Michael Jackson’s ‘Motown 25’ moonwalk didn’t take place 40 years ago

Michael Jackson's 'Motown 25' moonwalk didn't take place 40 years ago

On Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, a televised commemoration of the founding of the renowned label, forty years ago, Michael Jackson ascended the stage and left a lasting impression on popular culture.

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Don Mischer, who helped organize other historic moments over the years, produced and directed the May 16, 1983 broadcast. These moments included the 1996 Olympic Games opening ceremony, where Muhammad Ali made a surprise appearance, Prince’s legendary “Purple Rain” Super Bowl halftime show, and numerous Oscar ceremonies (though, thankfully for him, not 2017’s Envelopegate). Mischer discussed working with Jackson and witnessing one of the most thrilling and avant-garde performances of all time in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment.

Mischer and executive producer Suzanne de Passe initially forbade every performer (from Marvin Gaye to the Temptations to Diana Ross) from playing new material because Motown 25 was meant to highlight the label’s greatest songs. Michael Jackson resisted because he wanted to sing the solo song “Billie Jean.” “Look, if we let Michael Jackson do a new song, who’s going to take the phone call from Marvin Gaye on Monday saying, ‘Why did you let Michael Jackson do a new song and I couldn’t do a new song?'” Mischer recalls the tense situation.

But Mischer saw Jackson practicing for his “Billie Jean” performance, upsetting that delicate game of politics. Mischer remarked, “I believe Linda Ronstadt, Smokey Robinson, and Diana Ross were present, but overall the venue was deserted. When “Billie Jean” was finally over, we just knew this was really significant. We watched the entire thing for the first time, including the hat, the socks, and the moonwalk.

In the end, Mischer and de Passe allowed Jackson to play “Billie Jean,” with Mischer offering to answer the phone on Monday for a probably irritated Marvin Gaye.

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Michael Jackson's 'Motown 25' moonwalk didn't take place 40 years ago
On the May 16, 1983, broadcast of “Yesterday, Today, Forever,” Michael Jackson appeared. (Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Michael Jackson’s actual moonwalk

For those who weren’t around in 1983 or who might remember it incorrectly, lasted just two and a half seconds. There are a few cheers from the audience, but that particular scene wasn’t enough to pack the house. But as with other myths, it has exponentially changed over time.

A few weeks later, Mischer started putting the concert together for editing. Jackson went to see him to pick what photos he wanted of his performance. According to Mischer, “he had very specific creative ideas about what he wanted and how he wanted to see himself portrayed.” We occasionally clashed about a shot or another matter, but I always showed him respect. I had faith in his judgment.

Michael Jackson may have had a disproportionate presence on stage, but in Mischer’s editing room, he was the complete opposite. He was consistently quiet. He was a very reserved, shy person, according to Mischer. “He would enter a space and disappear into a corner. He would speak in whispers. But as he entered the stage, he appeared to be a commander.

Michael Jackson's 'Motown 25' moonwalk didn't take place 40 years ago
Michael Jackson and his brothers performed a medley of the Jackson 5’s best songs on Motown 25, which was also broadcast. (Photo: Getty Images).

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Jackson was ultimately content with Motown 25. After it broadcast, Mischer claims he received a photo inscribed with the words “Thanks for the magic moment.” And the rest of the nation felt the same way. Days later, according to Mischer, he was at the White House to capture an interview with Nancy Reagan for Barbara Walters.

He remembers that “everyone was talking about Michael Jac” as they descended the hotel’s elevator. Michael was the topic of conversation in the cab on the way to the White House. Everyone is discussing Motown 25 and Michael in the East Wing of the White House.

We do things like this and we never know how people are going to respond, but that morning in Washington, suddenly I thought to myself, “This show really had an incredible impact.”

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