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Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

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A year after their split, at a party honoring Ertegun, King tried to break the impasse at the cocktail hour, asking Geffen if they could start speaking again. Geffen reamed him out. "You will get nothing from me!" Geffen shouted at him. "I've seen the letters you've written to people. You're looking for every feud I've ever had!" King tried a few more times. When he came up with the title, he faxed him with the news. When Random House began distributing fifteen of the early manuscript pages last May, King thought it wise to send Geffen a copy. "I figured someone who got it would fax it to him, anyway."

By then, Geffen had moved into the fabled Jack Warner house, to which King had never been invited. King got Geffen on the phone. "I said, 'Where should I send it?' And he shouted out to his secretary, 'What's the address here?' I was, like, okay, you paid $47.5 million and you don't know the address?" In any event, Geffen seemed "delighted" that he would finally see some of the book.

After reading the fifteen pages, Geffen called King and told him there were two things he wanted to correct (both dealing with the specifics of Cher's cars). King took this as a positive sign. "Oh, by the way," Geffen added, "Your book's not very good." "Well, the president of Random House disagrees," King replied.

In early October, King had the long-awaited manuscript delivered in a box to Geffen's home. He heard nothing for three weeks, so he faxed him a note, telling him he had about another week or so to bring any factual errors to King's attention. On the day of Geffen's deadline, October 29, 1999, the fax at King's house churned out a one-paragraph letter.

Dear Tom,

Your long and tedious book is absolutely riddled with factual misstatements and unwarranted editorial comments. Listing them all would take far more time than I am prepared to devote to the matter. Let's just leave it that much of the book is fiction.

Very truly yours,

David Geffen

"When I first heard he was unhappy with the book, I wasn't sure I should believe it," King says. "He's such a Machiavellian character, I wasn't entirely certain he wasn't putting on an act."

Geffen's friends insist it is no act and claim he has gotten increasingly depressed as the buzz around the book intensifies. On good days, he refers to King as Kitty Kelley. On bad days, he's taken to quoting Rudyard Kipling's "If," the poem his mother, Batya, framed and hung over his bed in Brooklyn: "If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken, twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools . . . you'll be a man, my son."

It is one irony of the battle that King's homosexuality, which was originally a selling point to Geffen, is now being used as a weapon against him. One of his close friends reports that "people like Calvin Klein called up David and said that was his big mistake -- letting a queen write the book." Geffen himself complained to friends that he ended up with Woogie as his biographer, referring to the Chris Elliott character in There's Something About Mary, who pretends to be Ben Stiller's friend but ends up trying to steal his woman. "This is a guy who tried to meet every guy that I've ever fucked!" Geffen told one pal.

But Geffen's friends say that in the end, he is less outraged by revelations of his conquests than he is about his depiction as an unscrupulous businessperson. He has told friends that when he read the manuscript he became physically ill, and the book became an issue during his frequent visits to his shrink. He also began apologizing to all the people he was quoted saying terrible things about. He called David Crosby to apologize for calling him a drug-addled loser. He wanted Steve Ross's widow, Courtney, to know it wasn't true that he said bad things about Steve while he was dying. But his first call was to Ahmet Ertegun, who complained to King that Geffen had spread rumors that he was an anti-Semite. Sources say Ertegun denied making the statements until Geffen pointed out that King probably taped the interview. "I never thought he was an anti-Semite!" Geffen later fumed. "I think he's a prick. It's a very different thing."

Even as he privately rants over King's "betrayal," Geffen has steadfastly declined to comment publicly on the book, telling friends he refuses to give it any more attention. Behind the scenes, however, he and his team have mounted an impressive effort to discredit it. A few weeks ago he called Time Inc. editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine, who had hired Tom King at the Journal, and lobbied him to kill the People excerpt. Geffen also had a phone conversation with Journal entertainment reporter Laura Landro. "What I told her," Geffen has bragged, "is what a dishonest scumbag I think Tom King is."

King isn't buying all the drama. "I wouldn't be surprised if David secretly wants the book out there," he says. "I really think that as angry as he reportedly is, his face is gonna be on a billboard on Sunset, and everybody, hopefully, is gonna be talking about it." ("David doesn't need a billboard on Sunset," counters his spokesperson, Press. "He was in an American Express ad, you know what I'm saying?")

Still, sources claim that representatives of DreamWorks have called various networks, trying to persuade them not to give airtime to the biographer. Typically, Geffen has vowed that King will come to regret his betrayal. At the very least, he has told friends, King will never write another book in this town again.

That might be wishful thinking. Last week, before a single book appeared in stores, The Operator had already climbed to No. 20 on the Amazon list.

King, who sets out on his book tour this week, is back to work at the Journal, writing a weekly column about Hollywood. So far, being Geffen's No. 1 enemy hasn't hindered his job. "If anything, I get my calls returned faster," he says. "At the end of the day," says one of King's colleagues, "Who cares what David Geffen thinks of him? He's a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. What's the worst thing that could happen to Tom? He won't get a contract at DreamWorks?"


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