O.J. Simpson’s would-be publisher, Judith Regan, was fired Friday, her sensational, scandalous tenure at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. ending with the tersest of announcements.
“Judith Regan’s employment with HarperCollins has been terminated effective immediately,” HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman said in a statement. “The REGAN publishing program and staff will continue as part of the HarperCollins General Books Group.”
Friedman offered no reason for the announcement, but it comes less than a month after Murdoch’s cancellation of Simpson’s hypothetical murder confession, “If I Did It,” a planned book and Fox television interview that was greeted with instant and near-universal disgust when announced.
HarperCollins did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking additional comment. Messages left with Regan’s publicist, Suzanne Wickham, and her lawyer, Bert Fields, were not immediately returned.
‘Pushed the envelope too far’
“She’s a tremendously inventive publisher, but I guess she just pushed the envelope too far,” said Jonathan Karp, publisher of the Warner Twelve imprint at the Hachette Book Group.
An industry force since the 1980s, when she produced best-sellers by Drew Barrymore and Kathie Lee Gifford for Simon & Schuster, Regan has been labeled a “foul-mouthed tyrant” and the “enfant terrible of American publishing.” She is also widely envied — if not admired — for her gift of attracting attention to her books and to herself.
Since 1994, she has headed the ReganBooks imprint at News Corp.’s HarperCollins, an ideal fit for Murdoch’s tabloid tastes. Regan has published a long list of racy best-sellers, including Jose Canseco’s “Juiced” and Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star,” and is the rare publisher of interest to gossip columnists, notably for a rumored affair with former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.
She often clashed with her more temperate peers and is widely believed to have had tense relations with Friedman. Last year, Regan moved her offices to Los Angeles, further distancing herself from corporate officials in New York.
She has long been equally interested in other media, working on numerous television projects and currently hosting a talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Longtime ReganBooks author Jess Walter said he was “flabbergasted” by her firing.
“I think Judith was misunderstood by people,” said Walter, a National Book Award finalist last month for his novel, “The Zero.”
More than a publisher of pulp?
“The Judith I knew was nothing like the tabloid headlines,” he said. “Judith has always been a good friend and one of the few people who never lied to me. Having dealt with publishing and Hollywood, I can’t say that about everyone.”
Regan has often complained that her more literary side has been overlooked, pointing out that she has published books by Wally Lamb, Douglas Coupland and Jess Walter. The Simpson project, announced the day before the National Book Award ceremony, quickly overshadowed Walter’s nomination.
Simpson’s book, said to have described how he theoretically would have committed the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, had been scheduled for release Nov. 30 following the airing of a two-part Simpson interview.
Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995 but later found liable for the killings in a wrongful-death suit filed by the Goldman family.
Upcoming titles from ReganBooks include a memoir from former Pentagon aide Douglas Feith, an architect of the U.S. war in Iraq; and sports writer Peter Golenbock’s “7: The Mickey Mantle Novel,” a raunchy, fictionalized account of the baseball great that has angered some of Mantle’s admirers.