Janet Loses "Lena"; Justin Exits "Motown"

Janet Jackson quits ABC's Lena Horne biopic after Horne criticizes Super Bowl incident

By Josh Grossberg Feb 24, 2004 10:35 PMTags

Some stormy weather for Janet Jackson.

The "Nasty" singer, still smarting from her bare-breasted appearance at this year's Super Bowl, has abruptly quit her starring role in ABC's upcoming Lena Horne biopic.

The singer's exit came after Horne voiced serious reservations about having her life story played by Jackson.

According to Daily Variety, Jackson bowed out after Horne and daughter Gail Lumet Buckley refused to sign a contract giving ABC permission to begin production on the TV movie unless the Alphabet net assured them Jackson would no longer participate.

ABC reportedly balked and stood by Jackson, but, with Horne so adamant, Jackson decided to withdraw on her own.

In a show of support, executive producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who were shepherding the project under their Storyline Entertainment banner with Sony Pictures Television, also departed.

On Tuesday, ABC confirmed that the project is officially in limbo and it's likely to stay that way until another suitable singing-acting star can be found to play Horne, who helped to break Hollywood's racial barrier and became one of its first black stars.

Reps for Horne could not be reached for comment.

After making a name for herself as a torch singer with the likes of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington in such hot spots as the Cotton Club, Horne made the transition to the big screen. She scored hits with 20th Century Fox's classic all-black musical Stormy Weather (1943) and Cabin in the Sky (1943), considered the finest performance of her long career.

Jackson, who once paid tribute to Calloway by dancing with the late bandleader in one of her videos, had long looked forward to playing Horne, even posing as Horne in a recent Vanity Fair spread. Jackson also planned on rerecording some of Horne's standards.

"She is someone I've admired my whole life," Jackson said last fall after signing on to the project--which had been timed to coincide with her forthcoming album, Damita Jo, and to help resuscitate a long dormant acting career.

The biopic was set to be directed by Roy Campanella Jr. from a script by Shirley Pierce based on Horne's autobiography.

Meanwhile, Jackson's breast friend, Justin Timberlake, has also pulled out of an ABC TV gig, but for a different reason.

Timberlake, who offered a mea culpa at the Grammys for what he infamously called a "wardrobe malfunction," was supposed to cohost the Motown 45 special with Lionel Ritchie.

But he has pulled out to focus on his first big-screen role in the independent film Edison. Timberlake is slated to play a journalist who stumbles upon police corruption in the film, which costars Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and LL Cool J.

"He has canceled all television appearances through the end of April to allow him to concentrate on making the movie," says Motown 45 executive producer Jeff Margolis.

The move comes amid controversy over Timberlake's planned participation in Motown 45. Several African-American organizations, led by Project Islamic HOPE, had been lobbying for the "Rock Your Body" singer's removal. While Justin can do a fair Michael Jackson impersonation, the 'N Syncer was apparently too white for certain groups' tastes.

"The selection of Timberlake as cohost of this Motown special is a cultural insult to the black community," Project Islamic HOPE's executive director Najee Ali said in a statement earlier this week. "This special, celebrating the success of the legendary music label, should not be compromised in the pursuit of a crossover audience."

The Motown 45 special, which is being held at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium on April 4, will air on ABC sometime in May.