April 15, 1991 12:00 PM

As anyone burdened with stardom knows, finding a date for the Oscars can be an enormo pain. After all, really famous folk simply can’t be seen with some sweet nobody who waves “Hi Mom” at the camera and spends the evening worrying about credit-card approval at Spago.

And so it was, when Madonna and Michael Jackson, Earth’s top pop stars, faced the who-is-famous-enough-to-be-seen-with-me quandary, they hit on the perfect solution. Since they were already planning a duet for Michael’s upcoming album, Dangerous, and since they both happened to be on all Hollywood’s collagen-enhanced lips anyway—he for his ballyhooed “billion-dollar” contract with Sony, she for her upcoming, already controversial self-ploitation film, Truth or Dare-why not date…each other?

Big dates can also become big disasters, however. So a week before the Oscars, the couple met at L.A.’s Ivy restaurant to plan and, perhaps, trade makeup tips. By Oscar night, all was ready. Michael looked positively legendary in gold-tipped cowboy boots, a blinding diamond brooch and—in a dramatic sartorial departure—two gloves. Madonna, awash in peroxide and pluck, diverted at least some of the attention from her low-cut, pearl-encrusted Bob Mackie gown with $20 million in diamonds, on loan from jeweler Harry Winston. They entered L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium and promptly collected their well-deserved Best Seat honors—front row, two on the aisle.

All seemed fine at first. Michael applauded as Madonna out-Marilyned Marilyn in a vampy rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s Oscar winning “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man).” And it seemed everyone agreed that the ermined minx stole the show.

Afterward, things got a little dicey, for Michael at least, when the couple arrived at Spago for Swifty Lazar’s annual Oscar bash. After whispering and giggling in Michael’s ear, the Material Girl abandoned her one-night Boy Toy and hopped over to Warren Beatty’s table, where heavy breathing and light petting ensued. “He fondled her all over,” says a dedicated observer.

But all turned out fine. Michael, tit-for-tat, dandled Diana Ross on his lap before Madonna returned and joined him for a grand exit. Strobes flashed and the partyers cheered—even though everyone seemed to understand that Michael and Madonna‘s big night out was about as romantically valid as taking your cousin to the prom. So just what were they up to?

What else? When the Shy Man of showbiz and the Princess of Publicity concoct a date together, it can only mean one thing—they both have something to promote.

This time, Madonna‘s outrage du jour may really be worth the fuss. Her upcoming film, a two-hour combination of concert footage and raunchy offstage scenes, so shocked the Motion Picture Association of America—the ratings gods—that last week they proclaimed even the preview trailer too racy for G-or PG-rated audiences. Indeed, Truth or Dare: on the Road, Behind the Scenes, and in Bed with Madonna, which opens May 10, plays like the most revealing home movie ever released by a major star.

Among the juicy scenes that will no doubt raise a ruckus, the 32-year-old singer shows herself demonstrating oral sex techniques on a water bottle; reciting an ode to flatulence; ogling two male dancers as they French-kiss; exposing her breasts; and confessing that, as a teenager, she had sex with a girlfriend. (The girlfriend, Moira McFarland, who appears in the film, stares blankly when Madonna blurts out this tidbit on camera. McFarland has since said she has no memory of the event.) In another segment, Madonna lies atop her mother’s Michigan grave and speculates about “what she looks like now. Just a bunch of dust.” She refers to ex-beau Warren Beatty as “pussy man” and winces after Kevin Costner comes backstage in L.A. and tells her that her show is “neat.” “Anybody who says my show is ‘neat’ has to go,” says Madonna, after Costner’s departure.

The controversial project began when, on three days’ notice, Madonna hired Alek Keshishian, 26, to film her Blond Ambition tour, beginning in Japan, March 1990. Harvard grad Keshishian had impressed Madonna with his senior thesis, a pop opera film version of Wuthering Heights, which her agent screened for her two years earlier. Despite his tender years, Keshishian had sufficient chutzpah to set one condition for employment: “I told her, ‘If I’m going to shoot parts of the tour, then you have to give me carte blanche to shoot whatever I want,’ ” he says. “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to end up making Madonna‘s home movie”—not in the traditional sense, anyway.

The result is a startling, frank portrayal of a woman who may be more entertaining—and more temperamental, and cruder—offstage than on. The language ain’t for the fainthearted: Watching the male dancers kiss, Madonna yelps, “Oh, God! I’m getting a hard on!” Sitting backstage and picking petals off a daisy, she muses, “He loves me. He loves me not. He just wants to——me.” In bed with her troupe of male dancers, she asks, “Do we want to be accepted by Hollywood?”

“No!” they chorus.

“Do we care what people think of us?” she prompts.

“No!” they reply.

“Do we want people to kiss our ass?”

“Yes!” they yell.

But what may be the most revealing scene, ironically, is surprising not for its lewdness but for its intimacy. As the camera watches, Madonna, feeling under the weather, is examined by a throat specialist in her New York City apartment. Warren Beatty, off to the side, mutters about “the insanity of doing all this on film, this insane atmosphere.” When the doctor asks if Madonna wants to talk off-camera, Beatty snaps: “She doesn’t want to live off-camera! What point is there to existing?”

Madonna‘s old college friend from the University of Michigan and longtime songwriting partner, Stephen Bray, says “She was always like this. She wanted attention—now it’s her job.”

Controversy is no stranger to Madonna, of course. Last year she scored a primo publicity coup when her “Justify My Love” video was banned from MTV, a flap that eventually helped her sell more than 250,000 copies of the five-minute, $9.98 “video single.” But director Keshishian maintains that her strategy wasn’t all that Machiavellian. “People think she dictates and decides to do things based purely on the money she’ll make,” he says. “That’s absolutely wrong. Every decision she makes is an artistic decision. Her great talent is that she is able to take controversy and turn it to advantage.”

A final note: Madonna and male model Tony Ward, 27, her last boyfriend of record and one of the objects of her desire in the “Justify” video, are no longer an item. It may be a coincidence, but he seems to have dropped from her arm at about the same time tabloids revealed that he had married an old flame, Amalia Papadimos, 23, in a quickie ceremony in Las Vegas on Aug. 21, 1990—after he had begun dating Madonna.

Compared with that of his glam Oscar date, Michael Jackson’s news of the moment is dramatic but tasteful—unless you find unconscionable gobs of money vulgar. At 32, five days before the Academy Awards, Jackson moon-walked into the biggest deal in music history. Sony, the Japanese giant that ate CBS Records in 1988, signed him to a six-album record and film contract that some of those involved claimed might earn him as much as $1 billion. While that number appears to rest on deeply suspect assumptions—for example, that Jackson’s records will continue to sell as briskly as Thriller (which, at 40 million copies, is the best-selling LP of all time), the deal did set new standards for cost and scope.

According to people familiar with the figures, Jackson will get an $18 million cash advance for Dangerous, due this summer, plus a $5 million bonus for it and for each of his next five albums. He also gets the highest record royalty rate in music—25 percent of every album sold—and has been made CEO of his own Nation Records label, at $1 million per annum. Furthermore, he’ll head up a new Jackson Entertainment Complex to oversee production of Jackson-related films, TV projects and music videos. The first big project will be, as one source puts it, “a Busby Berkeley meets Star Wars” feature film based on an idea of Jackson’s.

Some Jackson-watchers have speculated that Michael timed the announcement of his Sony contract to upstage his sister Janet, 24, the only other Jackson sibling who has had notable solo success. One week earlier she had signed what was—for several days—the most lucrative contract in music, an estimated $50 million, three-album deal with Virgin Records. Why so much? “A Rembrandt rarely becomes available,” gushed Virgin tycoon Richard Branson in a burst of hyperbole.

By that inflated standard, Sony was bidding for the Sistine Chapel. Curiously, Michael named his new label Nation Records, perhaps a tweaking reference to Janet’s Rhythm Nation 1814 hit LP. “It was a poke at Janet,” says J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of an upcoming unauthorized bio titled Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness. “It’s typically Michael to do that. He likes to have the final word. Anyone who knows him will have a smile at the name of the label.”

Will Janet? Despite the competition between them, “Michael’s always been helpful and supportive with Janet,” says a former confidant. “She’d often call for advice, and I’m sure he’ll continue to help her.”

What Jackson will do with the dough is anybody’s guess. It may simply be too much to spend. Never Land Ranch, the 2,700-acre spread near Santa Barbara, Calif., which he now calls home, has everything—including a 25-room Tudor mansion, a zoo and a private amusement park—but even that used up only $28 million. What does Jackson do when he’s not plotting his professional future? “He’s there by himself, aside from the servants and animals,” says Taraborrelli. “On weekends, he has busloads of needy and handicapped kids or his nieces and nephews up for barbecues.”

It’s hard to imagine Madonna partaking regularly of such rural and altruistic pleasures—which are only two reasons why a real Mercurial Boy-Material Girl romance is about as likely as Sonny and Cher remarrying. Also, as one former associate puts it, “Michael needs someone to reassure him constantly. ‘Yes, you’re bigger than George Michael. Yes, you’re bigger than Elvis. Yes, you’re bigger than Madonna.’ ”

And for that, Madonna could never forgive him.

Steve Dougherty, Todd Gold, David Marlow, Robin Micheli, Andrew Abrahams in Los Angeles, Sabrina McFarland in New York