Near the end of In the Flesh , Gavin Geoffrey Dillard’s explicit, highly sexed account of his journey from male prostitute to spiritual, H.I.V.-positive poet, he writes about receiving a phone call from a man identified simply as Sam. Earlier in the book, Mr. Dillard devotes a chapter to his alleged several-month affair with the pseudonymously named Sam, who is described as “Mr. Mogul,” “a very rich and very famous person from ‘the industry'” and also an excellent kisser.
“So, I hear you’ve written a book about me,” Sam tells Mr. Dillard.
“No, Sam, why would I do that? I’ve written a book about me,” Mr. Dillard replies. “You are merely a character in my life-one of hundreds-and I don’t believe I’m unflattering.”
“All the same,” Sam says, “you don’t have the right to tell my story.'”
Sam’s concerns about the book aren’t limited to himself. “And what about Bear?” he asks. “Don’t you think you could hurt his career?” In In the Flesh , Bear (a pseudonym), “the head of a major studio” and “the industry genius,” also merits his own chapter.
Mr. Dillard’s reply to Sam: “Somehow I find the concept of my jeopardizing the careers of either of you guys just plain ludicrous.”
Sam was dead serious, however, as Mr. Dillard eventually learned. As he writes in the same chapter, In the Flesh , originally scheduled to be published by E.P. Dutton & Company in 1993, was “crunched by Hollywood lawyers, compliments of the Bear, Sam, and Dolly.”
Dutton really did drop Mr. Dillard’s book in 1993, and the press coverage that ensued offers a key to Mr. Dillard’s thinly disguised characters. In the summer of 1993, attorneys Bert Fields, representing David Geffen and Barry Diller, and Gerald Edelstein, representing Dolly Parton, sent threatening letters to Mr. Dillard and Dutton warning that portions of In the Flesh were defamatory and therefore actionable. The attorneys’ letters had the desired effect.
Thunder’s Mouth Press reportedly considered taking on the book but then passed, and Mr. Dillard-who requested that he be interviewed via e-mail-wrote to The Transom that St. Martin’s Press, Harper San Francisco and Crown Publishing Group showed interest.
“The latter publishers were all bunglers, or just plain too nellie to go on with the project,” Mr. Dillard continued in his e-mail. “It had seemed as though the book would not get printed. I was also getting tired of people calling me from New York saying there was a hit out on me.”
Almost five years later, a likely publisher has rescued Mr. Dillard’s book at an unlikely time. Barricade Books will publish In the Flesh this month, making it the latest in a long line of books-such as The Anarchist Cookbook and Barbara Hutton’s biography, Poor Little Rich Girl -that other houses considered too hot to handle, but that Lyle Stuart, Barricade’s owner and president, did not.
It is the timing of the publication of In the Flesh that has some publishing insiders watching Barricade with a mixture of awe and disbelief. In August, the house was order to pay more than $3 million to casino owner Steve Wynn, who’d launched a libel suit against Barricade in a Nevada state court. At issue was catalogue copy describing Running Scared: The Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn , by John L. Smith. Barricade published the unauthorized biography in November 1995; the libelous copy stated that the book “details why a confidential Scotland Yard report calls Wynn a front man for the Genovese crime family.”
Because Mr. Stuart, who is the owner of Barricade, did not carry libel insurance, he was unable to post a bond that would have kept Mr. Wynn from moving to collect his award while Mr. Stuart pursued an appeal. (Mr. Wynn has also sued Messrs. Stuart and Smith in Kentucky, this time over the contents of the book.)
So in October, Mr. Wynn’s attorneys got a restraining order that barred Barricade from distributing any of its titles.
In response, both Mr. Stuart and Barricade filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October; this has enabled them to resume business as usual. And the upcoming publication of Mr. Dillard’s book is a sign that Barricade has not been cowed by Mr. Wynn. “You operate as you always did,” said the 75-year-old Mr. Stuart, whose more than 40 years in publishing included working as the business manager for E.C. Comics and converting its Mad comic book into Mad Magazine . Mr. Stuart said he was warned that “there would be a lot of pressure” if Barricade published Mr. Dillard’s book. “We don’t owe anybody anything,” he told The Transom. “The pressure [on this book] was not because it was a dishonest book, but because they didn’t want this. Barry Diller didn’t want this.” Messrs. Geffen and Diller did not return phone calls; Mr. Fields had no comment.
While Mr. Fields fired shots across Dutton’s bow, Mr. Stuart said that “so far, it’s been very quiet” for Barricade. That may have something to do with the decision to change Mr. Geffen’s and Mr. Diller’s names. Diane Von Furstenberg has disappeared altogether. From manuscript to an early galley, Marlo Thomas becomes Sandra Williams-“somewhere between Sherry Lewis and Elizabeth Montgomery.” Dolly Parton remains Dolly Parton, however, as does Barbra Streisand. Mr. Dillard’s sexual descriptions are a little too ribald to print in this column. But he says that “although Dolly’s desire for the Bear became all too obvious, there was never a trace of resentment or discourtesy allowed toward me.” Ms. Streisand, with whom he learned to ski, fares less well; she looks like “any frumpy middle-aged housewife.”
“For a moment,” said Mr. Stuart, “I thought of changing [the names] back.” He then added that he finds the pseudonymous approach “a little classier. We’re not trying to hurt them. We’re trying to show a life style.”
Some who have read the galleys of In the Flesh point out that Mr. Dillard’s celebrity affairs actually constitute only a handful of chapters and that while the book has no shortage of Honcho -esque moments, it is actually better written than the typical tell-all, in the style of Julia Phillips’ You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again .
The book begins with Mr. Dillard’s father tearfully dropping him off, amid a February downpour, at an on-ramp to Interstate 40 in North Carolina, as the young Dillard begins his hitchhike west to California. By the time he left home, Mr. Dillard had already published two collections of poetry. (His total now stands at seven collections and one anthology-which is called Between the Cracks . He was for a time known as the Naked Poet: He gave readings in the nude.) He starred in a gay porn film called Track Meet that, as they say in Hollywood, had legs. Prostitution followed. Mr. Dillard, who is 43, said he has been H.I.V.-positive for about 15 years.
In the Flesh , he wrote, “is a sort of travelogue of West Hollywood through the 70’s and 80’s, a spiritual coming-of-age tale. Let’s say The Teachings of Don Juan cum Kerouac’s On the Road meets Out on a Limb With Shirl “-as in MacLaine. “It is being billed as a kiss-and-tell, but I have skipped most of the kisses and gone straight for the gonads of life and society.… The book reads as a modern myth, as any good autobiography should.”
He now lives on the coast of northern California, and said that one reason he wrote the book was that “I needed some means of processing the wild and wicked life from which I had extracted myself. Writing as therapy.”
He added that his first attempt was to “create a pillow book-fictionalize the names,” but he found that “impossible.” At the time, Mr. Dillard was still at Dutton and, he explained, his editor there agreed that real names should be used. “I put my integrity on the line and considered it a given of fame that the public image is just that, a public image. When you create an icon, that icon belongs to the world,” Mr. Dillard wrote to The Transom. “Dolly [Parton] is a prime example of that.”
In terms of the explicitness of his book, Mr. Dillard wrote, “As far as what is private versus what is not, that’s touchy. My editors were very cautious, on ethical grounds, to have me remove anything that they thought might be considered mean-spirited. I agreed. But how do you describe a relationship without a taste of the intimate,” Mr. Dillard wondered. “How do you write without a taste of the forbidden?”
Publishing a taste of the forbidden while in Chapter 11 bankruptcy seems particularly fearless. Then again, those advising the publisher contend that Mr. Stuart and Barricade’s bankruptcies will be short-lived once Barricade’s appeal is heard by the Nevada State Supreme Court. Barricade’s corporate counsel, Dominic Gentile, will be handling that appeal, probably in March.
To that end, attorney Laura Handman, a partner with Lankenau, Kovner, Kurtz & Outten in Washington, D.C., is readying an amicus curiae brief on behalf of numerous amici in support of Barricade that will be filed with the appeal and will at minimum bear the names of Time Inc., The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal , the Nevada Press Association, the Bloomberg Organization, the Carol Publishing Group and PEN.
“I think it’s fair to say that Lyle Stuart has never shied away from controversy, but the price that is being paid here for that courage is basically closure. And that’s a price that the First Amendment doesn’t countenance,” said Ms. Handman.
The judge presiding over Barricade’s Nevada trial reportedly ruled that because the Scotland Yard report was confidential, the catalogue statement did not fall under the protection of the “fair report” privilege that protects publishers from being held liable for errors in government reports.
“What he did in relying on a nonfinal confidential foreign report of an authority no less than Scotland Yard is something that reporters in every medium do every day of the week without being called upon to research whether what the officials reported was accurate,” said Ms. Handman.
Mr. Stuart said simply, “I was hometowned.”
The publisher noted that Mr. Dillard seemed doubtful that Barricade would publish his book. “He’s absolutely paranoid,” chuckled Mr. Stuart.
But Mr. Dillard explained that when his new publisher “got chomped for three mil” shortly after he signed with them and then, he added, “the street exploded in front of their building”-a reference to the water main break on lower Fifth Avenue where Barricade’s offices are located-“it wasn’t just Hollywood hit men I feared. It was my own gods.”
W’ s Esterhazy Dragged Into the 90’s
What does W magazine’s fictional social battle-ax Louise J. Esterhazy look like? The answer surprised even her alter ego, editor-at-large John Fairchild.
On Feb. 8, the Council of Fashion Designers of America will present Mr. Fairchild with a lifetime achievement award at its annual awards show. The problem is, Mr. Fairchild will be celebrating his uncle’s 94th birthday and won’t be in the audience. So the C.F.D.A. arranged for Mr. Fairchild to be videotaped being interviewed at his favorite haunt, the Four Seasons restaurant, by New York Times fashion columnist Amy Spindler.
At the end of the segment, a drag queen dressed as Ms. Esterhazy (whose column caricature resembles Barbara Bush) was supposed to show up and present the award to Mr. Fairchild. But the fur-clad participant that the director, Brad Abrams, hired left Mr. Fairchild a bit taken aback. “Everyone was expecting Mrs. Doubtfire and, basically, it was RuPaul,” said Ms. Spindler, who told Mr. Fairchild, “It’s like Secrets & Lies . Louise has been black all this time and no one knew it.” The Transom hears that the scene has been reshot using a more Esterhazyan drag queen. C.F.D.A. executive director Fern Mallis would only say: “As we all know, Louise can be very difficult, so she sent an impostor to throw us off the track. In the end, we finally convinced her to participate.” Mr. Fairchild told The Transom that he found the whole thing “very funny.”
The Transom Also Hears
… In a strongly-worded letter dated Dec. 15 and obtained by The Transom, Mort Janklow, the literary agent who represents the likes of Danielle Steel, Sidney Sheldon and Barbara Taylor Bradford, chastises publishing executives for leaking book manuscripts to Hollywood idea-hunters.
“The sources of most of the leaks have been well known for years,” writes Mr. Janklow, “and efforts to plug them have been only modestly successful.” In his letter, Mr. Janklow, a partner of the veteran Janklow & Nesbit Associates, declines to name any of the culprits, but he continues: “We are sick and tired of having unauthorized submissions made to places where we would not have wanted the film or television show made; to executives who are not our choice, and by producers who essentially stole the material.… [T]he rights of the author, who after all has originated the material, are routinely disregarded by alleged professionals in this community acting in their own selfish and limited interests.”
Copies of the missive were distributed to “every major publisher in New York,” according to Mr. Janklow’s cover letter, and he is certainly not without supporters. David Gernert, editor and agent to novelist John Grisham, several of whose manuscripts have been leaked, said he almost always gets a call “probably within 48 hours [of the manuscript] being finished.”
International Creative Management agent Amanda (Binky) Urban said, “This has become a pervasive problem that is undermining the work of our clients. I am in support of the letter.” However, Roger Straus, president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux Inc., called Mr. Janklow’s letter “ridiculous.”
Mr. Janklow himself declined to discuss the letter-which was leaked to The Transom.