JOURNALISTS’ NOTE: I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the difficulty of writing about this particular topic at this particular time – the 1st anniversary of Michael Jackson’s passing. To write about his dream home, his utopia, his Neverland, and know that he is gone from us forever remains, at best, a devastating blow. Yet, in remembering the spirit of Michael, we can never forget his unbridled sense of joy at the smallest things, his almost childlike innocence, and his love of children and animals. This book tells us about the fulfillment of one of Michael’s biggest dreams – straight from the mouth of the woman that helped make it come true.
*Just when you were probably thinking, “Oh no, not ANOTHER Michael Jackson book,” comes “MICHAEL JACKSON: In Search of Neverland” – a charming 98-page self-published paperback that details Jackson’s search for the home of his dreams. The book was written by Gloria Rhodes Berlin, the real estate agent who single-handedly shopped for, located and negotiated the transaction for what became known as “The Sale of the Century” in 1988. The sprawling 2,700-acre Los Olivos, California property; originally called Sycamore Valley Ranch; that later become known around the world as Michael Jackson’s NEVERLAND.
Berlin recently spoke with EUR’s Lee Bailey, who asked why she wrote the book.
“The book is because I found him the ideal paradise he wanted for himself and for his animals. When he was being cited by the animal regulation department continuously…at the family compound. They threatened to come and arrest him and impound all of his animals. They said they belonged at the L. A. Zoo, not at his home. He had llamas, giraffes, a baby elephant, [and] snakes. A python got out, went swimming next door in the neighbors pool; and it scared the neighbors and they called the animal regulation department (laughs).”
MICHAEL JACKSON: In Search of Neverland takes readers on a delightful walk with Jackson as he nears his 27th birthday. He still lived with his parents, at least three of his siblings, and a menagerie of animals at the Encino family compound on Hayvenhurst Avenue. At the time, Jackson was working on The Wiz, preparing for the Bad World Tour and feverishly trying to move away from the family home. Oh yes, and he was bagging groceries at Gelson’s.
But bear with me. I’m getting ahead of myself.
“He was a bachelor and wanted to get married. All he ever wanted to do was have a home of his own, get married, and have children. A wife to come home to. He tried,” says Gloria Rhodes Berlin, a neighbor to the Jackson family at the time of the sale.
Berlin had become friendly with Katherine Jackson and first met Michael at age twelve. She had been living in Encino for ten years when the Jackson family arrived from Gary, Indiana. Her book shares several sweet, little anecdotes that we have yet to hear elsewhere; and there is no doubt that the author is someone who genuinely cared for the entertainer.
“Michael Jackson and I had a very wonderful relationship… I always thought he was going to wind up being a box-boy at Gelson’s because he had a crush on a very beautiful young lady who was about 4 ½ feet tall who was working there. [She had] very white porcelain skin with big blue eyes; real red-haired, that she wore in little pigtails and he used to come over and act as a box boy for her; pack the groceries for the people who came through her aisle. I always came through there and he would say, ‘Hello Mrs. Berlin’. My son, Will, used to play with the Jackson Five, basketball, at their home.”
“I think they hired him (laughs). He … would come [to the market] dressed up as The Wiz; wearing these shoes that were like on stilts…He came to see that pig-tailed, red-head girl….He loved her. He knew everyone that came to Gelson’s.”
Prior to becoming his real estate agent, Berlin had contacted Jackson on another matter.
“I wrote him a letter about a family that was losing their home. The man was 87-years-old, Black and married to a White woman. They had three children, young teens. The father had heart disease…and died finally and there was no burial money. Michael Jackson paid for the burial of that man he didn’t even know.”
This exchange opened the door for Jackson, who had worked unsuccessfully with other realtors, to seek Berlin’s assistance in finding his dream home.
Michael’s frame of mind during this time, according to Berlin, was to become independent of his parents – and for them to become independent of him. He wanted to be alone, away from prying eyes, street traffic and noise. He wanted a place where he could look out the window and see bluebirds, do his own farming and feed his animals. He specified the place had to be accessible to deer, so they could prune his trees.
A former actor who once shared the same theatrical agent as Elizabeth Taylor, dated Frank Sinatra for two-and-a-half years, and had roles in movies like “Guys and Dolls,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” Berlin lists some of her fondest Michael Jackson memories:
* When he played ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’ on the Boesendorfer grand piano in the living room of the main house
* When he ran along the top of a wooden fence on the Neverland property as if it were a balance beam
* Developed new dance steps on the stones in the middle of a stream
* Planted flowers in the flowerbeds around the main house at Neverland using different color schemes for each season of the year
* Slid down the banister and hid in the secret room inside the mansion
* Played “Ghost” using a Casper ghost costume in the playroom with moving walls
* Held my hand and walked with me throughout the entire ranch
Jackson had actually been on the ranch before.
“Paul McCartney had been a guest of Bill Bones,” said Berlin of the man who had originally developed and lived on the ranch with his family. “Then, without authorization, [McCartney] decided to start shooting video and invited Michael Jackson to come there and be in the video. And Michael Jackson had… been driven there…and then removed when they were kicked off after a manager phoned Bill Bones and told him they were filming and [had] brought film crews on the ranch.”
Berlin says that she happened to locate the same ranch Jackson had previously visited, as a guest was a coincidence. He needed a ranch of that size. At the time of his visit there, it was not for sale. But after a divorce between Bill Bones and his wife, it was. Bones-a realtor, broker, builder and developer himself- did not list the ranch. In order to see the house you had to register. Berlin found out about the property – which had an original asking price of $35 million dollars – by contacting the Chamber of Commerce.
But the transaction, says Berlin, did not progress without its share of drama from Jackson’s people.
“John Branca wanted to offer them $9 million…He didn’t want to listen to me; and then he said $10 million…11…12 and finally we presented an offer. Mr. Bone went crazy and said if I had been a man, he would’ve punched me out!”
After all was said and done, Michael Jackson laid down $17 million dollars and walked away with a ranch that housed part of the Los Padres National Forest in its back yard. He was there for 15 years.
Lee Bailey asks Gloria Berlin her thoughts about what is going on with the estate since Michael’s passing.
“My thoughts are that Mrs. Jackson is an amazing woman. She’s…a true beauty…I saw her about 2 ½ weeks ago and she told me the story about Michael and his death…For me it’s a heartbreak. I can’t even think about it without crying because I knew him since he was 12. But she is his mother. I told her Dr. Conrad Murray should be prosecuted for murder. She said ‘No, he can’t be prosecuted for murder he’s only going to be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter’. She… was very calm, very polite. She hugged me and squeezed me.
MICHAEL JACKSON: In Search of Neverland by Gloria Rhoads Berlin is available at Amazon.com. It can be downloaded, and is offered through Kindle and eBooks.
DeBorah B. Pryor is a freelance journalist and consultant to ‘everyday people’ that aim to become better public speakers in daily life situations. Her CD, “Public Speaking for the Private Person” can be purchased via her website at www.dpryorpresents.com.