Tangled tale

In what is developing into the publishing version of “Rashomon,” reps for the author of “The Tragic Kingdom: Inside Michael Eisner’s Disney” dispute reported claims that Kathleen Harkey-Smith’s tell-all about the Disney corporate empire was dropped because of editorial weaknesses (Variety, June 30-July 13).

Harkey-Smith’s manager, Glenn Sobel, contends the book was dropped by Carol Publishing and earlier by Dove Books for other reasons, including pressure from Disney — a charge both publishers deny.

Sobel offers no concrete evidence of Disney’s tampering with the book. He says Harkey-Smith had a contract with Dove and the company had paid her a percentage of the five-figure advance. But soon after Buena Vista TV signed a deal with Dove’s TV wing, the book was put on hold.

“It was never communicated to us at all that they’d dropped the book,” he says. “When you send several letters telling them they’re in breach of contract and they never respond, then eventually you have to find another publisher.”

Harkey-Smith says the book stemmed from observations she made and incidents she recorded during her five years working in the Disney exec ranks as a supervisor of special events.

She contends that as part of the agreement, Dove told her they would use their inhouse ghostwriter to pen the narrative from her notes. She says what she submitted to Dove six weeks later was “not a manuscript but 300 pages of raw data.”

“I am also a certified hypnotherapist,” she says, “and worked with hundreds of people who worked there, doing analysis of dreams, and I’d get them into hypnotic states to manage their stress — there is nothing I didn’t hear about the way they were treated.”

After the Dove deal fell apart, Sobel says they sent the 300 pages to Carol Publishing publisher Steven Schragis, who agreed to publish the book under the Birch Lane imprint.

Schragis says the material Harkey-Smith submitted “was fascinating and we wanted to do the book, but when we were almost at the point of a contract, she never provided the written material we asked for to determine if she could write the book or if we needed to hire a co-writer.”

However, Lisa Kaufman — the Carol Publishing editor who worked with Harkey-Smith and has subsequently left the company — says, “We entered into contract talks with Ms. Harkey-Smith knowing that the manuscript needed structural work, but that there was enough evidence of lively, articulate writing and strong personality in it to merit the effort. …

“I find it difficult to believe that Carol — publishers of books like “Good Girl, Bad Girl” and “Ninja Mind Control” — should develop nearly overnight a concern for quality that was never one of the chief criteria for publishing any book during my 10 months there.”

Instead, Kaufman believes that Carol’s decision to drop the book was related to the bottom line, not Disney.

Even though the book is listed in Carol’s fall ’97 catalog, which Schragis admits is embarrassing, he insists, “We had no contract.”

Sobel adds that the damage caused by the two publishers’ denials has harmed her chances of getting a publishing deal elsewhere.

However, Harkey-Smith now is at work rewriting and polishing the manuscript, based on the editorial notes Kaufman had given her. Her reps refused to let Variety see a copy of the book, but hope to resubmit it to publishers soon.

Pages in preview

“Two-Gun Cohen”

Daniel S. Levy (St. Martin’s/Dunne) Pub date: September

Levy, a reporter for Time magazine, has written an evocative biography of an unusual character, one Morris Cohen, a Polish Jew who grew up impoverished in London and became the bodyguard and confidant of the Chinese Nationalist leader Sun Yat-Sen, who died in 1925. “Morris Cohen’s shindigs were legendary,” according to Levy, as was the life of this chunky battler who fought the military and diplomatic forces of Russia, Japan, Chinese warlords, communists and mercenaries.

Rights: available

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