Pop writer sets sights on Madonna

July 23, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

WATCH OUT, Madonna.

J. Randy Taraborrelli's coming.

If Taraborrelli's planned and certainly "unauthorized" biography of the Material Girl uncovers as much dirt as his best-selling tomes on Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, then mud will certainly be flung.

"My biggest fear is that, contrary to the image that we've seen of her and all the antics, she'll be boring," said Taraborrelli during a recent swing through Baltimore to push the paperback release of "Call Her Miss Ross" (Ballantine), a 566-page biography of Ross.

Indeed, in both the Ross book and the subsequent 625-page "Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness" (Birch Lane Press), Taraborrelli turns up no shortage of peculiarities from two of popular music's giants.

Among his more prominent discoveries:

Ross had affairs with Motown founder Berry Gordy and longtime label star Smokey Robinson, and her first child, Rhonda, heretofore believed to be the daughter of her first husband, Robert Silberstein, is actually Gordy's child.

* Jackson did not purchase a hyperbaric chamber, nor did hoffer to buy the remains of the Elephant Man, but floated those stories to get press attention. His numerous plastic surgeries were not to make him look like Ross, as has been rumored, but rather so that he would not look like his father, from whom Jackson is estranged.

In addition, there are myriad accounts of hostilities and estrangements between Ross and the Supremes and between Jackson and his brothers.

That Taraborrelli -- who loved the Motown sound so much that he founded a Diana Ross and the Supremes fan club as a child and said he dreamed at age 12 that he would replace David Ruffin as lead singer of the Temptations, when Ruffin was fired -- would slice up the two most prominent figures in the label's history in print is a delicious piece of irony that is not lost on him.

"The irony is that if I hadn't been president of her fan club and if I had never interviewed her before or never had any contact with this woman, then . . . instead of 'Wow, this guy has a lot of background,' I would be getting the criticism, 'What right do you have to do this book,'" said Taraborrelli.

Taraborrelli, 35, from Philadelphia, says all of the controversial material in his books, which each made brief appearances on the New York Times best-seller lists, have been double- and triple-sourced to ensure accuracy.

Still, the overwhelming majority of those sources are unidentified, a fact the author says is necessary to get the stories told.

"These are people who are still in the recording industry, who have nothing to gain, financially or otherwise, by telling me anything publicly," said Taraborrelli. "But their information is important and I'm going to use it."

Spokesmen for both Ross and Jackson declined to comment on the books and said their clients had not read them.

Taraborrelli says he thinks that Ross' career (which has been in decline since 1981, when she left Motown for RCA, only to return three years ago as a member of Motown's board of directors with "Workin' Overtime," an album filled with house music that flopped) should be jump-started by a new album, scheduled for release next month, and a concert tour, which comes to Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 28.

"She had been watching BET [Black Entertainment Television] with Rhonda, Tracee and Chudney [Ross' three daughters] and they're saying, 'Mom, Jody Watley's doing this, Janet Jackson's doing this and Whitney Houston's doing that and you need to be doing it too. And Diana's thinking, 'I'm still young.' " said Taraborrelli.

"Barbra Streisand doesn't care what Tiffany is doing. Diana Ross should not care what Jody Watley's doing. That's my opinion. She might be getting it now. She has given a lot of control to other people and the result is good. It could be a big hit."

Taraborrelli, who has written six books and was editor of Soul magazine, says that the overwhelmingly negative tone of the Diana Ross book has nothing to do with him souring on her, either personally or professionally.

"Nothing happened. The only thing that happened was that I grew up and became a writer," said Taraborrelli. "I want to write about people who personally fascinate me and the one person in entertainment who has personally fascinated [me] for three-quarters of my life is Diana Ross."

In fact, even after writing this book and discovering that Ross, through Jacqueline Onassis, then an editor at Doubleday Books, had major portions of the first book he wrote about the Supreme diva edited out, Taraborrelli remains a big fan.

So much a fan that he managed to get a friend at Motown to sneak out a cassette copy of her soon-to-be released album, "The Force Behind the Power," and he's been listening to it religiously during his two-month tour to promote the book.

"I'm still a fan and I think that when you read the book, you know that when it comes to her music and her artistry, it was written by a fan," said Taraborrelli. "One of the criticisms I got was that the guy can't make up his mind whether he loves her or hates her.

"I think you should have a love-hate relationship with all your subjects. I feel too strongly about the entertainment value of the people that I write about for me to be dispassionate about that. I try to be dispassionate about their personal lives, but I can't be dispassionate about their music, because that's what brought me into it in the first place."

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