She was a master seductress of her authors, as well. “There are a lot of urban legends surrounding Judith, mostly unflattering, but that’s not the Judith I know,” says best-selling ReganBooks author Wally Lamb. “I feel sad more than anything else because people have such a one-dimensional picture of her.”
The HarperCollins narrative of Regan’s fall begins in earnest at least four years ago. Regan’s staff had more than doubled, and she was going through assistants and editors like wildfire. “In the beginning, we were not really aware of the impact of her management style,” says a HarperCollins HR executive. “Then there was a progressive change—almost an intervention—on the company’s part.” Several executives were assigned to work as coaches and advisers with Regan, hoping she could focus on the creative side of things and leave the day-to-day management to other people. “A lot of executive time was spent working very closely with her on things that executives at that level wouldn’t ordinarily do with other people,” says the executive. (Regan’s lawyers deny this arrangement existed.) But things got much worse when, in April 2003, an employee complained about a story Regan told in the office about an incident where mezuzahs in her apartment building were pulled down and replaced with dollar bills. (According to Regan’s lawyers, as well as accounts in Regan’s acrimonious divorce proceedings, it was her husband who’d boasted of pulling down the scrolls.) Human Resources began an investigation and found multiple employees who had taken offense on account of their race, religion, and sexual orientation. A meeting was called. “Her response was to say, ‘I’m outrageous, I’m provocative, people are babies,’ the same responses she always makes,” says an executive.
Regan believed that the quality of some employees who were sent to her by HarperCollins was so low that it almost constituted sabotage. One executive says that they told prospective employees to research her background before committing to working with her. Conditions in her office were not great. “She had water puddles in the office, mold, no A/C for a month in the summer, and in the winter it was so boiling hot you couldn’t think,” says a ReganBooks author. “I was shocked, honestly. It was almost like they were mind-fucking her.”
In the summer of 2003, HarperCollins and Regan agreed to create an associate-publisher position who would oversee the staff, enabling Regan to concentrate on acquiring and creative oversight. But she couldn’t—or wouldn’t—let go. Then, HarperCollins created an HR director, usually responsible for staffs of business units with about 400 employees, expressly for the twenty-odd ReganBooks employees.
Regan had long been after her superiors for permission to move to Los Angeles, where she was convinced she could find all sorts of creative talent she couldn’t find in New York. It also meant she would be out from under Friedman’s thumb, and with a chance to be even more of a celebrity in her own right. The company looked at it this way: She would invite certain staff to move out to L.A. with her, and those who agreed were doing so voluntarily and freely, so they probably weren’t having issues with her, and the staff who remained in New York would no longer be managed by Regan day-to-day. It was win-win.
Judith Regan may be a loose cannon, but this was far from the case with the O.J. book. Rupert Murdoch himself signed off on it. Regan received a call from Simpson’s manager in February 2006, asking if she would be interested in O.J.’s story. Coincidentally, she was going to see Murdoch at a book party that evening. They had a cursory conversation, and she explained that Simpson’s share of the proceeds would be going not to O.J. but to his kids. Murdoch thought it sounded like a viable project and congratulated her on it.
Friedman saw the project as a gigantic mound of cash piled on her bottom line. “There were two secret books at HarperCollins in 2006, and we asked, ‘Are they worth it?’” says a HarperCollins editor. “Jane said that one of them was not that big a deal, but the book with Judith was going to be huge.” Mark Jackson, Murdoch’s in-house counsel, made the deal for about $880,000, put into a third-party trust for Simpson’s children.
Judging by the book, which recently has begun to leak out, the only one who at first wasn’t in harmony with the O.J. project was O.J. himself. Like many a criminal before him, he had an urge to confess that he then became deeply conflicted about.
In the book, what Simpson wanted to talk about, for the most part, was his relationship with Nicole Brown, starting all the way back when he met her in 1977, the night after he separated from his first wife, at the Daisy on Rodeo Drive. Simpson’s self-pity would be comical if we didn’t know the gruesome ending. Nicole was always a problem, Simpson said, from the day they moved in together—he writes, “The fact is we still weren’t married, and I couldn’t go a week without hearing about it: Didn’t I love her? Didn’t we have a future? Couldn’t we have children now, while she was still young enough to enjoy them? These little discussions often ended in arguments, and I absolutely dreaded them. Nicole had a real temper on her, and I’d seen her get physical when she was angry, so sometimes I just left the house and waited for the storm to blow over.”