Mike Watkiss: Confessions of an Ambulance Chaser

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Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and that Romantic Flight to Singapore

by Mike Watkiss

Bio | Email | Follow: @mikewatkiss3TV

Confessions of Ambulance Chaser Blog

Posted on July 16, 2010 at 12:09 AM

Updated Friday, Jul 16 at 12:17 AM

I've done a lot of wacky interviews in my time, but ambushing actress Elizabeth Taylor on board an airplane bound for Singapore was probably one of the most crazed in a gonzo-journalism kind of way.

It was back in 1993 at the very beginning of Michael Jackson's first sex sandal--the first time a little adolescent boy accused the self-proclaimed "King of Pop" of being a pedophile.

Jackson's multi-million dollar "Dangerous Tour" was just getting underway in Southeast Asia when the scandalous story broke in the United State.

Suddenly the "Gloved One"--arguably the most famous person on the planet--was suspected of being a sexual predator with an appetite for prepubescent boys.

Jackson had decided to open his giant world-wide tour to promote his "Dangerous " album in Thailand.

But while Jacko was moonwalking in Bangkok, word of the boy's allegations leaked and suddenly the tabloid feeding frenzy was on.

At the L.A. offices of "A Current Affair" we got a tip that Jackson's long time friend and mentor Elizabeth Taylor was going to board a Singapore Airlines jumbo jet at LAX and rush off to support and protect her persecuted pal.

My assignment: get out to the airport on the quick and look for Liz. If she gets on an airplane, get on with her. If she doesn't, don't waste the money.

Oh, she showed alright, literally at the last minute as Australian cameraman Alex Fragnito and I stood in the doorway of the tunnel leading to the plane. We knew she wasn't on board, we had watched every single passenger enter.

Then suddenly as the plane's engines began to rev, through the terminal's windows, we spotted a limo out on the tarmac pulling right up to the side of the plane.

Doors swung open and popped some burly men, followed by Larry Fortenski--Taylor's husband at the time, the one she met at the Betty Ford clinic --and then there was the two time Academy Award winning actress herself.

She and her entourage had obviously pulled this little last minute stunt to avoid people like me. But sadly for her it did not work.

After watching Taylor and company climb up some hastily positioned stairs and enter the plane, Alex and I went charging down the elevated tunnel into the first class section of the 747 and took our 6-thousand dollar seats just a couple of rows behind the world famous actress, her sort of bewildered looking husband and her brawny Israeli bodyguard--a scary and humorless looking s.o.b. who immediately spotted us and shot us an unmistakable look--a look that said "just because we're going to be flying at 30,000 feet doesn't mean I won't kill you and throw you off this plane."
Now the games had really begun! ....more to come.....mw

I was working as the L.A. bureau chief for the tabloid t.v. show "A Current Affair" at the time and I can tell you few stories titillated the tabloid industry like Michael Jackson and his interest in children.

It was a feeding frenzy from the moment the story broke and in the first few fevered hours of the scandal, sources were telling us that long time Jackson friend--two-time Academy Award winner and Hollywood legend--Elizabeth Taylor was about to jump on an airplane and rush to the side of her embattled pal Michael Jackson.

Wow does it get any better!

It was really like a sordid tsunami slamming on to the front pages of newspapers around the world--at once threatening to swamp both Michael Jackson's life and career--to say nothing of sinking his very big-budget and suddenly very endangered "Dangerous Tour."
Jackson had opened the gigantic world-wide promotion for his just released "Dangerous" album in Thailand and it was there that Jackson was performing when the headlines first hit.

My job as L.A. correspondent for "A Current Affair": get out to LAX ASAP!

Tips were suddenly flying fast and furious all over tinsel town and one of them was directing us to the airport where word was a very famous actress just about to get on board a Singapore Airlines jet headed first for Taipai and then on to Singapore.
The tip certainly made sense. Singapore was the next scheduled stop for Jackson and the "Dangerous Tour."

Two first class tickets were booked for me and my glode-trotting buddy, cameraman Alex Fragnito.

I have had the great good fortune to work with some of the best cameramen in the world during my career. Alex Fragnito, the swashbuckling Italian Stallion from Australia is among the best of the best. Alex and I would travel all over the world chasing the Michael Jackson story during the next several month.

But first we had a date with Elizabeth Taylor on the long flight to Singapore...more to come...mw

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