Random House Publishing Co. agreed late yesterday to pay slightly more than $1 million for the autobiography of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), sources close to O'Neill said yesterday.
The $1 million-plus price tag puts O'Neill at the top of a number of public servants who have fetched high prices for books about their careers in Washington.
Former vice presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro signed a $1 million contract with Bantam Books late last year, and former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick signed a $900,000 contract with Simon and Schuster this spring.
Random House had bid unsuccessfully for both the Ferraro and Kirkpatrick books.
Random House, Simon and Schuster, and Houghton and Mifflin were the final bidders in an intense, two-day telephone auction involving as many as 10 publishers at its outset. Some publishing sources described the O'Neill book as the latest manifestation of the publishing world's "feeding frenzy" for books about Washington public servants.
Some publishers had expressed reservations about the O'Neill book because its author had not personally met with the publishers and had not been asked, in the words of one publishing source, "the hard question" -- whether he would talk candidly about his life. "Is he going to be frank? Is he going to talk about the Kennedys? Is he going to say anything that isn't positive?" said one source.
O'Neill, 72, who will retire at the end of next year after 34 years in Congress, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
O'Neill's agent, Jay Acton, said he himself was not surprised that the O'Neill book had outdrawn Ferraro and Kirkpatrick.
"He's got more money than both of them, but look at the time they've been in public life," Acton said. "His time is longer, and the texture is certainly much richer than those books."
The O'Neill book was sold on the basis of an eight-page outline written by William Novak, the writer who helped Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee A. Iacocca with his best-selling autobiography. It will be edited by Random House editor Peter Osnos. Osnos could not be reached for comment.