SUPPORT THE UNDERGROUND BUNKER
You can either make a one-time donation to the site via Paypal...

...or you can subscribe and get billed monthly:

FOLLOW ME ON
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR
E-MAIL LIST
To join our e-mail list & get daily updates on new stories, e-mail us at newstory@tonyortega.org.
RSS Feed
Click here to add The Underground Bunker to your RSS Reader

How a recanted John Travolta gay sex allegation led to a bizarre Michael Jackson scoop

[Jackson, Barresi, and Travolta]

Lately, your proprietor has been putting some of his older, non-Scientology stories on pages here at the website after readers expressed an interest in seeing them. And we were reminded of that project yesterday when a particular photo was posted in the comments section, making us think of our old acquaintance Paul Barresi.

There is a Scientology angle to our meeting with Barresi, and so we thought we’d tell that tale here on the regular blog, as well as bring back into print a piece we wrote with Barresi’s help. We hope you find it entertaining.

So, it’s the year 2002 and your proprietor is venturing into Tory Christman’s Burbank backyard. The year before, we had told Tory’s story for New Times Los Angeles, a feisty weekly paper where we’d been working since 1999. Two other writers at that paper were also contributing pieces about Scientology: Ron Russell, who did an amazing piece in 2001 about Raul Lopez, a brain-damaged young man who was being bled dry by the church (with investments in ostrich eggs, of all things), and Mark Ebner, who in 1999 had written a brilliant examination of the life and death of Philip Gale, a young Scientologist who had jumped out of a building at MIT to his death on L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday in 1998.

New Times LA went out of business in 2002, but you can still find our Tory Christman story at Operation Clambake, Ron Russell’s story is posted at Scribd, and Ebner’s story on Philip Gale was reprinted by Gawker in 2008.

So anyway, early in 2002 or thereabouts, with the demise of our newspaper still several months off, Christman invited some of her friends in the Scientology watching community to her backyard for a swell soirée, and we were happy to see that Ebner was there. He in turn introduced us to Barresi, who Ebner had brought to the party, knowing that the crowd there would be pretty intrigued to meet him.

Paul Barresi! Sure, if you were a Scientology researcher, you knew the name. In 1990, he’d been featured on the cover of the National Enquirer claiming to have had a two-year sexual affair with actor John Travolta from about 1983 to 1985. Barresi was a good-looking Italian-American resident of the San Fernando Valley who did what that place is so well known for — porn. He’d acted in numerous blue films — straight and gay — and directed them, as well. He told the Enquirer that one day Travolta had followed him into the shower at a health club, and it had turned into a two year relationship.

 

[The issue that became so hard to find.]

 
“They later had sex dozens of times, Barresi said. The star, he said, often showed up at his apartment for bedroom calisthenics, implored Barresi to tell him dirty stories over the phone, and told the porn actor he was sexier and more macho than Burt Reynolds and Clark Gable combined,” Ebner and New Times managing editor Jack Cheevers wrote in a stunning 2001 story about Barresi’s work as a shady “bag man” for celebrity attorney Marty Singer. And they explained that “Several months later Barresi retracted his [Enquirer] story, saying in a letter to Travolta’s attorney that he’d never engaged in homosexual activity with Travolta.”

We can still remember Cheevers telling us how the Enquirer, after Barresi recanted, tried to destroy every copy of that 1990 issue, and it became very difficult to locate a copy.

Anyway, it was fun to meet Barresi and talk with him and Ebner at Christman’s house. Tory even gave us a little award, a small trophy, for our work writing about Scientology. (We still have it.)

And then, at some point, we heard Barresi say the kind of thing that makes journalists drool. He was in mid-conversation, and we heard him say, “The Washington Post wants to do the story, but they’re too afraid to go through with it,” he said.

Um, say what?

Barresi explained that he had a huge scoop, but reporting it would require some corroboration that would make most newspapers squeamish. At the time, singer Michael Jackson had been struggling to put out a tribute single in response to the 9/11 attacks, hoping to recapture the success he’d had with 1985’s “We Are the World.” But the project had stalled because, Barresi said, Jackson had turned it over to his best friend, a man named Marc Schaffel. Schaffel was an amateur and way in over his head, Barresi explained. And that’s because his only real experience in show business was under a different name — Marc Frederics, gay porn director.

Um, say what?

Now, you’ll remember that in 1993, Jackson had been accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy, a situation that Jackson took care of with a $15 million out of court settlement in 1994. That same year, he married Scientologist Lisa Marie Presley, and tried to convince the world that he actually liked women. Scientology couldn’t believe its luck and tried hard to get Jackson away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, with apparently little success. Jackson and Lisa Marie split up two years later. (Lisa Marie was represented in the divorce by Scientologist and attorney John P. Coale, who is married to MSNBC host Greta Van Susteren, also a longtime member.) In 2002, there was still a lot of public debate about Jackson’s predilections.

And now, Barresi was telling us that Jackson’s best friend was secretly a well known figure in gay porn, and was particularly known for his ability to attract young new talent into the industry.

The problem, he explained to us, was proving without a doubt that Marc Schaffel, who was having so much trouble producing Jackson’s charity record, was definitely also Marc Frederics, gay porn guy, and that’s why the Washington Post had gotten cold feet. Barresi told us that he had some raw footage from one of Fredrics’ video shoots, when the director actually appeared briefly on screen, giving his actors directions. He offered it to us, and then we knew exactly what to do.

A little frenetic reporting later and we had prepared our big scoop, sending it to our editor in the middle of June or so. And there it sat, on his desk, for weeks. Well, that happens in the newspaper business. He had other things to print. But then, while we were actually on the other side of the globe on vacation, we got word that the Los Angeles Times had got a small piece of our story as Jackson and Sony got into a fight over his royalties. Yikes!

It wasn’t so easy to get a story rewritten and updated from a country like Indonesia back in those days, but we managed to do it, and the New Times rushed our story into print, and we have it for you here. At the end of the original story, we’ll provide a few updates.

 

[Michael Jackson and Marc Schaffel in the studio]

THE JACKSON JIVE
Michael Jackson vowed to raise $50 million for 9/11 victims. After the deal for his charity record imploded, he accused Sony of racism without mentioning that he’d hired a gay porn producer pal to handle the botched project.

New Times Los Angeles
By Tony Ortega
July 18, 2002

Last September 17, singer Michael Jackson announced his plans for a $50 million charity record that would benefit the victims of terrorist attacks on America.

The single, “What More Can I Give?,” would be modeled on Jackson’s hugely successful 1985 charity hit, “We Are the World,” which has raised $65 million for African hunger relief. As before, Jackson would be calling on many stars in the recording industry to contribute to the song. USA Today reported that the “hymnlike piano ballad” would feature such stars as Destiny’s Child, the Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, and Carlos Santana. “We are working around the clock,” the record’s executive producer, Marc Schaffel, told the newspaper. By October, the list of artists had grown to include Ricky Martin, Julio Iglesias, Tom Petty and Luther Vandross. On October 26, Jackson’s publicists announced that the final tracks, contributed by ‘N Sync, had been completed, and the record’s release was imminent. Nearly a year later, after accounts emerged that Schaffel, new to the music world, was in over his head producing the project, the song and a planned video have never surfaced.

Jackson’s publicist at Epic Records didn’t return phone calls about the project. And several people owed money are steamed as they wait in vain for word from Jackson’s attorneys. Over the past few months, Jackson has entered into a feud with his record company, Sony Music Entertainment, blaming it a couple of weeks ago for blocking the release of “What More Can I Give?” and calling its chairman, Tommy Mattola, a racist. But while Jackson stood in New York with the Reverend Al Sharpton to lay the blame on Sony for that and for allegedly ruining sales of his comeback album, Invincible, he didn’t let on that his choice of pal Schaffel to handle the project apparently had much to do with its failing to work out. The bottom line is what several people brought in to work on the project have long suspected: It’s unlikely there will be a Michael Jackson charity single whose sales will benefit the victims of September 11.

 

———–

 
The videotape shows two muscled-up nude men, one standing with his left hand on his hip, the other kneeling in front of him, fellating him. They appear to be in a barn. If the two men weren’t there playing grab-ass, you might expect to see livestock milling about.

Suddenly, an overweight man in a bright-yellow shirt enters the frame from the right, shouting instructions. He has thinning hair and a prominent mustache. He is flustered and impatient, and appears to be the film’s director. In a combination of English and hand gestures, he tries to make the standing man understand that while he’s getting a blowjob he should put his hand anywhere — on the wall next to him, on the rafter above him, on the back of the other fellow’s head — anywhere but on his hip. While yellow-shirt man is delivering these instructions, someone offscreen is shouting out a translation in Hungarian for the two naked actors, who grunt and nod. The mustachioed director then turns to the kneeling man and tells him that he can be a lot more demonstrative while he’s sucking dick, and he begins bobbing his head to show the kind of action he’s looking for.

The director then steals back offscreen, and his two Hungarian hunks go back to what they were doing. The tape runs out a few minutes later, after two more brief scenes of filmic fucking.

After viewing a copy of the video supplied by New Times, Joe Becker, a Washington, D.C., man whose production company, ThinkFilm, shoots scenes for The West Wing as well as other television, documentary, and music projects, says there’s no doubt the man in the yellow shirt is the same man he met last October on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

For Becker, the videotape only adds to the mystery of what has happened since the night he was summoned to meet Marc Schaffel. Since then, he’s been trying to recover money he spent in the ill-fated attempt to film a music video of “What More Can I Give?” at the monument. At the time, the project seemed as legitimate as could be: Schaffel told him Michael Jackson was paying all of the video’s expenses out of his pocket, and there would be no problems with costs. The Bush White House had even lent its help, trying to persuade the National Park Service to allow Schaffel to use the Lincoln Memorial for the shoot. Schaffel had in turn hired Becker’s company to do the actual filming.

But after Becker spent $120,000 preparing for the video, which was never filmed, Schaffel suddenly wouldn’t answer his phone calls. Since then, Becker has called and e-mailed a raft of attorneys, trying to find out whether he’ll ever get his money back, all the while learning stranger and stranger things about Schaffel.

Becker says he wishes he’d never had anything to do with the King of Pop.

 

———–

 
“I don’t think the video’s going to be made. You can’t get everyone together,” says Schaffel’s attorney, Thomas Byrne. The attorney says Marc Schaffel, the “What More Can I Give?” producer, and pornographer Fred Schaffel, who directs under the name Marc Fredrics, are the same person.

Indeed, Schaffel, who wouldn’t talk to New Times for this article, was quoted in a recently published report admitting his involvement in gay porn — which he said was a thing of the past — and claiming that he was scapegoated to justify suppressing Jackson’s charity record. He maintained to the L.A. Times that the project would have been a huge success if the plug hadn’t been pulled by forces wanting to thwart Jackson’s career. He said a $20 million deal had all but been worked out with McDonald’s to sell the record at its restaurants. The Times reported that the chain lost interest because of complaints that Jackson had settled a child-molestation suit, but a McDonald’s spokesman said no deal was ever signed.

But, aside from the many other projects benefiting the terrorism victims that are crowding Jackson’s single out, those who saw Schaffel’s work close up suggest that “What More Can I Give?” stumbled because Jackson had a man in charge who was not up to the challenge of such a massive enterprise.

Byrne says Schaffel and Jackson are no longer working together today. “It was only for this project,” he says. But he agrees that the two had been friends for years. Byrne wouldn’t go into details about that friendship. But in 2001, the pair were sufficiently close that in the notes to Invincible, Jackson made a point of singling out Schaffel.

“Marc Schaffel…thank you for all of your help…I love you…Michael,” reads the CD’s liner notes on page 18.

The thank-you is the 21st listed. Michael’s children, Prince and Paris, get the fourth thanks, “Elizabeth” (presumably Elizabeth Taylor) gets the sixth listing, and Schaffel’s congrats comes just before Uri Geller’s.

When Byrne is asked to discuss Schaffel’s background in the gay porn business, he refuses. A few moments later he says, “I’ve heard that there are transitional guys all over Hollywood who went from porn into the legit side. My understanding is that it’s not that unusual.”

Traci Lords and Ron Jeremy, two of pornography’s best-known stars, are proof that a transition from porn to legitimate films is possible. But given Michael Jackson’s past public-relations nightmares — in 1994, Time magazine reported that Jackson had paid the multimillion-dollar settlement to a man who claimed Michael had molested his 13-year-old son — it’s hard to believe that the army of people who surround the pop icon could have thought Jackson’s image would benefit from a professional association with Schaffel.

In fact, the Times suggested that it was Jackson’s representatives who, upon learning of Schaffel’s gay porn involvement, urged Sony to pull the plug on the charity record — which would make Michael’s cries of racism seem very strange indeed. If the report is true, either Jackson and his staff don’t communicate well, Jackson is incredibly naive, or he’s just looking for a convenient excuse for his flagging career.

 

———–

 
New Times showed a copy of the Hungarian videotape to Kevin Glover, a film editor well known in the gay porn industry. At one point, Glover says, his company in the Taft building at Hollywood and Vine had 10 editing bays cutting and splicing blue movies. He estimates that several years ago, 75 percent of the country’s gay porn was being edited at his shop. Today, however, computer software is allowing producers to edit their own material more easily. Glover and his company, Aries Media Group, work less these days on porn than on low-budget horror films. Glover says he’s happy for the change; after more than a decade in the business, he’d had enough of smut.

But he’s still very familiar with the industry and its players, and he instantly recognizes the videotape and the man in the yellow shirt.

“Fred Schaffel was pretty pedestrian. He wasn’t singled out for awards or anything,” Glover says. “He was competent. He didn’t worry about story lines. But he had a pretty good knack for finding attractive men.”

In a career spanning about 15 years, Fredric Marc Schaffel, directing under the name Marc Fredrics (also spelled Frederics on some titles), has made a slew of gay porn films, from his first good seller, 1989’s Cocktales, which marked the debut of a popular actor named Rex Chandler, to James Bond-themed efforts (View to a Thrill, The Man With the Golden Rod), and a series of films shot in Eastern Europe with extremely well-endowed and uncircumcised actors (Mansized, Measuring Up, and Uncut).

“While the guys are all good-looking and decently hung, there just isn’t any sizzle in this video,” complained Gay Chicago Magazine in a review.

“He’s not a great filmmaker,” says producer Vaughn Kinsey. “He’s not gifted when it comes to art or direction or coming up with great ideas. He started out as a model recruiter, finding actors. That’s what he’s really famous for. The other stuff sort of fell in his lap.”

The sentiments were echoed by several other producers and directors in the industry, most of whom did not want their names used in this story. One guy who wasn’t afraid to be identified, however, is one of the industry’s most influential figures, distributor Stan Loeb.

Loeb was recently honored by the Adult Video News with the porn industry’s equivalent of a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. “Loeb is one of the most powerful distributors around,” says AVN’s gay/bi managing editor Jeremy Spencer. “We honored him last year with a special award for keeping gay stuff from falling into the bargain bin. He can still get $60 for a videotape, unlike the straight stuff. And he’s a straight guy himself, which is unusual in this business. Very cool, very smart. A lot of companies want [Loeb’s firm] Paladin Video as their distributor. He has a really good reputation in the industry.”

Loeb himself says he has a long association with Schaffel and his films. “Fred Schaffel used to find a lot of talent for a lot of people in the industry. How he found them, I don’t know. I guess some people just have an eye, especially in the gay industry. He could go into a restaurant or a nightclub, and could spot a guy who could be good in films,” Loeb says, speaking from his Las Vegas office.

“Fred was known for finding talent, and he did it very, very well. And the stuff he used to do was really excellent. But it’s a shame what he’s done to himself,” Loeb says. Schaffel’s first film, Cocktales, and its star, Rex Chandler, were both hits in the industry and showed that Schaffel had a lot of promise. But over the years, Loeb says, the quality of Schaffel’s work has declined. Loeb thinks it’s because the director has had less and less to do with actual filming and attaches his name to projects merely to market them.

Loeb says he refuses to take any new titles from Schaffel. “We have three of his videos [for sale on the Paladin Video catalog] that someone else is selling for a third of the price we pay for them. But as I said, you learn your lessons and move on.”

Despite his feelings about Schaffel, however, the two still occasionally talk. And Loeb says he was stunned last August when Schaffel called one day and said he was going to work for Michael Jackson. “Why? You got me. He said they were very good friends, and that Michael had hired him for a job.” Another time, Loeb says, Schaffel claimed that he and Jackson had been childhood friends. Loeb said he doubted Schaffel’s story. But in November, he received an even more startling call.

“One day Fred called and said he knew someone who was unhappy chartering flights,” Loeb says. “He knew that my son has a chartering business, and he asked if I would talk to his unhappy friend. Then, he put Michael Jackson on the phone. They were driving around in Michael’s limousine. My son ended up flying some of Michael’s people around. That confirmed for me that Fred was really working for him.” Loeb’s son, Jeff Borer, acknowledged that his firm, Xtra Jet in Santa Monica, got work flying some of Jackson’s people through Schaffel.

Loeb says he’s mystified that Schaffel found himself working for the pop singer. “How did Fred end up with the job? I can tell you he’s a great salesman. He can really promote himself. He lived in a mansion where rent was $9,000 a month and drives a Bentley, and I’m not sure how he’s doing it. But that’s Fred Schaffel.”

Glover, the film editor, says he never had problems working with Schaffel. But Schaffel’s transition does puzzle him. “If Michael Jackson wants to give him a break, who am I to question it? But I do think it’s a little odd.”

Says Kinsey, the producer, “Why are Michael and Fred in business together? That’s what everyone’s wondering. Fred has a very warm and outgoing personality. People take him into their confidence because he’s fun to go out with. But I still just can’t understand what Michael would see in him.”

Yet Jackson did, apparently, find something appealing about Schaffel, and he hired him for one of the biggest projects since the ill-fated Invincible. (Though sales of the record started off with a bang, they quickly tanked.)

Contrary to Schaffel and his attorney’s implication that he had put the porn business behind him, it appears he’s never left the industry. Records in the Los Angeles County clerk’s office show that, in 1998, he filed the business names “Marc Fredrics” and “Fred Schaffel Productions.” Indeed, his Big As They Get was released 13 months ago.

And distributor Stan Loeb tells New Times that just a few months ago, Schaffel wrote him a check for $600 to order new packaging for his movie Every Last Inch.

 

———–

 
Joe Becker says he got the call on Monday, October 15. Just six days later Michael Jackson was scheduled to stage a massive charity concert in RFK stadium in Washington, D.C., and Schaffel needed someone to shoot a video the night before on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Becker’s company, ThinkFilm, shoots on-location scenes for The West Wing, and the show’s producer, Llewellyn Wells, calls Becker an integral part of the series. “I can’t say enough good things about Joe,” Wells offers. “ThinkFilm is a very reputable company. Joe is a very honorable man. A very responsible professional. And he’s always done what he can to make The West Wing a better show.”

Says Becker, “We do a lot of television and movies that come into Washington.” And it didn’t surprise him when Schaffel called and said that the National Park Service, which oversees the memorial, had recommended him. Becker and ThinkFilm are experienced at handling the complex permits needed for such a project and work regularly with the park service, he says.

Schaffel told Becker that he and Jackson had been recording the single with stars at different places and in different studios and had been filming those recording sessions for use in a video. But Jackson envisioned an epic gathering of artists on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to complete the film. Since many of the musicians were coming to D.C. for the charity concert, Schaffel explained, Jackson hoped to have them gather the night before at the monument to shoot the song.

But that was only five days away. “It came out of the blue, and it came up fast,” Becker says. Becker was told to submit a bid as soon as possible, and that he would only win the contract if he cut his fees substantially since the project was for charity. But Schaffel didn’t want Becker to worry that there would be a lack of funds on the project. “Michael Jackson would be paying for everything out of his pocket,” Becker says. “That’s what Schaffel kept telling us.”

By the next day, ThinkFilm had submitted its bid to Neverland Valley Entertainment, the company Becker believed was a Jackson enterprise. (Jackson’s Santa Barbara estate and mini-theme park are called Neverland Ranch, so it’s not surprising that Becker assumed the company was Jackson’s. In fact, it was owned by Schaffel, records in the county clerk’s office confirm.) In the bid, ThinkFilm had asked for only half of its normal rates. The following day, Wednesday, Schaffel notified Becker that ThinkFilm had landed the job.

Becker now had three more days to prepare for the video shoot.

“We know the drill,” Becker says, when he describes the complicated process of getting government permission to use settings like the Lincoln Memorial for filming locations. But in the weeks after the terrorists attacks, getting that permission had become much more difficult. Fortunately, Becker says, the Bush White House was on their side. David Kuo, an official in President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, assured the filmmakers that he would persuade the Park Service to let Michael Jackson use the monument. (And afterward, Kuo invited Becker and his employees to lunch at the White House. Two ThinkFilm producers, Stephanie Antosca and Jonathan Zurer, took him up on the offer.)

Becker was spending plenty of money to line up the right people for the event. Forty grand, for example, went to Janusz Kaminsky, a two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer. Another $4,000 went to a director of photography and $6,000 for a production designer. In total, Becker laid out nearly $120,000 of his own money to have everything in place before Jackson came to town. Meanwhile, Schaffel sent a colleague, Paul Hugo, to work out of ThinkFilm’s offices to help with preparations. (Schaffel had gone back to Los Angeles after the Monday night meeting on the monument’s steps.)

On Wednesday, a conference call was arranged so all of the principal players could learn about Michael’s vision for the film.

“Hugo was here. Schaffel and Michael Jackson and Kaminsky were in Los Angeles. We discussed the creative merits of what we wanted to accomplish. It was a really bad connection,” Becker remembers. “Michael’s voice was very soft. Marc told us he was speaking softly because he had to sing that weekend and was saving it. Michael was saying in his falsetto that the video should be about ‘Love and peace, and it’s larger than the world.’ Kaminsky [who was also in L.A. but in another location] couldn’t hear him, and he asked if Michael could speak up. And Michael replied, ‘No. Marc, you translate for me.'”

Becker says it was an interesting remark. Apparently the two were very close, he says. “So then Schaffel says, ‘I think what Michael is saying is that the video is about peace and love and it’s larger than the world.’ He just said the exact same things. We got a chuckle out of that.”

On Thursday night, Kaminsky flew to Washington. But that same evening, Schaffel called to let them know that the video wasn’t going to happen. The logistical problems had been too great, Schaffel told them, and it was impossible to get all of the stars in place at the right time. The project would be postponed, at least for a few weeks.

“It was no big deal,” Becker says. “These kinds of postponements happen all the time in our industry.” Becker took Kaminsky to the memorial to show him the shooting site the next day, had a few drinks and then put him on a plane back home. “It was just no big deal,” Becker repeats.

However, Becker still expected the first of three checks he was supposed to receive that week, based on the contract he had signed. When the check didn’t arrive, he tried in vain to get through to Schaffel, who had arrived with Jackson for that weekend’s concert.

That Saturday in New York, Paul McCartney put on a 9/11 tribute concert at Madison Square Garden to rave reviews. The show featured Mick Jagger, Elton John, David Bowie, Eric Clapton and the Who, and it raised $14 million in ticket sales. Journalists declared the show triumphant.

They were less sanguine about Michael Jackson’s extravaganza in D.C. the next night.

The October 21 concert, “United We Stand: What More Can I Give?” was not only intended to raise cash by featuring dozens of big stars, it was also Jackson’s chance to showcase his charity song for a large stadium crowd.

But the scheduled nine-hour pageant turned into a 12-hour marathon beset with technical problems. By the time Jackson finally took the stage at midnight, three hours late and five hours after RFK Stadium vendors had run out of food, about a third of the crowd had gone home.

“United They Stood, for an Awfully Long Time,” read one headline the next day. If the telethon put together by celebrities soon after the attacks and the McCartney concert in New York had both been marked by somber elegance and class, the Jackson concert was shot through with jarring juxtapositions of grieving and glaring self-promotion. “Maybe we should take it as a sign that things really are returning to normal,” wrote the Washington Post. “After weeks of taking the high road, the egos have landed.”

Jackson saved his charity record for the concert finale. “The new benefit song he introduced, ‘What More Can I Give,’ became a shambles as his stageful of guests missed their cues or couldn’t be heard,” wrote the New York Times.

It was an inauspicious debut for the song. But then, this particular tune had already been mangled in the past. “What More Can I Give?” turned out to be a Jackson retread.

In April 1999, Jackson had promised to raise millions of dollars to benefit Albanian children in Kosovo with proceeds from “What More Can I Give?” But at two concerts held in Seoul and Munich that year, Jackson didn’t perform the number even though, like the D.C. concert last October, each show had been named after the song. His promise to record the tune and forward proceeds to Kosovo never happened.

Joe Becker spent the day after the D.C. concert, Monday, October 22, vainly trying to get through to Schaffel and Hugo at their hotel rooms, only to be told that the entire Jackson contingent was sleeping after their late night.

“We finally caught Hugo on Tuesday running for the airport,” Becker says. Hugo assured them that Schaffel would deal with the check once he returned to L.A. “That was the last I heard from them. Since then, I’ve only heard from attorneys, who tell me Schaffel and Hugo can’t pay me. These guys have screwed me.”

New York producer Mark Haefeli had a similar experience. He spent $19,000 sending a film crew to a recording session in Los Angeles, only to find that Schaffel’s needs were exorbitant and his requests unusual. Like Becker, he’s now getting nowhere trying to get his money back. “I’ve never had an encounter like this in the entertainment business,” he says.

“I thought this was Michael Jackson’s company. And they were certainly using his name as if it was Michael’s company,” Haefeli says. He had been asked to provide a film crew as Jackson recorded portions of the song with Reba MacIntyre and Boyz II Men’s Billy Gilman at a Burbank studio. “They were very heavy on the orders, asking for lighting trucks and things like it was a feature film. Well, Michael Jackson is known for doing things a little overboard, so I thought, ‘Why not?'” Haefeli sent a crew that included trusted cameraman Randy Krehbiel.

Krehbiel says his job was to provide behind-the-scenes footage of the song taping, including a special moment when President Bush was supposed to call the singer at the studio. Krehbiel says crew members spent hours setting up a battery of lights — far too many, in his opinion — around the telephone that Jackson would use to receive Bush’s call. “Everywhere Jackson went, his lighting people said, he had to be wrapped with these 4,000-watt softlights from every angle coming at him,” Krehbiel says. “Being as white as he is, in the video camera the picture is blown out. There’s no detail. You just see a mouth and two eyes floating in space.”

Krehbiel says it wasn’t the first time he’d come across the bizarre requirements that came with a Michael Jackson production. Several years earlier, he says, he had been hired on a similar assignment, to film behind-the-scenes footage for a Janet Jackson video, which would include shots of her brother. “‘Don’t look at him! Don’t stare!’ his people kept telling us. Everyone had to stay back 11 feet from him, and I thought, ‘How’d they come up with that number [of feet ]?’ I said, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I’m a cameraman, I have to look at him.'”

While the powerful lights focused on the featured telephone in the Burbank studio were set up and adjusted, Krehbiel says, he had time to film Jackson and MacIntyre recording. “It was a great song,” he says. “It’s too bad it didn’t come out, because it was really good.”

Eventually, he says, word came down that the telephone call wasn’t going to happen. “They told us the president didn’t have time for the call,” Krehbiel says.

Haefeli says Schaffel called him the next day and said he was pleased with how the day’s work had gone. He told Haefeli that he’d need his crew for the entire next week. Then, late Sunday night, Schaffel called back, saying that everything Krehbiel had shot was unusable.

“Schaffel said it was the worst thing they’d seen in their lives. Not a frame of it was usable. I knew something was wrong. Randy Krehbiel is one of the best cameramen in the business. He’s filmed Paul McCartney, R.E.M., the Rolling Stones… He’s a beautiful artist. There’s absolutely no way it was entirely unusable. Even with bad lighting, this guy would have made it work.”

Haefeli has demanded the return of the tapes, but he hasn’t gotten them back.

After several press releases by Jackson’s publicists announcing the imminent release of the song in October, suddenly there was no news about the project. While Haefeli had his own wrestling match with Schaffel, Becker spent weeks in increasingly heated conversations with an attorney who worked for Neverland Valley (Schaffel’s company, not Jackson’s) who questioned the validity of Becker’s contract, argued over what he was really owed and told him he’d get nothing if he didn’t ask for substantially less, Becker says. He grew tired verbally sparring with the attorney, and in late November he turned to the White House’s Kuo for help.

“Kuo said, ‘Let me make some calls.’ And then, within 20 minutes, Michael Jackson’s attorney Karen Langford called me,” Becker says.

Langford was helpful and courteous. But in her conversations with him, Becker says, and in e-mails she sent that Becker turned over to New Times, she indicated that the relationship between Schaffel and Jackson had soured. (Langford did not return calls for this article.)

In his telephone conversations with Langford, Becker says, she suggested that Schaffel and Jackson’s partnership had taken place outside of the “normal channels” that governed the singer’s business relationships.

A letter obtained by New Times from one of Jackson’s attorneys claims that Jackson had terminated his relationship with Schaffel after learning only last November of Schaffel’s background: “As a result of that information, Mr. Jackson …terminates the business relationship with Mr. Schaffel.”

New Times asked Schaffel’s attorney, Tom Byrne, if it was possible, over the multi-year friendship between the porn director and the pop star, for Jackson not to know what his friend was doing for a living.

“I’m just not prepared to address that issue,” Byrne said.

 

———–

 
Michael Jackson got plenty of media play recently when his newly hired attorney, the ubiquitous Johnnie Cochran, held a news conference to announce that the singer was planning legal action against his record company, Sony. Claiming that his royalties had been shorted, Jackson joined a number of other high-profile stars challenging the way recording firms contract with their artists. This turned out to be a prelude to the performer’s recent racism rant against Sony, which has offered no response. Meanwhile, Jackson has threatened other legal action that didn’t make the papers. Joe Becker, after complaining about losing the $120,000 in the “What More Can I Give?” fiasco, now finds himself in the Gloved One’s crosshairs.

Becker continues to carp about the way he was treated by Schaffel and Neverland Valley Entertainment, and in January he wrote to Jackson attorney Langford that the entire project had seemed like a “scam” perpetrated by Schaffel “and perhaps Jackson himself.”

That e-mail recently prompted a response from Jackson attorney Zia Modabber, who accused Becker of trying to extort the singer with “obnoxious e-mails threatening to disseminate false and defamatory statements in the hope of extorting a payment.” Modabber ominously puts Becker on notice that “we will hold you accountable to the full extent permitted by law.”

Becker says he’s stunned. “Naturally,” he says, disgustedly, “investigating the guilty parties has ended up in the prosecution of the innocent.”

Becker is mulling over legal action against Schaffel and Jackson to get his money back. Others say it’s ironic that Schaffel finds himself accused of squandering other people’s money. Ten years ago he sued an ex-lover, alleging the same thing.

Meanwhile, “What More Can I Give” may yet endure a third attempt to become a Michael Jackson charity record.

Rob Gordon, president of a company called ID Medical, says his firm is attempting to buy the song from Schaffel. He anticipates an announcement soon about the transfer of ownership, but whether the song is actually released, and when, will depend upon the wishes of Jackson.

Acknowledging that it’s too late to release the single as a tribute for 9/11 victims (“There isn’t as much zeal now”), he says he hopes it can be used to benefit various children’s organizations.

Becker says he’ll believe Gordon’s claims when he sees a check for the money he’s owed.

 
2017 Update: A little more than two months after this story was published, on October 2, 2002, we got the word that New Times Los Angeles would be closing down. (We ended up going back to the Phoenix New Times, then bounced around to newspapers in Kansas City and Fort Lauderdale before becoming editor in chief of The Village Voice in March, 2007.)

On that same day in 2002, WKTU-FM in New York became the first radio station to air Michael Jackson’s single, “What More Can I Give,” and did it without getting permission from Jackson himself (Marc Schaffel told MTV that a couple hundred copies had been sent to the artists who had helped make it, so it wasn’t really a surprise that it had eventually ended up in the hands of a radio station.)

Never released formally, the song did become a digital download a year later, on October 27, 2003, at a website set up by Schaffel, for $2 per download. Funds raised by sales went not to 9/11 victims but to various children’s charities. You can see the song in various versions now on YouTube.

Meanwhile, a February 2003 Martin Bashir documentary about Jackson’s private life, including footage of his friendship with a 13-year-old boy, Garvin Arvizo, would eventually lead to criminal molestation charges against the singer. A couple of weeks after the documentary aired in the US, Jackson and Schaffel made plans for flying the Arvizo family to Brazil, and Schaffel booked flights. But the trip didn’t happen, and afterwards there were various allegations about what the trip was supposed to accomplish. (Schaffel, it came out later, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.) Jackson was eventually acquitted of the molestation charges after a 2005 trial.

Schaffel and Jackson ended up suing each other in 2004, with each of them claiming that they were owed money by the other. Schaffel was awarded $900,000 and Jackson was awarded $200,000.

Jackson died on June 25, 2009. Five years later, Marc Schaffel and Debbie Rowe — Michael Jackson’s wife from 1996 to 1999 and mother of his two oldest children, Prince and Paris — announced that they were engaged to be married.

“He loves me, knows my kids, loves my kids and we’ll see where this goes,” she said.

 

[Marc Schaffel and Debbie Rowe]

 
And finally, we want to thank Mark Ebner and Paul Barresi for the tip that led to one of the strangest things we’ve ever looked into.

 
——————–

Aaron Smith-Levin on how to Speak Scientologese, Part 2

Aaron promises that you’ll get a chuckle from this one.

 

 
——————–

Countdown to Denver!

 

 
HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.

 
——————–

Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,725 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,828 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,322 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,362 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,074 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 600 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,689 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,829 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,149 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,124 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 480 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,782 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 889 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,291 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,164 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 745 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,250 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,494 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,603 days.

 
——————–

3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on April 19, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield

 

Share Button