The new Michael Jackson biography -- Randy Taraborrelli's book is generating a lot of buzz and making its publishers nervous

A lot of people can’t wait to get their gloves on Randy Taraborrelli’s Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness. Two months before its May 12 publication date, the unauthorized biography, which claims to tell all about the singer’s bizarre past and personal eccentricities, has become the object of tense print and legal warfare. The battle came to a head recently when rumors flew that a purloined copy was making the rounds and might be snatched by any tab with the nerve to excerpt.

Reprint rights to the hot property were originally acquired by the Star (for $35,000, according to a source). The tab planned to run excerpts in its April issues, but suddenly jumped the first installment to its March 5 issue. Editors at the Star refuse to comment on the decision, but, claims Andrews, ”Dick Kaplan (the Star‘s editor) called me and said, ‘I’m not about to be scooped by the Globe.”’ Though he has seen no evidence of scoopduggery, Hillel Black, Taraborrelli’s editor at Birch Lane Press, is taking precautions to keep the book out of unauthorized hands. Spurred by rumors that the National Enquirer was hot on the trail, Black recently circulated an inter-office memo warning staffers to keep a sharp eye on all copies. (The Enquirer‘s editor, Iain Calder, insists, ”We wouldn’t have used it even if someone had mailed it to us directly.”)

Whether or not the tabloids were eager to acquire copies of Jackson, the singer’s lawyer, Bertram Fields, certainly was. Before Taraborrelli even completed the final draft, Fields fired off a curt letter to the book publisher, asking to review the manuscript for factual accuracy. As is usual, the request was denied.

”The man can’t possibly fact-check my manuscript,” says Taraborrelli. ”He’s been Michael Jackson’s lawyer for only six months. Much of my material will be new not only to him but to Michael Jackson.” Fields’ response: ”I have no comment. I have no desire to help this author get publicity for what I understand is a very dull book.” And while Taraborrelli concedes that Jackson might file suit, the author hopes the pop star will eventually come to terms with the book. ”Michael Jackson may not be happy about it now, but when he looks back, I think he’ll understand that this was a book that needed an outsider, someone who had no axes to grind.”

That depends on the definition of ax. Taraborrelli hired an investigator to help him build his bombshell, and the author’s allegations include that Jackson ran up $3,000 in damages to his trailer during food fights with Elizabeth Taylor and carried a slow-burning torch for the then 13-year-old Tatum O’Neal. Taraborrelli says the book will shed new light on the singer’s business acumen (”He’s a very shrewd businessman — going after what he wants — and he’s extremely upset about Madonna’s success”) and personal relationships. When copies were distributed for second serial rights, Birch Lane recalled one page for legal review. But according to Black, the page — which speculates on the singer’s relationship with record mogul David Geffen — will appear in the finished version.