The first few years of my career in Hollywood were filled with experiences my teenage self would never have believed could happen to me. I don’t really talk about those experiences since moving back to the Midwest. There are so many more interesting things to talk about. But lately, one memory has been popping back up — my trips to Neverland Ranch to work with Michael Jackson. So I think today, I will share.
Like most girls in the late 70s, I had a huge crush on Michael Jackson. I played Off the Wall until I knew every song, and had a dance routine worked out. I hopped around and sang into my curling iron for hours.
When I got a call from my boss in either late 1992 or early 1993, and heard I was being sent to Neverland Ranch, I remember jumping up and down and screaming with my roommate. 1992 was just before the accusations, so there was no dark cloud. Michael was close to being at his peak in fame. It was an unreal thought that this South Dakota farm girl was going to work with the Michael Jackson.
The crew met up and we drove in a caravan along hilly roads several hours north of LA. I found it amusing that going onto the Ranch, we had to cross cattle guards. I grew up in a place where cattle guards were the norm on entering a rural ranch, but it seemed strange that Michael Jackson’s ranch had the same feature. Once we drove onto the property, it became clear by the roving cattle, that those guards were actually practical.
Before being allowed onto the ranch, we had to sign all sorts of non-disclosure agreements. I have no idea if I’m violating them right now, but I would assume that since Michael is dead, the ranch is no more, and I have nothing negative to say, I’m not going to be sued.
We drove on a tree-lined, winding road past the house, and parked at the movie theater/dance studio. Just across the road was the amusement park. After unloading my gear and setting up the teleprompter, the crew guys who had been here before, showed us around. The theater was attached to the dance studio. We were told to help ourselves to any of the candy behind the counter. And I did. There were three types of chocolate bars and I took one of each, ate two, and still have one. I’m sure the chocolate is inedible by now, but I felt the need to keep one intact. I also kept a few of the napkins. In the picture on the left, there are some acorns from his tree resting on the napkin.
The theater had traditional seats, but in the back were hospital beds for kids who were too sick to sit up. Everything was designed with children in mind.
Michael wasn’t there, so the crew guys passed the time by telling stories about the tours they had gone on with him. Everyone who knew Michael spoke about him with such love. They also told me that once you worked with Michael, and he came to trust you, he would only work with you… thus, there would be a good chance I might go on his next tour with him if this worked out. My head was spinning.
When Michael still hadn’t shown up by noon, his personal chef prepared lunch for us. I seem to remember it was chicken in some sort of delicious sauce, veggies and rice pilaf. As the afternoon wore on, we began to venture further out. I wandered into the amusement park, looking at the merry-go-round and the ferris wheel. Out of nowhere a security guard approached me, and I was sure I was about to get thrown off the ranch. I tried to come up with a good explanation to my boss of how I’d gotten fired from this job. Instead the guard smiled and said, “Want me to start any of the rides up for you?” I mumbled, “No, that’s okay,” and rushed back to the theater.
Behind the dance studio was a ravine with a small zip line over it. Several of the crew had a blast going back and forth, but I was convinced I would fall and break something, so instead I crossed the suspension bridge and went to the massive oak tree nearby. It had a tire swing hanging from one limb, and a winding staircase around the trunk leading to a platform. On the platform was a pirate’s chest full of blunderbusses and swords.
It was winter, and by late afternoon it was starting to get dark. That’s when the real magic of Neverland Ranch appeared. The trees were wrapped with lights, turning the whole place into an enchanted fairyland. I sat on that tire swing, surrounded by light, marveling at the beauty, and the fact his electric bill was probably more than I made in a month.
At some point not long after, Michael finally showed up full of apologies for being delayed. Trust me, I don’t think one of us minded. It had been an amazing day.
In the early 90s, Michael still looked like Michael. He had started down the plastic surgery road, but hadn’t gone far. Even so, I found it uncomfortable to look at him… until he smiled. He had an amazing smile. I also found it strange how normal he was. He chatted with old friends on the crew, talking about the Lakers game the night before. He was just a guy, hanging with friends, talking about sports. Weird… yet not.
We did our work. He said goodnight, and we packed up our gear to make the long drive back to LA. I had to have been floating as I drove out through those light-covered trees. It was a job I will never forget.
I worked out there again, because true to the crew’s prediction, once Michael had let someone into his circle, he would rather limit his exposure. I remember very little from that job, other than it involved a satellite link with Jimmy Carter.
Then the abuse accusations were made, the Ranch was raided, and Michael had pictures of his privates taken. He wanted to make a public statement about this series of events, and once again I got the call to go to the ranch for this taped statement. However, not long after, I got another call. My boss explained that Michael would be uncomfortable with a woman running his teleprompter while discussing such delicate matters, and he asked that I be replaced. It was completely understandable.
Once things had been settled, he left the country to live abroad, and my opportunity to work with him was over. I have my thoughts on the accusations that ended his career for almost a decade, and if you ask me in person, I may even give them to you.
It was a most remarkable experience, and one that would have seemed wholly impossible to the kid shoveling manure in oversized overshoes while wearing hand-me-down clothes.
And yet it happened.
Isn’t life strange?