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Michael Jackson a Reluctant Spokesman : Singer Ducks All Questions at Press Conference Held by L.A. Gear

September 14, 1989|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

Michael Jackson is the $20-million corporate spokesman who won't speak.

"Protect me. . . . Don't let them ask me any questions," Jackson whispered Wednesday morning to a top executive from L.A. Gear, moments after the enigmatic pop star told a Hollywood Palladium full of reporters that he was "very happy" to be a part of the L.A. Gear team.

By next spring, Jackson will be starring in L.A. Gear commercials. In the meantime he will help design and market a new line of L.A. Gear shoes. In return, Jackson not only has signed a multimillion-dollar contract, but he has also received options to purchase a "sizable amount" of L.A. Gear stock over the coming years, Chairman Robert Y. Greenberg told The Times in an interview after the press conference.

"If he wants to buy into the company, that's up to him," said Greenberg, who attended the press conference but did not speak to the gathering. Greenberg would not reveal details of the agreement, but he did say that the longer Jackson remains with L.A. Gear, the larger his ownership stake might grow.

'Could Buy the Place'

"He has no ownership in the company right now," said Sandy Saemann, executive vice president of L.A. Gear, who negotiated the deal and will direct the upcoming Jackson commercials. "But I suppose if he wanted to, he could probably buy the place."

Saemann called the agreement with Jackson "the largest corporate association ever reached between a company and a celebrity." One source close to L.A. Gear, who insisted on anonymity, said the contract with Jackson will exceed $20 million over two years.

Jackson has hooked up with one of the fastest-growing companies in America. L.A. Gear expects sales to exceed $1 billion this year, a huge leap from sales of $4.5 million posted in its first year, 1983. On Wednesday, L.A. Gear stock rose $1.25 a share to $65.50 on the New York Stock Exchange. Clearly, "Captain Eo" has replaced "Captain" Kareem in the L.A. Gear advertising line-up. Jackson, who plays the film role of "Captain Eo" in attractions at Disneyland and Disney World, is replacing former Los Angeles Laker basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as L.A. Gear's corporate spokesman.

Decked in black sunglasses, black slacks, a black jacket and a pair of black, $69 "Sportster" shoes made by L.A. Gear, Jackson read a 10-second prepared statement to reporters and then scurried from the stage.

When Jackson was first led on stage, a dozen flood lights filled the room and fog began to spew from giant machines. The stage from which Jackson spoke was dotted with dozens of giant fake palm trees and live fern plants that the company rented for the occasion.

Looming behind Jackson was a giant new logo for "Unstoppable," the line of footwear that the company says the fashion-conscious pop singer will help design and market. "This word epitomizes what L.A. Gear and Michael Jackson represent," said Saemann. "Together we're an unstoppable team."

In an interview, Saemann said L.A. Gear spent more than $50,000 on the press conference, which was broadcast live via satellite to a sportswear show in Munich, West Germany.

Many of the estimated 100 members of the press attending the rare Jackson press conference jeered when Jackson left before taking any questions. For one moment, Jackson appeared confused, and even seemed prepared to answer a question shouted by one reporter. Instead, Jackson blew a kiss towards the gathering when an aide quickly led the singer off the stage.

Why has L.A. Gear selected a spokesman who won't speak? Responded Greenberg, the company chairman, "I've spoken with him, and he speaks very well."

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