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Launching Literary Career : Councilman Shows He Has 'Write Stuff'

November 22, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Beverly Hills Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum is engaged in a verbal battle to oust two other council members who are up for reelection in April. He also recently exchanged heated words with a third council member over whether the city should have paid for lunch for visiting dignitaries.

However, Tanenbaum apparently expresses himself best with the written word. The author of three books, including two released this year, the feisty former New York City prosecutor is embarking on a literary career.

Tanenbaum, who was elected to the council in April, 1986, and has a private legal practice in the city, co-wrote his first book, "Badge of the Assassin," in 1979. The nonfiction account of a manhunt for cop-killers was critically acclaimed and was made into a movie for television in 1985.

Tanenbaum's second book, a novel called "No Lesser Plea," was released in May. Last month his third book, "The Piano Teacher: The True Story of a Psychotic Killer," came out.

Tanenbaum, who turns 45 next month, says his next book, another novel, will come out next fall. After that, he hopes to complete one book a year.

"Sixty percent of my time is now spent writing," said Tanenbaum, whose experiences as an assistant district attorney in New York City from 1968 to 1976 are the basis for his books. He also served as deputy chief counsel of a 1977 Congressional reassessment of the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and as a consultant to the state attorney general in the Hillside Strangler case in 1981.

That leaves 40% of his time divided between his private legal practice and his seat on the Beverly Hills City Council. He also is squeezing in time to be a husband (for 20 years) to his wife, Patti, and a father to three children, Rachael, 12, Roger, 8, and Billy, 5.

Tanenbaum said in a recent interview that if anything has to go, it probably will be his legal career. "If I never tried another case," he said, "it would not tear my heart out."

Tanenbaum moved to Beverly Hills from New York in 1978 to be closer to his wife's family, which lives in the city.

Tanenbaum's involvement in city issues developed through weekly basketball games at the Beverly Hills YMCA, which is about two blocks away from his office on Lasky Drive.

"It was never on my agenda to be on the City Council, but I was encouraged to throw my hat into the ring." he said, referring to some of the contacts he made through the YMCA.

His dissent with the council majority--including publicly stating that he will work for the ouster of Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury and Councilwoman Donna Ellman and lashing out verbally at Councilman Maxwell Salter over whether the city should have paid for lunch for visiting French dignitaries at a Rotary meeting--has caused a rift among council members.

"Regretably, it has become personal to some council members," he said. "But I think we should encourage minority dissent so that all opinions can be heard."

Tanenbaum downplays any future political ambition, saying his only concern now is completing his four-year term as a councilman. Besides, he said, he has books to write.

And his literary future appears bright. The Times in its review of "No Lesser Plea" in August said Tanenbaum has a "wry, street-wise wit" and that for a "no-nonsense insider's view of the courthouse . . . and a fast-moving tale of crime and punishment, 'No Lesser Plea' is highly recommended."

Ed Breslin, who edited "No Lesser Plea" for Franklin Watts publishing house in New York, said that after reading the first six chapters of the first draft of the book, "It just made me sit up straight."

Breslin, who has edited books for 10 years and is editor-in-chief of Berkley Books in New York, said Tanenbaum has the ability to "create a narrative pace and make it profluent."

"I think he has a real zest for story-telling," Breslin said. "Bob seems to have a good flair to tell a story with panache and energy."

Tanenbaum's latest book, "The Piano Teacher" is a nonfiction account of a psychotic killer who was released from prison and killed again.

The initial printing for each of the two books released this year is 25,000, according to Joel Gotler, Tanenbaum's personal manager. When each of those books is released in paperback next year, there will be a total of more than 1 million copies of Tanenbaum's three books in print.

Tanenbaum declined to say how much money the books have brought in, saying only that the majority of his income still comes from his legal practice. However, Gotler said he expects that Tanenbaum will be paid in the "substantial six figures" for his next book.

That book, entitled "Depraved Indifference," is expected next fall. It is a fictional account of one of the last cases Tanenbaum prosecuted, the 1976 bomb blast death of a police officer and the skyjacking of a TWA airplane by a group of Croatian nationalists.

Although he has written two nonfiction books, Tanenbaum said his future projects will be fiction.

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