There’s a story Judith Regan likes to tell about the time she went back to Bay Shore High School, from which she graduated in 1971, to be inducted into its Hall of Fame. She got up on stage, in front of 500 people, and told them about when she was 16 and she and a girl named Robin were both up for the position of yearbook editor. Robin was just about perfect. Beautiful and brilliant. But people were always sniping behind her back. Everyone resented her success. And so Judith, not Robin, was selected to be yearbook editor.
But then a funny thing happened. Robin told Judith she’d be happy to help her to put the yearbook together, and Judith found out that Robin was actually fantastic, that everything that everyone said about Robin was trumped up, exaggerated, and that Robin still had to deal with vicious assaults all the time.
It’s hard not to hear this story and think this is also how Ms. Regan sees herself: as the prom queen who got tripped up by the vicious meanies at News Corp. Indeed, there are really two related prongs to Regan’s lawsuit: One has to do with her alleged treatment at the hands of HarperCollins C.E.O. Jane Friedman and News Corp C.E.O. Rupert Murdoch, and the other with how the rest of the company was threatened by her success.
That threat, she alleges, came from what she may or may not know about Rudy Giuliani and Bernard Kerik, and how News Corp allegedly not-so-subtly encouraged her to keep quiet about that knowledge.
But Ms. Regan remains convinced that it was fundamentally jealousy that engineered her downfall at HarperCollins. After all, there she was, a smart, successful and sexy woman who made more than a few men uncomfortable with the way she threw her sex appea
l, and her vulgarities, around.
"The men don’t want a woman who can outshine them," one source with knowledge of Ms. Regan’s thinking told The Observer. "They want women who can look up to them and bat their eyelashes. But honestly? She was more interesting than they were. She had a better life. She had more creativity. Men want to be on top."
Some who know Ms. Regan say her problem is she’s drawn to the wrong types.
"Men are her Achilles’ heel," said a former editor at ReganBooks. "She’s always had notoriously bad taste in men. From Bernie to Rupert Murdoch—if anything, that’s been her downfall, the men she’s involved herself with. I can see why she was so enthralled with Bernie Kerik, but I don’t think she knew quite what kind of person he was."
"Judith has been subject to serious sexual aggression," her longtime friend Roger Friedland, a sociology professor at the University of California—Santa Barbara, said. Dr. Friedland co-wrote a book, The Fellowship: The Untold Story of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship, that ReganBooks published last August. "People have hit on her in very aggressive ways. And if they can’t get you, they want to bring you down. And the women who aren’t as sexy and beautiful as you are, resent you as well. What happens is she got taken out through intimations and allegations that she’s a crazy slut."
"I was always very good at conceptual stuff," Ms. Regan told The Observer, "so with Neil Strauss’s book"—The Game, a how-to guide for men looking to pick up girls—"it was my concept, to do it as a Bible. I decided to do the gilded pages and a red ribbon. The sales department went crazy because we had to move the date, but this is what I was really good at and it always worked. … I know what looks right and what doesn’t. Probably my finest skill relates to art directing the process, which includes the design, the marketing, and the sales. The books on my list were so beautifully designed, I used to take art direction credits under a pseudonym—I didn’t want anyone to know. And I had the best art director in the business.
"I just did the work," she continued. "And then they became successful and more successful. It kind of happened because I was focused on doing the creative stuff."
When Ms. Regan arrived at HarperCollins, in 1994, she’d just spent five and a half years as an editor at Simon & Schuster, where she published sensational best sellers by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern while putting up with tweedy editors who she later said openly regarded her as a vulgarian. When Mr. Murdoch told her she could run her own imprint at HarperCollins, Ms. Regan saw a chance to leave all those weenies behind, and go to work instead for a guy who appreciated her style and shared her instincts for the mass market. And Mr. Murdoch’s multiplatform media empire offered her the chance to expand her reach into television and film, to become a true American crossover star in the tradition of Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey.
For about four years, Ms. Regan reported directly to Mr. Murdoch as she grew the imprint he’d given her into a lively cash cow. She idealized him: in a 1994 interview with The New York Times Magazine, she called him "a benevolent dictator," and a "cultured and erudite guy" whose nose for business distinguished him from the supposedly "free-thinking intellectuals" she had been used to dealing with at Simon & Schuster. But as ReganBooks flourished, HarperCollins as a whole struggled, and rumors circulate that Mr. Murdoch was trying to sell the company.
Instead, in 1997, he brought in Ms. Friedman, a publishing veteran of 30 years who had previously been a high-level executive at Knopf, to lead the company. By purging HarperCollins of more than 100 author contracts and scaling back its list, Ms. Friedman began turning things around.
To a great extent, Ms. Friedman has been successful. She has made the company profitable, and is widely recognized in the industry as a shrewd and talented publisher. For Ms. Regan, though, if her lawsuit is to be believed, Ms. Friedman’s arrival ruined everything. According to the lawsuit, Ms. Friedman resented Ms. Regan’s prominent profile within the company, and perceived Ms. Regan’s success as a threat to her authority. The suit also alleges that Ms. Friedman tried to undermine Ms. Regan by bad-mouthing her to new and prospective employees, criticizing her authors and sending spies to work at her imprint.
"The problems with Jane Friedman started from the very beginning," said a source close to Ms. Regan who is familiar with the case. "When you have an independent operator in the sense that Judith was, unless you’re a very secure executive, that can be very threatening to you. Most people who worked with Judith at the time, both authors she worked with and editors, witnessed a tremendous amount of hostility and harassment from the top."
According to this source, who would not comment for attribution due to the ongoing litigation, Ms. Regan believes that Ms. Friedman had been looking for a way to get rid of her for years, but did not pull the trigger, because ReganBooks was generating too much profit for HarperCollins. Through a spokesperson, Ms. Friedman declined to comment.
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