 1984], we would have said it was young men, not kids."

That's what Scott Thorson told The National Enquirer. Michael was in London with Paul McCartney watching cartoons and writing songs for Thriller. Scott was there with his companion Liberace. Scott explains, "I loved Liberace but I was never physically attracted to him. It was a different story with Michael." They'd met in Las Vegas in 1979. But in London, "we were two young men extremely attracted to each other. You could've cut the sexual tension with a knife." Michael wanted Scott to leave Liberace, who later "traded me in for a younger boy" in 1982. Liberace publicly denied he any sexual intimacy but paid a $95,000 settlement when Scott sued him for $113 million. After Liberace died in 1987, Scott wrote a book about his life with and palimony suit against him. Scott spoke with the Enquirer before Michael's 2005 trial. He warned, "if Michael tries to deny what I've said about our homosexual acts in London, I challenge him to take a polygraph. I did!" Another detail wasn't part of that dare. A few years after their London get-together, Scott visited him at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons: "I was shocked when I ... saw a couple of gay porn magazines on his nightstand. The pictures in the magazines looked like young boys."

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