Arnold wins libel suit vs. biographer

He had to chase her all the way to London, but in the end Arnold Schwarzenegger caught up with his unofficial biographer Wendy Leigh, who revealed the Nazi past of the actor’s father, and forced her to apologize.

The last action millionaire also made himself a few dollars richer in the process, winning “substantial” damages and costs from the British-born, Palm Beach-based writer, in a settlement announced Monday at London’s High Court.

But Leigh and her lawyers were surprisingly jubilant at the outcome, viewing it more as a victory than a defeat. They are forbidden by Schwarzenegger from admitting exactly how much they had to pay out, but seemed to feel they had escaped lightly and with honor intact.

“We all went off to celebrate afterwards with a slap-up hamburger at Planet Hollywood,” said Mark Stephens of London legal firm Stephens Innocent. “And we still had enough money left for a couple of cocktails, which given the prices at that place is pretty good going.” (Schwarzenegger is part owner of the restaurant.)

And as for Schwarzenegger? “I think he’ll be about as satisfied with this result as he will be with the reviews of his new movie,” said Stephens.

The libel suit by Schwarzenegger actually dealt with an article that appeared in the British tabloid newspaper News of the World in 1988, rather than with Leigh’s book, “Arnold: An Unauthorized Biography,” which was published in 1990 and remains unchallenged in court.

The article, printed under Leigh’s co-byline, covered some of the spicier revelations that would form the basis of her then-unwritten book, including the news that Schwarzenegger’s father, a village police chief in Austria, had joined the Nazi Party in 1938.

This fact is not under dispute. But Schwarzenegger objected to the allegation in the article that he admired his father’s politics and shared his anti-Semitism. He sued for libel; the newspaper apologized late in 1989 and agreed to pay damages estimated at T30,000.

Leigh refused to be party to the settlement. She had sold the tip to the newspaper about Schwarzenegger’s father, but says that she was not involved in the actual writing of the piece, and insists that she warned the paper in advance that some of the details she supplied had not been verified.

Undaunted, she went ahead and completed the biography, despite reported attempts by unidentified parties to pressure the American publisher, Contemporary Books, into backing out of the deal. Leigh herself reportedly received anonymous death threats.

At the same time, Arnold continued to pursue her in the courts for the News of the Worldarticle. Monday, five years after the original story was published, it all came to an end with a statement agreed by both sides.

The statement was later described by Leigh’s lawyers as “more an explanation than an apology.” In it, Leigh said she accepted “that Mr. Schwarzenegger has never espoused Nazi or anti-Semitic views, has never been an admirer of Hitler’s evil regime and he did not admire or approve of his father’s alleged conduct.”

She publicly disassociated herself from the News of the World article, suggesting the paper had failed to research properly her original tips, despite her warnings. She expressed her “profound apologies for the distress, embarrassment and injury to reputation” suffered by Schwarzenegger as a result of the “false allegations” in the News of the World.

The “substantial” damages are extremely unlikely to be more than a fraction of the T30,000 paid out by the News of the World itself, which was the primary author of the libel.

Leigh and Schwarzenegger are now finished with each other — or are they? Her next book, due for publication in November by Dutton NAL, is a biography of the cousin of Arnold’s wife, Maria Shriver, entitled “Prince Charming: The JFK Junior Story.”

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