He’ll Always Be Michael To Me

Steven called him Mike.

Of course, he could get away with that but I couldn’t. Steven’s last name was Spielberg, mine wasn’t.  I was somebody smaller swimming around in these show business (shark infested) waters.  I was the little minnow who somehow was now keeping company with some very big fish – just treading water at times, and trying not to sink.

We were at a kickoff luncheon for Disney’s top secret “Project M” – a film that was supposed to be in development based on “Peter Pan.” Steven Spielberg sat to my right in his private dining room at Amblin Entertainment, and directly across from me was somebody I tried (without success) to look at as just another collaborator and human being.  But his dark eyes, beautiful face, his gentle ways, and his illuminating smile made that impossible.

I was in awe of him.  I still am.  And he’ll always be Michael to me.

Today I’m thinking about him – celebrating him as a collaborator, and artist. I don’t want to remember the events of three years ago, so I’m pushing them to the back of my mind.  Burying them away, and trying to forget.  I can do that because I’m just a regular person.  But when you’re a celebrity, it’s a lot more complicated.

When you become a celebrity your life becomes public property.  You try to reclaim it with bodyguards, security systems, handlers, spin makers, and money (lots of it) to help you hide.  But the moment your life hits a sharp curve, and you lose control, the world will know about it, and your life is over.

Think about that.

We all have times in life when we make mistakes (some of them big mistakes) that we’d rather forget.  Usually we do forget.  We push those mistakes to the farthest (and deepest) places in our mind.  We make ourselves forget, and unless we’re in the safety of a therapist’s office, or a priest’s confessional, no will ever know.  But if you’re a celebrity, everyone will know.

Michael never had a chance to be a regular person.  It’s tough enough when you become a celebrity as an adult.  But when it’s thrust upon you when you’re a child, and you really have no power over it, it can end up being destructive and terribly sad.

But that’s not the Michael I want to remember.

I spent this morning listening to Michael’s voice, trying to remember the Michael I once knew – the one I was lucky enough to work with on “Peter Pan.” I listened to the tapes he asked me to record at the story meetings the two of us had. And what I heard on those tapes is the Michael that I once knew:  His excitement.  His sensitivity.  His love for Peter Pan.  His commitment to the creative life.  And his passion.

Also, his giggles. Michael loved to giggle. And that’s what I choose to remember about him today.

Giggling made him sound just like a regular person.

(Michael as Peter Pan artwork by Mikl Olivier)

36 thoughts on “He’ll Always Be Michael To Me

  1. I certainly could hear his gentleness and passion for sure, BUT I do have to say that in that short clip, I couldn’t help but notice your part in bringing out his profundity. Your warmth seemed to create a safe environment for him to share and giggle, without judgment. Wow…

    • That was my job – to coax out any ideas he might have, and to weave them into the story I was creating. Also, the more time I spent with him the more I learned about him – the way he moved, the way he spoke, his likes and dislikes. I wanted to create the character of Peter to fit his talent, and personal style.

  2. You may have felt like a small fish but the big fish wanted you for the story. We, your followers and friends, see in you a bigger fish than you give yourself credit for.

  3. Darlene, the Michael you portrayed in your book was not the Michael that was known to the general public – unfortunately for him, he was tried in the court of public opinion and no one will ever know whether or not he was guilty of the horror of which he was accused. It is unfortunate that the truth of all the rumors, innuendos will never be known – they died with him. You did, however, do a wonderful job of showing me a side of him that I would not otherwise have known or believed (and I guess, I have to say, I only give credence to that because I know you as an honest and honorable person).

    • Celebrities are always judged by rumors, innuendos, and the lowest form of the media. When you become famous you give up so many of your personal and individual freedoms. And people will automatically think the worst about Hollywood celebrities. Unless they are fanatic fans, and they can be even worse because they only worship the star. Either way, life can be hell for the celebrity. This is why I always tell parents who want their children to go into show business: “Please don’t do that to your child. Let them grow up and decide for themselves.” I don’t know what Michael did or didn’t do, but I do know that becoming a star at such a young age prevented him from growing up into an adult. And that was not healthy for him at all. I felt very sad for Michael, and very protective.

      • I always felt sad for him too – right from when he was a little guy up there performing with the older sibs — you knew he didn’t have a “normal” childhood and how sad is that? He always seemed to have such a strained look on his face. I agree totally with your advice to “stage moms” – all children need a childhood. Seems most of the parents of young celebrities are doing it for some need they have, not for their children.

    • ” unfortunately for him, he was tried in the court of public opinion and no one will ever know whether or not he was guilty of the horror of which he was accused. It is unfortunate that the truth of all the rumors, innuendos will never be known – they died with him.”

      Ms. Pariseau: I was very saddened to read your words. You really need to educate yourself to the facts about the accusations against Mr. Jackson. This man spent his whole life trying to better the lives of children all over the world by the giving of his time and his money. He said, “I would slit my wrists before I would ever hurt a child.” – And I believe him.

      He was never found guilty of anything.. It was so obvious that both families of his two accusers were only in it for money. Two grand juries were convened in 1993 and both times it was determined that there was a lack of evidence to go to trial. Mr. Jackson wanted to fight the accusations, but unfortunately, he was given bad advice by his attorneys and was told he should settle, and get on with his life and career instead of spending months, or years, in litigation.

      Mr. Jackson said he would settle only if it was stated that he was innocent of the charges. This decision haunted him the rest of his life because “the general public”, as you say, felt if he was innocent he wouldn‘t have settled. The Chandlers took the money and ran. If someone molested your child, would any amount of money make it ok? Of course not!

      In 2005 he was found NOT GUILTY on ALL charges by an all white, conservative jury. The FBI investigated him for ten years and found nothing credible. Child Protective Services of California released a statement that there was no evidence of wrong doing by Mr.Jackson. All of this, and still you can say “we will never know”:. Unbelievable! I’m afraid you are a victim of the yellow press who would rather print something salacious instead of seeking the truth..

      Here are some suggested readings in case you want to do some research for yourself:

      1. “Was Michael Jackson Framed?” by Mary Fischer. This article was in GQ Magazine and can be found online. It is about the 1993 accusations.

      2. “Redemption” by Geraldine Hughes. This book was written by the secretary of the lawyer used by Evan Chandler in 1993. She overheard their conversations where Mr. Chandler admitted his goals were extortion and to destroy Mr. Jackson’s career.

      3. “Honoring the Child Spirit” by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. This is a compilation of taped interviews the rabbi conducted with Mr. Jackson about his views on children. It is a beautiful book, a fast read, and you will come away with an understanding of his heart and why he chose to live his life the way he did- child-like, but not childish. I highly recommend this book.

      I hope you will come to see that Mr. Jackson was very misunderstood, and viciously maligned by many, in the short time he walked this earth. The media made the last sixteen years of this kind and gentle man’s life a living hell.

      • Jeananne Leone,

        I understand what you are saying,
        but unless you flesh out the background of the matter you’re describing more fully, and provided some much-needed context for the way you formulate your opinions (you might also cite Darlene Craviotto’s book), a reader may feel that they are walking into the middle of an argument with no preparation (“in media res”).

        Moreover, I wouldn’t assume that Darlene necessarily HASN’T read the Fischer, Hughes, and Boteach texts you mention. As we’ve seen time and again, five people might read the exact same sources, and nonetheless arrive at five VERY distinct conclusions.

        I have my own opinions on the matter of Michael’s culpability. Yet I myself have duly read Fischer’s, Hughes’s, and Boteach’s books, and I have also “done my own research” — and I can STILL understand how a person might conclude: “we’ll never know.”

        Meanwhile, the rest of what Darlene has to say—-its heart and spirit—would presumably meet with no resistance from you.

      • Ooops—I just noticed that your comment, Jeanann, is addressed to Lynne Pariseau, not Darlene Craviotto. (Plus I misspelled your name.)

        Please accept my apologies.

  4. From this distance — my age, my wholly different world — I hesitate to comment. But in your beautifully written piece your warmth and empathy shine out. And strangely, this is how I see and remember Michael — his warmth as well as his originality, creativity and the childish naivety beneath the showbiz persona.

  5. This is so beautiful Darlene! I have been on a temporary blog hiatus but this is such a good post to come back to! Thank you!

    Michael will always live on in our hearts. ❤

    Happy birthday too! 😀

  6. This was a great read, Darlene. You offer a perspective that so many will never be able to share, a voice for what was seen rather than heard or read about one of the most divisive mainstream figures of the past century. Refreshing.

    I’m glad I stumbled upon this post.
    -A.M.
    http://amschultz.com

    • I’m glad you stumbled on this post too. It took me a number of years to work through my feelings about that Peter Pan project, but writing the book helped. I can now listen to the tapes of those story meetings with Michael and not feel the regret, anger, and confusion that I felt originally. Now, I just feel privileged to have worked with Michael.

  7. Every Thursday evening or Friday morning I religiously read your new post. This morning I read it at my favorite place, the beach on Fire Island.

    What a wonderful tribute to someone you worked very closely with and had a great deal of affection for. To remember him as you do says a lot about Michael Jackson. Thank you for sharing your feelings about him here and in your book. Can’t wait til next Thursday!

      • I wrote a book about my experiences with working with Michael on a top secret Disney project called “Project M.” It was going to be a musical film of “Peter Pan” and I was hired to write it. Michael wanted to work side-by-side with me as I developed the film, and at the time I was agoraphobic, and didn’t like to leave the house. But when you have to meet with Michael Jackson, well, let’s say that was one of my motivations for getting better, and that’s what my book is about. It’s called: “An Agoraphobic’s Guide to Hollywood – How Michael jackson Got Me Out of the House.” Here is where you can read a little bit more about the book: https://darlenecraviotto.com/the-story/

      • I am rushing to check out the link… WOW! you got to interview MJ… I feel inspired just to hear about it… I’ll be back with more questions:-). THANKS!! God Bless!

      • OK… Now I am super intrigued. What happens now with ‘Project M’? Are they going to make a movie anyway? Is there gonna be a Broadway musical? Darlene, you are such a courageous person, to concur your phobias. I have a couple of phobias… more like fears, really… But it’s very hard for me to overcome them. For instance, I am afraid to drive – so I don’t drive at all, I am afraid to fly, so I get myself drank to get on the plane when I have to… I have a few more fears that I am very embarrassed about, cause I don’t want for people think that I am crazy:).. or well…

      • Yep, I can relate. I didn’t drive for a bunch of years while working in Hollywood. The book talks about that, and how I had to somehow get behind the wheel again to drive myself to my office so I could work on “Project M.”. I’ve always hated flying and would take the train whenever I had to go anywhere. But a few years ago I discovered Valium and now I can fly as long as I take one Valium an hour before boarding. And yes, for years I didn’t talk about any of these fears because I didn’t want people to think I was crazy, and also, I felt it would hurt my career. But then, I wrote this book, and now you can’t get me to shut up talking about all of this. And you know what? Talking about it has helped me feel better.

      • It definitely felt good to share my fears with you:-). But you are a writer, not a shrink, so I shut up… lol Thank you for taking the time to respond. I am a bit starstruck here. God Bless!! Thank you!

  8. Michael Jackson was almost certainly a pedophile. Sorry your movie script wasn’t used but MJ would have been a disaster in that role. Spielberg was smart enough to realise this and he went with someone with actual acting skills (R. Williams). Also MJ had a habit of hanging out with small boys for years and years. I did read your book. The part about MJ and the child creeped me out big time. Very interesting book confirms my suspicions. Thanks for writing an interesting book.

    • I think that I agree with you on this – It would have been a disaster to have Michael play Peter Pan. I am guessing that this must have been a well known fact about Michael and that I was just not one of the insiders to know the truth.

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