Young promoter cancels his debut as Fred Rogers’ successor

By Dru Sefton

Michael Kinsell, who planned to present himself as the next Mister Rogers at a controversial gala on Sunday in San Diego, told Current in an e-mail Thursday night that he is canceling the show.

Kinsell, who said he is 18, had publicized the May 31 fundraising event as a star-studded posthumous tribute to the famous host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Michael Kinsell says he has six episodes of Michael’s Enchanted Neighborhood ready to go. (Photo: Children’s Media Foundation)

Michael Kinsell says he has six episodes of Michael’s Enchanted Neighborhood ready to go. (Photo: Children’s Media Foundation)

“Event is in motion to be officially canceled today,” he wrote to Current. “I am in the means of letting our staff know now. At this point I’m finished with this whole thing. Do not be inclined to contact me ever again.” He sent a similar message to local reporter Mark Walker at the North County Times. “I’m sure it’s all over,” he wrote. “I’m so sorry for any trouble.”

But later on Thursday Kinsell denied canceling the event when Broadcasting & Cable journalist John Eggerton reached him at the phone number of the Children’s Media Foundation, sponsor of the fundraiser. “Not true,” he told the reporter. “The event is still on.”

The new confusion arose at the end of a day in which Kinsell’s attorney said he never worked with him, his publicist quit, and the California attorney general’s office said Kinsell’s nonprofit, supposed organizer of the gala, is not recognized by the state.

The same day, Danny DeVito’s attorney told Kinsell to stop using DeVito’s name. The actor was one of many stars cited in the event publicity as attendees or supporters of Kinsell’s group. DeVito’s Los Angeles attorney, Joel Behr, wrote to Kinsell, saying:

“Mr. DeVito has not received an invitation to ‘The Children’s Hero Award,’ and will not be attending the event. He has no prior knowledge of this event. He has not contributed financially to the organization as you claim. Until we were informed of your false statements, Mr. DeVito was, in fact, unaware of the existence of your organization. Accordingly, please be certain to refrain from using our client’s name and photograph in publicizing this event, effective immediately. Any such use is clearly unauthorized.”

Dana Simas, spokesperson for California Attorney General Jerry Brown, said Thursday that Kinsell’s Children’s Media Foundation, sponsor of the fundraising event, has not completed the process to be authorized to do business and receive tax-exempt donations. The gala’s website and at least two press releases identify CMF as a nonprofit.

Kinsell’s news release Thursday named San Diego lawyer Andy Abrams as his attorney. But within hours Abrams told Current he issued a formal disengagement letter after learning that Kinsell had “misled” him regarding “virtually all of the details of the upcoming award ceremony.”

Publicist Lisa Jammal of LJAM PR in Los Angeles had put out earlier releases for Kinsell, but she said she is no longer associated with him.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said Thursday. “I am not sending anything out, and I don’t want to be present at the gala. I have to detach myself.”

PBS, which had accused Kinsell of “falsely claiming association” with it and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in a complaint to the California Attorney General’s office, confirmed that it formally objected to his activities again Thursday, faxing a complaint letter to his Children’s Media Foundation. Kinsell verified in his statement that he received that letter, which he said in the statement was sent “purportedly by a law firm representing PBS and FCI.” FCI is Family Communications Inc., Fred Rogers’ production company.

Mallory Lewis — daughter of another PBS Kids star, the late Shari Lewis — told Current she has given up plans to appear at the gala. She said Kinsell contacted her publicist a few months ago about the gala. Lewis said Kinsell had said she would be introduced on stage by California’s first lady, Maria Shriver.

Lewis had planned to have several business associates accompany her to the show, she said. Her husband purchased a tux; she bought a new purse.

Then Lewis began to have doubts about the gala. She heard Bette Midler also was expected to appear, but she knew Midler has an ongoing show in Las Vegas and will be performing in Vegas on May 31. Lewis started calling contacts in the entertainment industry and hearing that other stars named in the event publicity would not be there. Then her publicist sent her Current’s May 26 story.

“I understand his desire to have a TV show, and I know how hard it is to get one funded,” Lewis told Current. She may know about that from personal experience. After Shari Lewis, her mother, died in 1998, Mallory Lewis considered developing a public TV show.

“Although this is quite egregious, we’re all lucky that the mistakes we made in our late teens or early 20s weren’t such public ones.”

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