IT'S HOT, IT'S SWEATY, IT'S BUDAPEST IN AUGUST. WITH cameras rolling, Michael Jackson, portraying a sort of Liberator of the Eastern Bloc, marches across the courtyard of a 13th-century castle while 300 extras in Red Army uniforms follow. Fireworks detonate, wind machines blow, confetti flies. Cut!
Michael, carrying on his shoulder a satin-clad midget named Michu, his longtime friend and frequent traveling companion, strolls back to his trailer. His wife, Lisa Marie, is holding his hand. Moments later, a blue Mercedes pulls up, bearing lunch. Foie gras? Truffles? A bottle of Dom Perignon, maybe? Nope, just a Pizza Hut cheese special for two. Price? $8.71.
Days into a surprise visit by the World's Most Famous Newlyweds, Hungarians don't know whether to try to make sense of Michael, 35, and Lisa Marie, 26, or give way to temptation and make fun. The concept behind Jackson's video—which will help launch his upcoming greatest hits album, History—has done the most to raise eyebrows. "Geopolitically, it's wacky," says Alan Krauss, managing editor of the English-language weekly Budapest San. "I think the idea of Michael Jackson showing himself liberating Eastern Europe is in questionable taste." Nonetheless, he grudgingly concedes, "Michael Jackson certainly seems to know more about what the human race will accept than I do."
No question there. Thousands of fans camped outside the Grand Hotel Corvinus Kempinksi, where the honeymooners settled into a pair of $3,800-a-night adjoining suites. "We love him," gushes Carmen Zurita, a 24-year-old secretary who traveled from her home in Madrid to see Jackson. She adds, though, that "it's a little different now that he's married."
Jackson could testify to that. In well-orchestrated photo-op appearances, Michael and Lisa Marie were always side by side, holding hands (hers with wedding band, his without) and whispering private jokes. On Saturday they doled out thousands of gifts—toys, diapers, formula, linens—to two children's hospitals. Two days later Michael's spokesman announced that the singer would pay $150,000 for a liver transplant necessary to save the life of a 4-year-old named Bela Farkas. Some saw Jackson's actions as too blatant an attempt to garner good press in the wake of career-damaging child molestation allegations. "We are anxious Bela does not become a toy of the pop world," said Dr. Dizseri Tamas of the Hungarian Reform Church Bethesda Children's Hospital. "But we need all the friends we can get."
The couple seemed happy with each other and oblivious to skepticism. While Michael performed for the cameras, Lisa Marie stood nearby, chewing gum and blowing bubbles. Said a member of the Jackson entourage: "She is like a proud parent watching her child at a school play."
PETER MIKELBANK in Budapest
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