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Byrne says Schaffel and Jackson are no longer working together. "It was only for this project," he says. But he agrees that the two had been friends for years. Byrne wouldn't go into details about that friendship. But in 2001, the pair were sufficiently close that in the notes to Invincible, Jackson made a point of singling out Schaffel: "Marc Schaffel...thank you for all of your help...I love you...Michael," reads the CD's liner notes on page 18.
When Byrne is asked to discuss Schaffel's background in the gay-porn business, he refuses. A few moments later he says, "I've heard that there are transitional guys all over Hollywood who went from porn into the legit side. My understanding is that it's not that unusual."
Still, given Michael Jackson's past public-relations nightmares--in 1994, Time magazine reported that Jackson had paid a multimillion-dollar settlement to a man who claimed Michael had molested his 14-year-old son--it's hard to believe that the army of people who surround the pop icon could have thought Jackson's image would benefit from a professional association with Schaffel.
In fact, the Times suggested that it was Jackson's representatives who, upon learning of Schaffel's gay-porn involvement, urged Sony to pull the plug on the charity record--which would make Michael's cries of racism seem very strange indeed. If the report is true, either Jackson and his staff don't communicate well, Jackson is incredibly naïve or he's just looking for a convenient excuse for his flagging career.
One of the industry's most influential figures, distributor Stan Loeb, says he has a long association with Schaffel and his films, via his company, Paladin Video. "Fred was known for finding talent, and he did it very, very well," Loeb says, speaking from his Las Vegas office. "And the stuff he used to do was really excellent. But it's a shame what he's done to himself." Schaffel's first film, Cocktales, and its star, Rex Chandler, were both hits in the industry and showed that Schaffel had a lot of promise. But over the years, Loeb says, the quality of Schaffel's work has declined. He refuses to take any new titles from Schaffel. "As I said, you learn your lessons and move on."
Despite his feelings about Schaffel, however, the two still occasionally talk. And Loeb says he was stunned last August when Schaffel called one day and said he was going to work for Michael Jackson. "Why? You got me. He said they were very good friends and that Michael had hired him for a job." Another time, Loeb says, Schaffel claimed that he and Jackson had been childhood friends. Loeb said he doubted Schaffel's story. But in November, he received an even more startling call.
"One day Fred called and said he knew someone who was unhappy chartering flights," Loeb says. "He knew that my son has a chartering business, and he asked if I would talk to his unhappy friend. Then, he put Michael Jackson on the phone. They were driving around in Michael's limousine. My son ended up flying some of Michael's people around. That confirmed for me that Fred was really working for him." Loeb's son, Jeff Borer, acknowledged that his firm, Xtra Jet in Santa Monica, got work flying some of Jackson's people through Schaffel.
Loeb says he's mystified that Schaffel found himself working for the pop singer. "How did Fred end up with the job? I can tell you he's a great salesman. He can really promote himself. He lived in a mansion where rent was $9,000 a month and drives a Bentley, and I'm not sure how he's doing it. But that's Fred Schaffel."
Contrary to Schaffel and his attorney's implication that he had put the porn business behind him, it appears he's never left the industry. Records in the Los Angeles County Clerk's Office show that, in 1998, he filed the business names "Marc Fredrics" and "Fred Schaffel Productions." Indeed, his Big as They Get was released 13 months ago. And Loeb says that just a few months ago, Schaffel wrote him a check for $600 to order new packaging for his movie Every Last Inch.