Lee Iacocca, Chrysler chairman and neophyte author, had his first and last publishing soiree tonight.
He had just learned from the jubilant Bantam Books executives footing the cocktail tab at the Parker-Meridien that "Iacocca: An Autobiography" would make its debut on The New York Times' hardcover nonfiction best-seller list on Sunday -- at the top.
"I don't know much about the publishing industry, but I guess that's pretty good," he shrugged. There won't be a sequel, however. "Are you kidding? It's tough. It takes three years to make a book. I can make a car in three years. I think I'll retire from publishing after this."
The gathering drew a diverse throng of literary types like Mario Puzo and Sterling Hayden and corporate executives like Chris-Craft Industries chairman Herbert J. Siegel and local limo king Bill Fugazy along with Iacocca's 80-year-old mother Antoinette Iacocca and his sister Delma Kelechava (both of whom reported that the book was selling like hotcakes in Allentown, Pa.), and Iacocca's barber, Gio at the Pierre.
Malcolm Forbes offered a warm handshake and called Iacocca "a fighting entrepreneur who speaks his mind," even though Forbes' magazine opposed the Chrysler bailout. "We applaud the result and trust it's not a precedent," Forbes said. "It's not really the function of the Treasury."
Jerzy Kosinski attended "as one author to another, both with foreign roots, with the same publisher -- and besides, I live across the street." He called the book "an adventure story" and vowed to buy a Chrysler convertible if he ever traded in his 14-year-old Buick.
Meanwhile, collaborator William Novak, who turned Iacocca's 50 cassettes into typed paragraphs, meeting "in New York and Detroit or on the Chrysler plane in between or in cars or elevators," was confessing that he still couldn't drive a stick shift.
"Most of the really terrific lines in the book are his," Novak said ruefully.
Iacocca's considerable royalties (500,000 copies are already in print) are going to support research at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Iacocca's wife, Mary, died from diabetes complications last year. "I'd like to help lick it," Iacocca said.
Aside from Iacocca and his family, disclosed Bantam vice president and publicity director Stuart Applebaum, the most important person at the party was Gio, whose full name is Gio Hernandez. Gio is George Steinbrenner's barber, and Frank Gifford's and Vic Damone's and -- illustrating how deals are really struck in New York -- both Iacocca's and Applebaum's.
For years, Gio had regaled Applebaum with Iacocca tales and had also urged Iacocca to write a book. When Bantam began to pursue the Iacocca story in 1981, Applebaum talked to Gio, "who was only too happy to pick up the phone to call Lee's secretary. A few weeks later, we had an appointment with Lee. I think he saw us more out of courtesy to Gio than out of any desire to put his life story on paper."
Gio said he's moved on to a movie deal. "We are looking for a producer. I cut Sidney Lumet's hair. And Ray Stark's."