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Jackson, on screen and live

March 23, 2004|Nancy Rommelmann | Special to The Times

Although the PR people were spinning the party as a "celebration of Janet Jackson's career achievements," her latest album, "Damita Jo," was the second topic of conversation for those walking the black carpet in front of Morton's on Saturday night.

"I'm hoping she's going to open her shirt and show both this time," said "Soul Food's" Rockmond Dunbar, who said he was watching the Super Bowl at "ER" actor Eriq La Salle's house when the wardrobe "malfunction" occurred. "We were flipping back the TiVo, freeze-framing on the nipple," said Dunbar. "But seriously, skin is skin. What's the big deal?"

"We worry about two seconds of seeing a breast -- which is a beautiful breast, by the way," said "The Help" actor Antonio Sabato Jr., a former Calvin Klein underwear model who appeared with Jackson in the video "Love Will Never Do (Without You)." "We worry about this instead of important things. Fifteen soldiers died today in Iraq, and no one will talk about it after tomorrow."

"Well, I was shocked," said singer Joy Enriquez, while flashing the 17-carat, canary-yellow diamond engagement ring given to her by her fiance, composer Rodney Jerkins. "I did a double-take and said, 'Did she just do that?' Whatever she and Justin Timberlake did, it's between them and God. I just think there are some things that should stay behind closed doors, you know?"

"It's all been blown out of proportion; it's a pick-on-Jackson thing," said Jermaine Jackson. "She's my little baby sister, and she's fabulous, and we're very, very proud of her."

The only attendee who did not seem to have Janet's breast on her mind was actress Kiera Chaplin. "I'm the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and the great-granddaughter of Eugene O'Neill," said the leggy blond, with a fixed smile. What was she doing these days? "I have a T-shirt line and I also created a reality show, 'Scavenger,' " she said. "It's a scavenger hunt, very sexy and wild, boys against the girls."

Inside Morton's, the room was packed, nightclub-dark, with the DJ spinning Prince and George Michael and, yes, Michael Jackson tunes at a decibel level that, should anyone have been of the mind to talk, would have induced laryngitis within a minute. This did not stop some from trying.

"I went to school with Janet!" shouted Kathy Richards Hilton, mother of Nicky and Paris. "I love her and I just want to give her a big hug and kiss."

"She went to school with Janet!" echoed her husband, Rick Hilton.

Don Cornelius, Macy Gray and hip-hop artist Petey Pablo, wearing a trophy-size pendant of Pinky (of "Pinky and the Brain"), came from the Soul Train Awards, where Jackson had received the Quincy Jones Award for Outstanding Career Achievement. Jackson herself finally arrived on the arm of her paramour, Jermaine Dupri, and once her phalanx of security men had muscled her past the ogling masses, sat with her back to the wall in a booth farthest from the front door.

And there she stayed, looking by turns exhausted, exalted and forbearing of the many who stopped by to pay obeisance. This, in contrast to the many Janets strutting and stomping and writhing in vintage videos that showed on screens around the room. With conversation not an option, it fell to everyone to dance, surrounded by Janet as tough girl, as vixen, as queen.

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