The Write Stuff

Will Vivendi buy books?

PUBLISHING EXECUTIVES WHO’VE thus far paid scant attention to Vivendi’s negotiations with Seagram may find themselves reaching for their pocket Larousse.

Larousse, after all, is owned by Vivendi. It’s one of several imprints in the French utilities and telecom giant’s immensely profitable publishing division, Groupe Havas, which recorded sales of 41.6 billion euros ($39.7 billion) in 1999, up 31% from the year before.

Should Vivendi acquire Seagram in an effort to become one of the world’s premier telecommunications congloms, could a play for a major American publishing house be far behind?

Conventional wisdom suggests that’s not likely. After all, Vivendi is unlikely to seek out a half-billion-dollar media acquisition, particularly in the relatively unprofitable sector of trade publishing, in the wake of its hefty buy-out of Seagram. Moreover, Seagram itself divested its trade publishing division, Putnam, a few years back — a sign that the synergy of motion picture and publishing divisions remain a chimerical idea.

But Laffont and Plon, two of Havas’ trade publishing units, hold French rights to such authors as John Grisham, Stephen King, V.S. Naipaul and Nelson DeMille. And Bertelsmann, whose CEO Thomas Middelhoff sits on the board of Vivendi, already holds a 50/50 book club partnership with Vivendi. So given the unrestrained cupidity of media conglomerates these days, it’s not entirely implausible.

HARD ON THE HEELS of its buzzed-about dissection of the New York Times Sunday Magazine’s Hollywood journalist Lynn Hirschberg, Brill’s Content has set its sights on another of the Gray Lady’s brash writers: media reporter Alex Kuczynski. Gay Jervey, who penned the June 1999 Maureen Dowd profile cover story under the coverline “Op-Ed Vixen,” is understood to be preparing a 4,000-word profile of Kuczynski to appear in the magazine’s September issue. Brill’s Content, which prides itself on the integrity and fairness of its reporting, will no doubt come under scrutiny for profiling a reporter who hasn’t pulled punches in her coverage of the magazine. What’s certain, however, is that this latest investigation of a high-profile journalist will be widely discussed in media circles — a mark, perhaps, of new editor-in-chief David Kuhn’s strategy to make a magazine about the media as sexy as that genre allows. Kuhn declined to comment.

THE COVER STORY of this month’s Esquire is sending twitters through an industry girding itself for the release of next month’s Wolfgang Petersen high-seas disaster pic, “The Perfect Storm.” Sean Flynn’s account of a warehouse fire in Worcester, Mass., that claimed the lives of six firemen, titled “The Perfect Fire,” was swiftly taken off the market this week for a sizable six figures by Warner Books, and the project is now heating up on the West Coast.

Agent David Black, who’s handling theatrical rights with Paradigm’s Lucy Stille, hadn’t even made a formal submission before Warner editor Rick Horgan made the preemptive offer. Horgan, who hails from the Worcester area, expects the book to be released in summer 2001. Warner holds world rights except for the U.K.

IT’S COMMON PRACTICE for a producer to option a manuscript not as the sole source material for a film but to pump new life into a script that’s already under development. Such was the case with “The Rasputin Files,” a biography by Edvard Radzinsky, out from Doubleday, just optioned by Alain Goldman’s Legende Enterprises.

The film, scripted by Roselyne Bosch, has been in development for years. But Goldman clearly hopes to put more meat on the bones of Rasputin, the Russian monk assassinated in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. Radzinsky had access to newly released KGB files, which cast new light on the monk’s mysterious life and death. These revelations are likely to lend a new direction to the script and dimensions to its eponymous character.

Radzinsky, who also penned the bestseller “The Last Tsar,” is a frequently staged Russian playwright. He will receive a consultancy credit and fee.

The project gained heightened visibility recently when it was reported that Dutch director Paul Verhoeven was attached to direct, but his talks with Goldman remain unresolved.

Goldman’s credits as a producer include “Vatel” and “Casino.”

Radzinsky was repped by the William Morris Agency’s Bill Contardi on behalf of Gotham lit agent Lynn C. Franklin.

CHRIS/ROSE PRODS. and Columbia TriStar have optioned “The Fifth Season,” a novel by Robert Downs about an English professor confronting the mortality of his elderly parents in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The book may be adapted either for a feature film or for cable. Col TriStar TV exec Helen Verno oversaw the deal with Chris/Rose partners Bob Christiansen and Rick Rosenberg, whose production credits include “Down in the Delta,” which was directed by Maya Angelou and distributed by Miramax. Downs was repped by AMG’s Judi Farkas.

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