Many book industry veterans maintain that any publicity is good publicity. According to this love-me-or-hate-me-but-spell-my-name- right school of salesmanship, a good scandal can only help book sales. If so, then former White House strategist Dick Morris should be in for a grand ride on "Behind the Oval Office: Winning the Presidency in the Nineties," the book Random House is set to publish Wednesday with a 150,000-copy first-run printing.
Morris' personal life is the story that just won't go away.
First, he takes an unceremonious hike from his job as right-hand-of-God advisor to President Clinton after a supermarket tabloid graphically reports his frolics with a Washington call girl. Then Morris and his wife, Connecticut lawyer Eileen McGann, do their "American Gothic" imitation, standing side by side at their home to insist that their marriage will persevere. When word leaks out that Morris has been supporting a secret "second wife" and 6-year-old daughter in Texas, McGann still professes loyalty to her husband of 20 years.
In mid-September, Morris confirms he skirted a White House confidentiality agreement by signing his Random House contract in January 1996. He does not contradict reports that he received a $2.5-million advance. Two weeks later, McGann tells Newsweek she has thought about dismembering her husband.
Finally, on the first weekend of the new year, as Random House prepares to ship copies of "Behind the Oval Office," McGann announces she is divorcing Morris.
"I am devastated, and deeply upset," Morris responds in a statement issued by his publisher. "More than anything else I wanted to stay married to Eileen, and I feel sadder than I can say that my own conduct made that impossible."
How--or whether--the latest fillip will affect the book's marketing campaign remained unclear. McGann had not yet disclosed her intention to divorce Morris when Sam Donaldson taped footage for "PrimeTime Live" last week. Donaldson's interview will air Wednesday, and Morris will appear on "Good Morning, America" the following day. On Jan. 20, the morning of the presidential inauguration, no less, Morris is scheduled to appear on the "Today" show to chat about how Clinton held onto the White House.
The 48-year-old architect of then-Atty. Gen. Bill Clinton's 1978 gubernatorial race in Arkansas is scheduled to promote his book in New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. At midweek, Random House publicist Ivan Held said serial rights to the Morris book had not been finalized.
"It's only Wednesday," said Held, noting that the news magazines do not usually go to press until Sunday. Both Time and Newsweek have said they will not excerpt the Morris book. But U.S. News & World Report is said to have made a rich subsidiary rights offer and is expected to feature a chunk of the book in next week's issue.
Colleen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Book-of-the-Month Club, said she was confident that "political junkies" in the club will lap up what the publisher calls a highly readable, 350-page account of how President Clinton broke a 12-year Republican hold on the White House, and how four years later, Clinton became the first Democratic president to be elected to two terms since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Morris wrote the book without assistance, Held said, and editors and production specialists worked long hours to prepare it for publication in less than three months--a lightning schedule. Some personal details are interspersed in what is basically a political primer. But interviews with Morris as he promotes his book may home in on seamier matters that have emerged since McGann said she was ending the marriage.
There is, for instance, the question of just how much mud a spouse can graciously have splashed in his or her face. McGann told the New York Daily News this week that she pondered that question while making solitary drives along the rain-swept freeways of Southern California last week and while walking solo on Santa Monica beach. It was there, McGann said, that she decided to end the marriage.
McGann also told the newspaper that in the months since her husband's resignation, strangers would sometimes point at her on the street and call out their opinions of her personal life. She said that at a restaurant not long ago, a woman at another table slipped her a note saying, "Your husband is a jerk." She said she got very sick of the " 'Eileen, I have some bad news for you' " phone calls from her husband.
One such call informed McGann that Morris had been paying generous monthly child support to former Texas call girl Barbara Pfafflin, mother of Morris' 6-year-old daughter, Gabrielle. Pfafflin told the Austin American-Statesman this week that Morris flew Gabrielle to New York for a five-day visit in December, his first visit with the child since she was 2.
Pfafflin also told the newspaper that she met Morris in 1984, when she worked for an Austin escort service and he campaigned for then-Texas Gov. Mark White. She later was able to quit the escort service and return to college on Morris' tab. "I think of him as the love of my life," Pfafflin said. She likened her relationship with Morris to "being the permanent girlfriend of royalty. I got to hear all about the ball, but I never got to go."
Yet it is to McGann that one source who has seen the book said "Behind the Oval Office" is dedicated. Random House would not confirm the book's dedication. But the spokesman said paper is available in a warehouse to print an additional 100,000 copies should demand warrant--and presumably, should Morris want to tinker with the dedication.