It was a disgusting circus, and Regan had been at the center of it: That was enough to convince a lot of people in the company that she was far too destructive to remain in her position. “We didn’t say, ‘Let’s wait for the next shoe to drop and can her,’ but whatever remaining goodwill she had up to O.J. was lost,” says a source close to the situation. Back in L.A., Regan was remarkably subdued, padding around the office for a couple of weeks, barefoot in her jeans and Armani blazer, drumming up business.
She didn’t count on another firestorm. But three weeks later, on December 13, another Regan book, Peter Golenbock’s 7: The Mickey Mantle Novel, an “inventive memoir” about Mantle’s life, came under attack. (Understandably. Consider: “Mickey enters her, going in nice and easy. He waits for the yelling and the screaming, waits for her to tell him how good it was, waits for an ooh or an aah, any reaction at all, but no … While he works away at it, Marilyn just lies there staring at him with cold, accusing eyes.”)
News Corp. executives began to realize they needed a villain, a scapegoat, distancing the company from the O.J. project, making it one woman’s mad dream, and allowing them to reap some of the benefits.
The media smelled blood, and the supposed sullying of Mantle’s name hit the cover of the Daily News. Friedman hit the roof. Here was Regan pulling a bait-and-switch with another one of her titles. By this point, Friedman was sick of playing nice. Regan, too, was incensed, believing colleagues were leaking negative stories about the book.
Feeling the pressure, Regan blamed the book’s editor; she hadn’t yet read it herself. News Corp. executives were appalled, as was Murdoch. “Mickey Mantle felt like another major blunder,” says one executive. “It just reinforced the sense that she’s an irresponsible editor.”
Next came the infamous call from Jackson. Earlier that week he had told her that the book was going to be “reedited.” It was up to Regan to comply, or they were killing the book. Period.
Jackson is a mensch of a guy, by all accounts—a crafty, smart lawyer who was beloved in Regan’s office, with a grudging respect for Regan herself. The way the conversation was originally reported, she’d told Jackson, “Of all people, the Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies and telling the big lie”—everyone was against her, specifically a Jewish cabal composed of Jackson, Friedman, editor David Hirshey, and ICM agent Esther Newberg. (“I don’t believe that the four of us have ever been in a room together at the same time, not even at Michael’s,” says Hirshey.) Lawyer Bert Fields defended Regan by explaining, “She never said ‘Jewish cabal,’ but rather that there was a cabal of people attacking her in the media,” and furthermore that she was trying to explain that “Jews particularly should understand, because of the Holocaust, what it’s like to be a victim of the ‘big lie.’”
Jackson reported the conversation to Friedman, who instantly went into action. HarperCollins lawyers decided that there was sufficient basis to dismiss her without paying the last three years of her contract. Friedman had a short conversation with Murdoch. The press release went out at seven. It was all done so quickly there was no time to catch one’s breath. Then everyone left for the News Corp. holiday party.
At the Sixth Avenue Hilton, 8,000 News Corp. employees gathered in three floors of ballrooms, each ballroom decorated to represent a continent. Australia had a lifeguard, England had shepherd’s pie, and Asia had a lot of video games, karaoke, and dim sum. (There was no Africa.) Everybody was getting BlackBerry messages about Judith Regan—the drunker employees were telling their best Regan stories, and the drunker managers were saying that it was they who were responsible for canning her, didn’t you know. Friedman told editors that she had fired Regan—when she said it, people began to clap.
Murdoch sat in the VIP section in the balcony above “Europe.” As it turns out, he didn’t know that Friedman was telling people Regan was fired—because he wasn’t even aware that she had been fired. He certainly hadn’t expected Friedman to fire her that night, before the holiday party. Although a News Corp. spokesperson denies it, some in the company are certain that Friedman misinterpreted their conversation—Murdoch had given his okay to fire her at some undetermined point in the future. But once it had been done, there was no turning back.
Stripped of her empire, Regan is now traveling between Los Angeles and New York, thinking about moving forward. She absolutely wants to go traveling, maybe to Thailand with her old friend and ReganBooks author Maura Moynihan, with whom she had dinner a few nights after the firing at L’Orange Bleue, a French Moroccan belly-dancing joint on Crosby Street. They shared a bottle of Pinot Noir. Regan had heard that people were applauding her downfall at the Christmas party, and she laughed at the idea of it. “Judith never played for low stakes,” says Moynihan. More recently, she’s been saying that she’s starting a multimedia company with TV deals in Shanghai and Bali. She also told Moynihan she was never going to publish another book again.