It was almost a dead heat. The race to get the first Rock Hudson biography published and in the nation's bookstores ended last week with the unauthorized "Idol" sneaking in first in some areas and the authorized "Rock Hudson: His Story" hitting the shelves first in others.
Neither book was due before late July, but with their publishers--"Idol's" Villard Books and "His Story's" William Morrow & Co.--straining at the yoke, both were delivered a month early and bearing the same jacket price of $16.95.
"It was a neck-and-neck race," said Villard publicity manager Jessie Ristic. "From manuscript to publishing, we crashed it ("Idol") through."
The books, each exploiting Hudson's homosexual life style and his lingering death of complications from AIDS, nearly beat their formal publicity campaigns to the market. The authorized book got a nice send-off with back-to-back covers promoting excerpts in People magazine, but author Sara Davidson doesn't make her maiden talk-show appearance for this book until Monday on NBC's "Today Show."
Jack Vitek, co-author of "Idol," got nearly a week's jump with an appearance Tuesday on "CBS Morning News," but published excerpts from "Idol" won't appear until the August issue of Ladies Home Journal.
ABC's "Good Morning America," the other network book-launching platform, decided to play the neutral ground. It had entertainment columnists Liz Smith and Marilyn Beck on its Tuesday show, comparing the two books and discussing the propriety of gathering the intimate details of a dead star's life and turning them into items for a literary estate sale.
A quick call-around of Los Angel es area book stores reveals that "Idol" and "His Story" can both use whatever publicity they get. Stores in Hollywood reported brisk business, with the authorized book doing best, while booksellers elsewhere reported little or no interest in either one.
"I think we've got a lot of books we're going to return," said a clerk at B. Dalton in the Beverly Center. "We have both books prominently displayed, and they're not moving."
"We just got the authorized one in Thursday, and it hasn't taken off all that quickly," said Michael Sgriccia, manager of Brentano's in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. "People ask about it, but it isn't doing what we anticipated."
Both publishers say their books are off to fast starts, with Morrow's publicity director Lela Rolontz claiming a 5-to-1 sales advantage over Villard. Morrow, whose authorized book has the benefit of a jacket blurb stating that Hudson's share of profits will go for AIDS research, shipped about 200,000 copies of "His Story." Ristic said Villard shipped 60,000 copies of "Idol."
There hasn't been such heated competition over the spoils of a star's personal life since . . . well, three years ago when Steve McQueen's widow and two other authors wrote biographies of his life.
Which Hudson book is better?
Morrow's Rolontz said "His Story" is better because it was written with the cooperation of the three people who were closest to Hudson when he died. Ristic said "Idol" is best because it was written by dispassionate journalists uncommitted to the self-interests of anyone.
"Idol" co-author Jerry Oppenheimer said the authorized book is both too vicious and too kind to Hudson, and accused Davidson's three key sources--Hudson's secretary, Mark Miller, his friend, George Nader, and his former lover, Tom Clark--of interpreting history to suit their images of themselves.
"They paint Hudson as being very effeminate," Oppenheimer said in a telephone interview from his home in Chevy Chase, Md. "He was just the opposite. He never used that vernacular."
On the other hand, Oppenheimer said, Hudson is portrayed in Davidson's book as being very concerned about his now-infamous kissing scene with Linda Evans in an episode of "Dynasty." On the day of The Kiss, Davidson writes, Hudson "used every gargle, mouthwash and spray he could lay his hands on," and she quotes Nader as saying the kiss had actually landed harmlessly on Evans' cheek.
Not so, Oppenheimer said.
"Rock was not concerned about the kiss at all. He bragged to one person, 'I planted a big juicy one on her,' " Oppenheimer said. "He wasn't concerned. By then, his mind had been affected by the disease."
In reading the two books, it is clear there was more research done--more old friends, lovers, directors, producers and co-stars interviewed--for the unauthorized book than Davidson's and it is easily the better written. "Idol" lacks some of the gruesome 11th-hour detail of "His Story," but it is a more complete profile of the star and, ironically, a more sympathetic one.