Jul 28 2012

Michael’s old school, Montclair Prep, sadly closed down

Category: Friends,InterviewsSeven @ 10:09 pm

Michael at Montclair Prep

I learned just a few days ago that the preparatory school that Michael attended, Montclair Prep, has sadly closed down as of July 15th of this year. This school has had a long proud history of helping to educate some of the best-known names in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.

Quite a while back, I featured a piece on Michael’s time at Montclair Prep. An article I referred to in that piece, originally published in the Toronto Sun, referred to a Mark Simpson as the school’s principal who allegedly knew Michael.

However an inside source who was very close to Dr. Vernon E. Simpson, Executive Director and Founder of Montclair Prep, says that could not have been true. This source provided the following information in dispute of the Toronto Sun article (and thus my previous feature on the school as well):

It’s a lovely story and for the most part pretty accurate. But the man quoted, Mark Simpson, was never the “principal” of Montclair Prep. He is the nephew of this once great school’s founder, Dr. Vernon E. Simpson, who passed away in 2008. “Doc” as he was known, was very close with Michael and the Jackson Family. Mark Simpson wasn’t at the Prep in 1973. He was himself a high school age teenager at the time attending some school…somewhere…but NOT MCP. He didn’t hang around Michael. He wasn’t his classmate or his friend and wasn’t old enough to have possibly been on staff at the school…That dubious affiliation occurred more than 20 years later. Doc died and Mark, utterly without qualification (without even a college degree…let alone a PhD like his uncle) took over as “executive director” of the school, firing Doc’s hand-chosen successor Dr. Mike McDonnell – and by 2012, the 56-year-old “Prep”…once one of LA’s top prep schools, closed its doors…broke. I am sure that Dr. Simpson and Michael Jackson (RIP both) would equally as sad and angry as many of us. Another of life’s tragedies. We never seem to run out of them. Michael and his family wouldn’t know Mark [Simpson] if they tripped over him.

. . .

NO ONE wore uniforms at MCP in 1973. Michael as well as two other brothers (Marlon and Randy I believe) were given some latitude on the length of their hair (the Prep still had haircut standards then)but Michael dressed like every other boy on campus…Collared shirt…NO blue jeans…no jerseys, etc. But that stuff about being “excused” from wearing a uniform is bogus.

The source continued:

The school had a lot of interesting students:

Cher (I worked with Sonny back in the 1980s and 1990s) who got tossed out of school but would have been class of 1963 (I think Sonny, who was a good deal older, used to pick her up off campus/after school);
Frank Sinatra Jr., whose dad sometime made him hitchhike home without a nickel in his pocket; and people like
Danny Bonaduce (“Partridge Family”)
Eve Plumb (“The Brady Bunch”)
Steven Dorff (“Blade”, among others); and
-Oscar Winner Curtis Hanson (screenplay for “LA Confidential”); and
Paul Thomas Anderson (directed feature films: Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007), and The Master (2012). He has been nominated for five Academy Awards — There Will Be Blood for Best Achievement in Directing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, and Best Adapted Screenplay; Magnolia for Best Original Screenplay; and Boogie Nights for Best Original Screenplay.)
-The amazing pastry chef Nancy Silverton was in my class of 36 graduates. It was, to say the least, an amazing school.

I will tell you that the Jacksons took school seriously enough that Michael’s Mom was not above coming to campus for a sit down with Dr. Simpson if and when there was reason to do so. Doc treated ALL of his students alike. Michael and his brothers were expected to fulfill all of the same academic requirements as anyone else attending MCP. When the Jackson brothers professional commitments resulted in them missing too many days of school, Dr. Simpson (with a deep sense of regret) told them they would have to withdraw from the school if they could not meet the academic standards. And, so they left.

I spoke to Joe Jackson a couple days after Michael died ( I had been working on a deal for the 5 other Jackson Brothers to do some shows in the UK at that time…the deal ultimately falling apart) and we talked about MCP for a couple of minutes. Joe said it had been “good for him”.  I think time there might have allowed for Michael to be a normal teenager, at least for a little while. Jon Blosdale (http://fineartmanagementnews.com/artists-biographies/beatles-animation-art/) , mentioned in the article is still a friend of mine.

I can tell you that Dr. Simpson DID think he was a great kid and it saddened him that Michael’s life away from the spotlight was so difficult. I never got the details (though I do know about a few things from other friends of Michael’s) but Doc said that “(his) dad was very hard on him”…Pity….not very fair.

. . .for Michael, it was a refuge. Once place in the world where he was “just another kid”

Montclair was like a family. I am sure Michael would be saddened that “his old school” is no more.

So there you go, straight from a real insider at Montclair Prep who knew its founder very well. No doubt Michael would be very sad about this school’s closing.

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