FRANK DILEO was Michael Jackson’s agent, manager, handler, whatever. Brilliant. I met him while I was doing a series of Pepsi commercials with Michael tied into the BAD album. The creatives for Pepsi had done some cheesy storyboards and our initial meeting with MJ didn’t go well despite the agency trying to explain the stuff. Frank found out we were both from Pittsburgh and there is a bond among us out there. He pulled me aside and asked me if I could help since the agency, for some strange reason, didn’t want to spend money for better boards, so I had some very large boards done and set up another meeting. Michael walked through the boards and asked whether we could actually do the stuff indicated on the boards and I assured him that we could. Money well spent. Frank was off to the side and winked. We were friends from then on.
Michael liked what I had done in the commercials and Frank asked me to do the music video (Michael liked to call them ‘short films’) for MAN IN THE MIRROR, and I started to work on some ideas. A while later Frank told me that they didn’t need a video for that song since it was a slam dunk, number one without a video and he sent me the demo for THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL. The purpose was to have more Number Ones than any other album and Frank’s (and Quincy Jones’) vision and perception were brilliant. Frank’s notion was that I CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU would be the first release and would be an instant Number One since Michael hadn’t released an album for a number of years. BAD would be an easy Number One with MAN IN THE MIRROR another. The other songs would need some help to position them. I was troubled and disappointed after he pulled MAN IN THE MIRROR since THE WAY… wasn’t as strong a piece of music and I had trouble understanding it. A similar thing happened to me years later when Yoko pulled WORKING CLASS HERO and replaced it with STARTING OVER but that’s another story. THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL sounded soft to me and there was no thread in the piece to give a hint for a video treatment. Frank and Quincy told me what the purpose was. I can’t remember who said it but the phrase, “…the purpose of the video was to get Michael some pussy!” The result — another Number One. I don’t know if Michael got laid.
Frank and I became good friends after work on the commercials and the videos and we worked on a terrific film idea for Michael but after the final BAD tour, Michael and Frank split. Later, I took the treatment to SONY but they didn’t want to spend the money that the film would take. The SONY executive mentioned a budget and I told him that SMOOTH CRIMINAL cost more than that. I never knew the reason that Michael and Frank split, because Frank disappeared for a while. A long time passed and I helped Frank a bit through a bad time he was having and he finally reunited with Michael, ironically to put together the tribute film after Michael’s passing. We had a great lunch together to reminisce a bit about the days with Michael. Frank looked great and was his old self, but he, too, passed soon after that.
Frank was one of the most vivid characters I ever met and was decent, honest, and perceptive. That honesty was a rare thing in that business. If he and Michael had stayed together, Michael’s history would certainly have changed and for the better. I think of Frank often. It was a great time.