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Even Bitches Have Feelings

Judith Regan interviewing O.J. Simpson.  

The termination of Regan’s employment at HarperCollins may be one of the only times in Regan’s life where she hasn’t had the sandwich and eaten it too. Regan is 53, with twenty years in the book business, twelve of them at HarperCollins. Few publishers can rival the success of the Irish-Italian mother of two from Bay Shore who once worked at the National Enquirer: Although HarperCollins does not provide such figures, some put ReganBooks in years past as accounting for as much as $120 million a year. She has a flamboyant way of characterizing things: In the wake of her firing, she told friends she was escorted out by a sheriff, when in fact the guards waited for her while employees scurried down the back stairs with some of her personal effects. “They sent men with guns to the office!” she told friends. “Well, you know, darling, I would go out in style.”

Regan moved to L.A. in hopes of becoming an even bigger star than she was during her Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh days. She’d published huge-selling books by both Stern and Limbaugh, as well as by Jenna Jameson, New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, dozens of others, button-pushing tell-alls that often found their way onto the best-seller list. All the while becoming locally famous as one of the toughest, most volatile bosses in New York City, which is saying something. But celebrity tomes weren’t going to work for her in the same way that they used to, she’d started to realize. If the O.J. book and TV special had worked out, she might have been heralded as a multiplatform genius; she would’ve been positioned perfectly to become a kind of Martha Stewart, the face of her own publishing empire. With Martha, there was a veneer of the traditional feminine homemaker over the steely ambition, but with Judith, everything was on show, and what a show it was. Regan had been known to scream, “I have the biggest cock in the building” from behind her desk. O.J. was meant to be her coming-out in Los Angeles, her clarion call to the entertainment industry. “Before the book was even announced, back when it was a secret, Judith was telling people it was the book of her career,” says a friend.

The O.J. project also promised to give her something else she wanted: a new relationship with News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch. Regan had a complicated, often paradoxical relationship with her corporate overlords. Murdoch had always respected Regan’s commercial instincts, yet, as ReganBooks made up an infinitesimal portion of News Corp.’s bottom line, she wasn’t exactly in his inner circle. He wasn’t thrilled when her dalliances with former police commissioner Bernie Kerik made the news, and in fact was a little grossed-out before that when Kerik sent on-duty cops to make midnight visits to Fox employees after Regan complained that someone had stolen her cell phone on a Fox TV set. He sometimes left her off the list of conference invitees, like the one for 250 executives in Pebble Beach, California, last year. They used to talk more, once upon a time, but in 1997 Jane Friedman came in as CEO of HarperCollins and Regan was not entirely sure that the two things didn’t have a lot to do with each other. Regan had been hired directly by Murdoch before News Corp. added Friedman as worldwide CEO. For an Ayn Rand–ish superwoman like Regan, it was hard to think of Friedman as more than a bureaucratic figurehead, the person who signed off on her annual budget, an impediment at best. (Regan and Friedman declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Although their egos aren’t so far apart, in other ways, Friedman and Regan are opposites. Friedman is careful to keep her public and private lives separate. She lives in an understated apartment near Sutton Place, has two grown sons from her first marriage, and until recently lived with Jeff Stone, a tattooed, gray-ponytailed brand-identity consultant responsible for the “Chic Simple” series and such titles as Dr. Steven Lamm’s The Hardness Factor. For his part, Stone once told Vanity Fair that men had golden guts and Regan had a “golden vagina.”

Unlike Regan, whose publishing model is based on a strong leader and few minions, Friedman is a believer in the team concept. She rose from a Random House Dictaphone typist in 1968 to become a publicist. Friedman has long been in the habit of making bold claims about having reinvented the publishing business. She likes to say that she conceived the “author tour and audio books,” which may be overstepping (Mark Twain, after all, traveled across America), but her success with modern tours, beginning with Julia Child’s cooking extravaganzas, and her achievements as the founder of Random House Audio Publishing, are notable. At Random House, she served as an indispensable No. 2 to both Sonny Mehta and Bob Gottlieb and executed successful campaigns for Michael Crichton, a close friend, and fluke best sellers like In the Kitchen With Rosie and I Was Amelia Earhart.