November 27, 1978 12:00 PM

He dates Tatum O’Neal, but Michael is not ready to go Malibu yet

Hi, I’m Michael,” squeaked a voice from the Radio City Music Hall stage a few years back. “I used to be little and cute. Now I’m big and cute.” His voice is still in the upper registers, but Michael Jackson is now bigger than big. The onetime baby brother of the Jackson Five is horsing around with Farrah, Liza and the Kennedy Two (John and Caroline). For his 20th birthday he just rewarded himself with a Rolls-Royce. He has also persuaded his girlfriend—his first—to teach him to drive. Of course, Tatum O’Neal, at 15, isn’t technically legal herself just yet, but she’s got some mileage on Michael in Hollywood sophistication.

The other omen of Michael’s coming of age is that, after 15 years in the family business, he’s skipping down the platinum brick road toward a new career apart from the Jacksons. In his movie debut, Michael plucked the plummy Scarecrow part opposite Diana Ross in The Wiz. Coached by Tatum’s pop, Ryan, and Sidney Poitier (“They gave me some real good tips”), he lends the extravaganza its brightest moments with his rubber-legged dancing and never-miss high tenor.

Over the years Diana has played less Dorothy than the Good Witch of the North for the entire Jackson family. She championed the five sons of a Gary, Ind. crane operator during their 1969 poolside audition for Motown mogul Berry Gordy. She also boarded them at her L.A. house—not that they couldn’t soon buy their own. In 10 years they’ve sold 94 million records and earned three Grammys. By age 10, Michael was lead singer and a teen idol around the world. “I’ve even met the Queen of England,” Michael boasts.

Of course, Elizabeth II might be less daunting than the Hollywood royalty represented by his new friend Tatum. They met at record producer Lou Adler’s private club, and she later took Michael on a date—he claims it was his first with anyone—to an open house at Hugh Hefner’s mansion. Yet Tatum has so far failed to persuade Michael to move up to Malibu to be near her. “Girls,” he complains, “want all your time.”

Instead, Michael dutifully bunks behind the electronic gates of the Encino, Calif. estate of his parents, Katherine and Joe, the group’s ex-manager. Also still in residence are sisters Janet, 12, who plays Penn on CBS’s Good Times, and LaToya, 22, a model and actress in commercials, and brother Randy, 16, who recently replaced Jermaine, 23 (now on his own), in the family act. “Michael’s just shy,” explains big brother Tito, who, like the other elder siblings, is married and lives nearby with his family. A self-confessed showbiz freak, Michael runs video cassettes of Fred Astaire and other movie musicals (“I could eat West Side Story”) in his room. “I’d like to branch out into things that will give me longevity, perhaps choreography or writing songs for other people,” he says.

But, like the other members of his clan, Michael is as pure as the driven Osmonds and wouldn’t consider writing music for a movie that features violence or drugs. “I’ve never even been dizzy off liquor—and never been high on anything,” he declares. “People are always shovin’ it at you, but it’s not beautiful; it’s sloppy. If people want to escape they should walk the beach or be around children.” Michael means it: He is talking seriously of adopting children of his own as a single parent as soon as he turns 21. “I can’t wait.”

Michael has lately been dickering for a bio-flick of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and is planning a three-month tour with his brothers of, among other places, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Singapore. (A new LP, Destiny, the first completely written and produced by the Jacksons, has just shipped gold.) At some point, though, Michael wants to fit in a pleasure trip with Tatum. “She wants to take me camping. I’ve never done any of those things,” he says wistfully. “I been knowin’ this business all my life, so there’s no thought of my ever quittin’—but I am ready for a nice long vacation.”

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