Jackson and Culkin, Child Stars and Friends

ByBUCK WOLF

March 29, 2005 — -- Years after his childhood sleepovers, Macaulay Culkin has fondly recalled his childhood trips to Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch.

Now, at 24, Culkin still describes the pop star as a friend who played an important role in his life. And Jackson, now 46, asked the former "Home Alone" star to be the godfather to his two older children.

As childhood stars with rocky relationships with the parents who managed them, they formed a bond that has lasted, even though the age gap raised eyebrows.

"After the 'Home Alone' film came out, I remember I got a call from him. He invited me and my family up to his ranch to meet him," Culkin told ABC News' Barbara Walters in a May 2001 interview on "20/20."

"I think we understand each other in a way that most people can't understand either of us," Culkin said.

On Monday, the judge in Jackson's child molestation trial ruled that the jury can hear allegations that the pop star molested or had designs on five other boys, including Culkin. Also among those boys are two youngsters who reached multimillion-dollar settlements with the singer in the 1990s.

Jackson is on trial for allegedly molesting a now-15-year-old boy who spent time at his Neverland ranch and appeared with him in the 2003 British documentary "Living With Michael Jackson." He has pleaded not guilty to 10 charges that include felony conspiracy with 28 overt acts involving child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.

The judge's ruling could have a devastating effect on Jackson's case, as his attorneys must defend him against allegations that he behaved inappropriately with five other boys, in addition to the alleged victim in his trial. He has never been criminally charged for the other allegations and has denied any wrongdoing.

District Attorney Tom Sneddon said Jackson's inappropriate activities with the other boys included kissing, hugging and inserting his hands into their pants. He also said there was a pattern of "grooming," or preparing the boys for molestation. The alleged incidents involving these other boys are said to have occurred 12 to 15 years ago and never resulted in Jackson facing criminal charges.

Only one Jackson accuser -- who reached a reported $2 million settlement with "The King of Pop" in the early 1990s -- is expected to testify for the prosecution. The mother of the accuser who reached a reported $20 million settlement with Jackson in 1993 and witnesses from the Neverland ranch who claim to have seen inappropriate behavior between Jackson and three other boys, including Caulkin, are expected to testify. Melville said he would only allow witnesses who could testify to alleged actual, physical, sexual misconduct.

Sources told ABC News that Jackson's defense plans to call Culkin to the witness stand to refute the prosecution's claim. However, Culkin's representatives said after Monday's ruling that he "is presently not involved with the proceedings, and we do not expect that to change."

Culkin has denied many times that Jackson acted inappropriately. Still, his name has surfaced several times over the course of Jackson's trial. Before testimony began, he was listed as a potential witness for the defense. Then, one of Jackson's former housekeepers, testifying for the prosecution, identified Culkin as one of several boys in whom she said the singer had taken a special interest.

Culkin's name was also mentioned in "Living With Michael Jackson," which the prosecution has played for the jury. In it, Jackson said he had shared a bed with Culkin and several of his siblings, who were also frequent guests at Neverland.

"I slept in a bed with all of them when Macaulay Culkin was little," the singer told interviewer Martin Bashir, who is now an ABC News correspondent.

"Kieran Culkin would sleep on this side, Macaulay Culkin was on this side, his sisters in there. We all would just jam in the bed, you know, we would wake up at dawn and go in the hot-air balloon," Jackson said.

Over the years, Culkin has recalled his Neverland visits fondly. When he met Jackson in 1990, he was 10 years old and already on his way to becoming the highest-paid child star of all time. "Home Alone" had become one of the most successful movie comedies in history and a sequel was in the works. He'd also starred in "Uncle Buck" and "My Girl."

Culkin soon found escape from the demands of his career in Jackson's theme park-like home, complete with merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, a movie theater, zoo and, of course, servants to clean up any mess.

Their friendship was most apparent on Jackson's 1991 video "Black or White," in which Culkin makes a cameo appearance.

Just after his 12th birthday, Culkin told Life magazine that he spent "all his vacations" at his then-34-year-old friend's 2,700-acre ranch, where he has his own go-cart and helped Jackson design a "water fort" for squirt gun games.

While the age gap might have seemed odd, it certainly wasn't a first for the singer.

In 1984, Emmanuel Lewis, best known as TV's "Webster," became Jackson's constant companion. The 12-year-old had a health condition that stunted his growth. Lewis was so small that when Jackson brought him to the Grammy Awards that year, he carried the boy around as if he were a toddler.

Like many child stars, Culkin's string of successes ended abruptly. In 1994, he starred in three films -- "Getting Even With Dad," "The Pagemaster" and "Richie Rich" -- all bombs. He was 14 years old, and boyish charm had given way to adolescent awkwardness.

"I was actually very happy that they [his films] were not being as successful," Culkin told Walters in the 2001 interview. "I was hoping -- literally, I was hoping to disappear off the face of the Earth."

It would be almost a decade before Culkin would return to the big screen. A lengthy custody battle between his parents -- with the millions he had earned in Hollywood hanging in the balance -- made the star's teenage years hell.

Culkin described his father as a tyrant, who pushed him to cash in on stardom. "We didn't even have our own bedroom," he told Walters. "I mean, I was -- I was making -- forget about how much money I was making -- but I was sleeping on the couch.

"I think it was just a way of him wanting to break my spirit. He wanted me to know and my brother to know that he was in charge and that if he didn't want us to sleep on a bed, we weren't going to sleep on a bed."

Jackson could certainly relate to having an overbearing father as a manager. The singer has described Joe Jackson as a brutal taskmaster. When, as a child, he was the lead singer of the Jackson Five, his father would beat him with a belt if he didn't want to rehearse, Jackson has said.

When Jackson turned 21, he fired his father, though they maintain a relationship, and Joe Jackson has regularly attended his son's trial.

Culkin's special place in Jackson's life came into the spotlight in 2001, when Jackson celebrated the 30th anniversary of his solo career. At the star-studded event at New York's Madison Square Garden, Culkin had a seat of honor, sitting alongside Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor.

Months earlier, Culkin had once again reiterated the important role Jackson had played in his life.

"Michael and I had an understanding about my father," he told the British newspaper, The Guardian. "He knew what that was all about. He'd lived it."

Culkin said he regretted not defending Jackson when the singer was accused of child molestation in 1993, a case in which no charges were ever filed. Santa Barbara prosecutors decided not to pursue the 1993 case after they said the alleged victim refused to testify.

The actor said he didn't speak up for his friend because his father wouldn't allow it.

"I would have liked to say something in his defense," Culkin told the British paper. "I still wish I had."

Culkin may soon get his chance.

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