Ex-Intern's Mother Put the Soap in the Opera
By Blaine Harden
NEW YORK, Jan. 24 Monica Lewinsky's mother is by several accounts a writer with a gift for purple prose, steely discipline to meet deadlines and a brassy eagerness to promote her writing career through sexual innuendo about herself.
Marcia Lewis's sexual suggestiveness, employed in two separate instances connected to her 1996 book "The Private Lives of the Three Tenors," has a curious resonance in light of her 24-year-old daughter's tape-recorded claim that she had a long-term sexual relationship with President Clinton.
Lewis, 49, who has an apartment at the Watergate, wrote a three-page fantasy sex scene in her manuscript about the backstage lives of Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo, according to the book's editor. He said the scene imagined what it would be like to be alone in a room having sex with Placido Domingo, now the artistic director of the Washington Opera.
"It was so jarring in relation to the rest of the book. It went from a third-person clip job to a weird romance novel kind of steamy scene. I took it out," said the editor, who at the time was working for Carol Publishing in Secaucus, N.J., and who declined to be identified by name.
"We are not talking Proust here. I had to de-purple-ize a lot of this book. She saw the sizzle in everything," said the editor, whose identity as the principal person involved in the editing and publication of Lewis's book was confirmed by Steven Schragis, president of Carol Publishing, a publishing house that derives most of its profits from salacious star biographies.
In a memo that Lewis volunteered in 1996 to Carol Publishing to help promote sales of the book, the author gave Schragis a number of suggested contacts and ideas. Schragis said they included leaking the book to several New York City gossip columnists. But the last paragraph of Lewis's promotional memo was, Schragis said, the most intriguing. It suggested a much racier approach:
"How did the reporter, a glamorous Beverly Hills writer formerly with the Hollywood Reporter, get all the inside dope? She denies rumors she and Domingo were more than friends in the '80s, but read the book and see what you think."
Schragis, who describes Lewis as having a level of media sophistication that was "quite rare" for a first-time author, said that his company chose not to feature questions about a possible sexual liaison between writer and tenor as a hook for selling the book.
The book, in any case, sold quite well, with more than 20,000 copies in hardback and worldwide paperback distribution. It earned Lewis about $50,000, Schragis said.
"It was pretty successful, more successful than 90 percent of the hardcovers out there," he said.
Domingo said in a statement Friday: "I know Marcia Lewis socially through the Los Angeles Opera, where she came to several of my performances over the years, but that is all. She never interviewed me for the book."
The Hollywood Reporter said in a statement on Friday that it does not have any record of Marcia Lewis as an employee going back to 1987. But it did not say that it was impossible for her to have written for the publication. The newspaper said it does not keep records of contributing writers or freelancers.
Before Lewis moved to Washington in the mid-1990s, she and her ex-husband, wealthy cancer doctor Bernard Lewinsky, lived a $1.6 million home in Beverly Hills, along with their daughter, Monica, and son, Michael.
In 1987 divorce records, Lewis describes the life that her then-husband's $440,000-a-year income provided for herself and her children: "I and my children have maintained an affluent lifestyle and have traveled first class extensively. . . . I and the children have never had to worry about the cost of anything that we reasonably desired."
Asked today about how Lewis came across as a writer, her publisher said, "chutzpah is a good word. She is not the shy, retiring, shrinking-violet type."
Schragis said he was stunned to hear about the allegations involving Lewis's daughter and the president. But he added, "If it had to be anybody's daughter, out of the thousands of authors we have published, this was not that shocking."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company