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Morton Weighs In on Madonna

November 14, 2001|LOUISE ROUG and GINA PICCALO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Famed celebrity biographer Andrew Morton has taken on Madonna. His book, released Nov. 6, covers the pop diva's combative marriage to Sean Penn, abortions and countless affairs, including the romance during Madonna's Warhol years with painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, and even a paramour that most fans have forgotten: Vanilla Ice.

We chatted up Morton on Monday, during an afternoon interview at the Beverly Hills Hotel's Polo Lounge. The famed biographer sipped white wine and told us he wanted to reveal the "real" Madonna--"an insecure, needy woman." In the book, he describes the pop diva as a "cultural bloodhound always on the scent of the fresh, the cool and the credible." Morton shrugged off another Madonna biography by Barbara Victor, a former Mideast correspondent. Victor's book, which was released the same day, won't pose much competition, he said with a shrug. "She's a first-time writer, I think."

The biographer, who has made a career of writing about the private lives of public women, said he had wanted to write about Madonna for years, but was pulled off the plan to write "Diana: Her True Story," the 1992 bestseller that he called an "authorized, unauthorized" biography.

He bragged that the princess set up secret interviews with him, revealing how she was "a prisoner of the palace." He said his biography created such a stir at Buckingham Palace that the royals now refer to "P.M. and A.M.: Pre-Morton and After-Morton."

Madonna was a fitting follow-up to the princess. "It's funny because I asked Princess Diana who she admired. She said, 'Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher and Madonna,"' Morton said. "Strong women."

Diana admired Madonna and, conversely, Madonna wants to be a princess. "She has transformed herself into royalty," Morton said. "Minor royalty, like Lady Helen Windsor."

In the last chapter of the biography, titled "Lady Madonna," Morton writes: "The woman who once graced the front of Playboy is now a Good Housekeeping cover girl."

His next project, after finishing his U.S. book tour, will be either Paul McCartney or Fidel Castro. Now they're warned.

Word From the Wise

Retired CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, known by many as "the most trusted man in America," prefers World War II-style censorship of war dispatches to the news blackout now shrouding the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan. Hobbled by a tennis injury, the venerable newsman limped to the stage at the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills on Monday night to tell stories and field questions from a small group of people who had ventured out in the rain to see him.

Cronkite regaled his audience onstage and over salmon and steak as part of the museum's screening and dinner series. The evening also featured highlights from the anchor's news clips and kudos from old friends, including CBS Television President Les Moonves and comedy writer Carl Reiner.

Without journalists accompanying the troops, Cronkite said, Americans aren't getting enough information. "We in the news business should be screaming much louder than we are."

He blamed the federal government and the military for a no-news trend that began with the Persian Gulf War and continues to this day. "It's an absolute violation of everything that we believe in, our rights as citizens of a democracy," Cronkite told the crowd. "Our boys and girls--for that's what they are--are operating in our name. We not only have a right to know what they're doing, we have a duty to know as citizens what our government is doing in our name."

He said he sees disturbing parallels between the conflicts in Afghanistan and the war in Vietnam, where Americans greatly underestimated the challenges of the terrain, guerrilla war tactics and the loyalty of the enemy to its cause.

"We have gone into a country where we believe the people to be backward, where we believe the power of our arms will dictate a quick victory," he said. Then, Cronkite ended his thoughts as he did each newscast, "And that's the way it is."

An Inside Joke

In a special nod to censorship, "The X-Files" creator and co-writer Chris Carter "killed off" the Fox Television Network censor Roland McFarland in Sunday's episode, a show that carried a special advisory for violence.

An EPA whistle-blower named for McFarland met his end when he encountered a nude Lucy Lawless, the actress best known for her lead role in the TV show "Xena: Warrior Princess." Lawless, playing a superhuman killer, emerged from a water tank and pulled McFarland to his death.

This isn't the first time a Carter show has poked fun at Fox censors. In a 1998 episode of his short-lived series "Millennium," a network censor was portrayed as a homicidal maniac. This time around, a show spokeswoman denied there had been any discord to inspire McFarland's "death."

"It was just a nod," she told us. "No underlying issues. No, none at all. [McFarland's] just the sweetest man in the world."

Jagger Sighting

Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, in town for the Thursday launch party of his new album, "Goddess in the Doorway," was spotted Monday night with three friends at the Hollywood Thai restaurant Chan Dara .

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Times staff writers Ann O'Neill and Brian Lowry contributed to this report.

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