By David Streitfeld
They included a salacious tell-all by four women who named big Hollywood names, the "private diary" of Mom-and-Dad killer Lyle Menendez and a small shelf of O.J. Simpson books, including a No. 1 bestseller by Faye Resnick and a trial parody done in the style of Dr. Seuss that resulted in a lawsuit from the Seuss estate.
Indeed, many Viner projects have resulted in lawsuits, providing more employment for attorneys than anyone this side of Kenneth Starr. Heidi Fleiss, the convicted Hollywood madam, told a reporter two years ago that Viner had a simple explanation for all this legal activity: "Lawsuits sell books."
At the time, Viner was suing Fleiss for libel.
When he wasn't being sued, he was suing. The rest of the time, he and his company, Dove Entertainment, were being denounced. No less an authority than Simpson charged in Esquire that Viner "trashes famous people for having sex -- which is nobody's business. Michael Viner is a new kind of pimp. The pimp of a culture that makes whores out of celebrities."
That track record probably would not make the 54-year-old Viner the first publisher a lawyer would go to if he were looking to maintain his client's credibility in a high-stakes game. Accordingly, Willey lawyer Daniel Gecker has sought to downplay his interest in a book deal. Gecker was also quoted as saying: "There is no market for anti-Clinton books."
That comes as news to Washington publisher Al Regnery, who has made a fortune off a couple of them. Regnery doubted, however, that a Willey book could be a hit.
"I wonder if she's got anything more to say than she said on television," he said. "If she has a five-minute story to tell, it's hard to fill up 350 pages -- unless there's a lot more we don't know."
Although Viner said the negotiating was frequent and in earnest, he, too, was never convinced of either the book's marketability or the truth of Willey's assertions of being groped by the president. He also said, somewhat regretfully, he hadn't intended for the negotiations to become public, as they did on Monday in Daily Variety.
"I feel I've broken a faith, which a publisher shouldn't do, but I also feel there's some national interest here," he said.
Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett quickly tried to use the book negotiations to impugn Willey on "Larry King Live."
It was a fitting venue. The talk show host is a good friend of Viner's, one of his recent weddings was at Viner's home, and the publisher issued King's children's book, "Daddy Day, Daughter Day."
While a sensational Hollywood publisher and Washington political intrigue might seem 3,000 miles apart, these days they overlap. Bennett's brother, former secretary of education and best-selling author William Bennett, sued Dove several years ago after it tried to riff off his "Book of Virtues" with a "Children's Book of Virtues." Bennett charged the publisher was poaching on his territory, and a judge agreed.
Viner's emergence also reinforces the connections between players in the current Clinton scandal and those in the Simpson case. Viner's impression is that he came to Willey's attention because of Resnick, a friend of Simpson's slain wife, Nicole. Her brief, gossipy and controversial account was the first -- and one of the most -- successful Simpson books.
Resnick's book helped create the notion that a large book deal is possible not only for the principal figures in a big news story, but for any minor figure who has a good story to tell.
Viner published at least two books by Simpson jurors, and for a brief time was in negotiations with Mark Fuhrman. The controversial police detective ended up instead with Regnery. And Lucianne Goldberg -- who said she had the idea to have Linda Tripp tape her good friend Monica Lewinsky -- became Fuhrman's agent.
Meanwhile, Viner shares something with Clinton: He, too, has been the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit. In fact, two of the authors of "You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again," a 1995 account of sexual adventuring in Hollywood, sued Viner on that and other grounds. One of the suits was dismissed; the other was settled in Viner's favor.
The suits didn't affect his attitude toward Willey's book proposal, the publisher said. And while he might like Clinton, he didn't like him so much that he wouldn't publish a negative book about him. Business is business.
As a young man, Viner was interested in politics, not Hollywood. A Washington childhood yielded a job as an aide to Sen. Robert Kennedy in his 1968 presidential campaign. Profiles of Viner usually mention that he was in the Ambassador Hotel the night Kennedy was shot, and that he broke either one or several ribs wrestling assassin Sirhan Sirhan to the ground.
Soon, Hollywood called, and a career as a film and record producer followed. In the mid-1980s, Viner and his wife, actress Deborah Raffin, founded Dove as a producer of books on tape. It quickly became one of the largest in the field. Diversification into publishing proved more complicated. The price of Dove stock plunged, and the couple was forced out last year.
A new company was set up called New Millennium Entertainment, boasting only a handful of employees but with big plans for publishing and producing films. The couple's return was announced in a long profile in USA Today on Jan. 8, but they didn't expect much press until their first big project, a film biography of Oscar Wilde, appears in May.
Then, unexpectedly, Viner got his most attention ever -- for a deal he didn't do.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company