NEW YORK, SEPT. 12 -- We can probably say, without fear of contradiction, that this was the most elegant publishing party ever thrown to launch a book written by a dog.
Tonight's reception for "Millie's Book," the relentlessly heartwarming memoirs of the First Spaniel "as dictated to Barbara Bush," took place in the stately Pierpont Morgan Library, where the fabled financier stashed his collection of antique volumes in inlaid wooden cases. Beneath the gilded ceiling murals, waiters passed salmon mousse canapes and grapes rolled in foie gras.
The author -- curiously, for a book party -- was not in attendance. Ghostwriter Barbara Bush, who was, conveyed the appropriate regrets. Millie, she explained, "has to greet the Prez when he comes home from the office. These are tough times, and some member of the family has to be there."
In fact, as a result of sitting in on morning briefings, Millie probably knows more about the Persian Gulf crisis than anyone except the president, his chief of staff and the National Security Council, Mrs. Bush said. She described Millie's mood through these anxious weeks as "like the president's -- cool and calm, knowing they're doing the right thing."
It was that sort of anthropomorphic evening. Lisa Drew, Millie's editor at William Morrow, was exulting that the book had gotten a rave review from Garfield, the normally irascible cartoon cat, in this Sunday's New York Times Book Review. Howard Kaminsky, chairman of the Hearst trade book division (Morrow's corporate parent), said that "Millie's Book" was just arriving in bookstores and "seems to be starting to sell right out of the gate, if that's an appropriate image for a book by a dog." He also quipped -- and didn't even apologize -- that "we're expecting it to sell through the dog days of next year."
The thing is, it might. Hours before the reception, Morrow ordered a third printing of 25,000, bringing the press run to date to a serious 170,000 copies. The previous publishing effort by a Bush spaniel -- "C. Fred's Story," published by Doubleday in 1984 when George was still the Vice Prez -- sold a mere 20,000 copies or so. That's probably a canine record of some sort, unless Rin Tin Tin or Lassie once waxed autobiographical (we're checking on this), but mere kibble compared with the prospects for "Millie's Book."
The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy stands to gain from the accompanying hoopla, though it is a bit misleading to say (as the book does) that "all book proceeds will be donated" to the foundation.
The author and her ghostwriter will indeed donate all their royalties, which have already amounted to at least $75,000 from subsidiary sales before a single copy of the book is sold. William Morrow is contributing the first $75,000 of its profits, but plans to hold on to some of the hoped-for proceeds beyond that. It intends, in short, to turn a profit. "We'd only be serving tonic water here tonight if we didn't expect a profit," Kaminsky said. Morrow may make further contributions as the sales figures mount.
Like any author, Millie has been doing the promotional hustle. "Millie had the distinction of (a) being on all three morning talk shows and (b) going to sleep on all three morning talk shows," reported Mrs. Bush's press secretary, Anna Perez. Millie's also scheduled to appear on CNN and Fox and, absent international disaster or the death of some movie star, on the cover of People. She will even -- Barbara Bush promised, holding up a copy of the book with a paw print inside the cover -- be doing book signings.
Naturally, many of her fans and the First Lady's turned out to celebrate tonight. Bill Blass was a drop-by; interior designer Mark Hampton offered his congratulations; Arnold Scaasi got a hug and proclaimed that Millie never interferes with fashion fittings. "She sits very quietly and watches us adoringly," he said. About 150 other guests, with less recognizable names but crucial affiliations like Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble and K mart, passed through the receiving line.
Will there be future books? Mrs. Bush was asked. She noted that Millie's son Ranger had recently returned to the White House and after slight tension ("at first Millie thought there wasn't room for two dogs in a 93-room house") had settled nicely into the routine.
"Who knows, maybe it will be Ranger's turn," she mused. "Maybe the president will take the dictation next time."