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Iceberg's Kin Disagree: Is It the Real Slim, or Shady?

September 04, 2001|BEVERLY BEYETTE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Things have turned decidedly frosty as two daughters of late urban writer Iceberg Slim (Robert Maupin Beck) and their stepmother do battle over whether Slim's posthumously published novel, "Doom Fox," is a counterfeit.

In a lawsuit filed last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Camille Mary Beck of Los Angeles, the writer's eldest daughter, alleges that her sister, Melody Beck, and Robert Beck's widow, Diane Millman Beck, conspired to pass off as the real thing a book she says was written by Diane Beck's brother.

She says she filed the suit because she "wants everyone to know that my father did not write that book." The suit also names the book's publishers, New York-based Grove/Atlantic and an independent Scottish publishing house, Canongate Books, as well as Faith Childs Literary Agency in New York.

"Doom Fox," published in 1998, was presented to Canongate and to Grove/Atlantic by Childs, Diane Beck's agent, as having been written two decades earlier by Iceberg Slim, a onetime pimp turned pulp-fiction icon, who died in Los Angeles in 1992 at the age of 73.

Depicting the lives of an African American family in South Los Angeles in the 30 years post-World War II, the novel has had a less than glowing reception. Publishers Weekly called the writing "howlingly bad." Kirkus Reviews described the prose as "lame melodramatics" spiced with "patches of low-grade porn."

But Canongate publisher Jamie Byng, reached by telephone in Edinburgh, said that though the manuscript was "rough," he thinks "it's got brilliant aspects to it. I think he's a great writer." Canongate also published the U.K. versions of Iceberg Slim's seven earlier books, starting with "Pimp: The Story of My Life" in 1995.

Byng said he still believes the book is true Beck. "It was clear this was a draft, [but] if you're going to publish something posthumously, you should present it as is."

Faith Childs, the agent, said, "I don't have any comment to make about this at all." Ditto Eric Price, a vice president at Grove/Atlantic, which earlier rejected a demand from Camille Beck for a multimillion-dollar damage settlement: "We have no comment at this point on anything about this."

Camille Beck's attorney, Brian Lee Corber, said his client waited three years after publication of "Doom Fox" to take legal action because, although "she had always suspected the book wasn't written by her father," she didn't have a "smoking gun" until a meeting last year to discuss plans for a film of "Pimp"--now in pre-production--at which Melody Beck "admitted the book was not written by Iceberg Slim."

Melody Beck could not be reached for comment.

Beck's widow, Diane Millman Beck, who lives in Silver Lake, calls the lawsuit "ridiculous." She married the writer in 1982 and, she says, "Bob wrote this before we even met. His first wife [the mother of Melody and Camille] actually typed it. I have the original typed, yellowed-pages version, and I've had it since he brought it to our marriage."

"Doom Fox" was never published, she says, because Beck had had a financial falling out with Bentley Morriss, president of L.A. publisher Holloway House, which had published all of Beck's other work, including his last book, "Death Wish," in 1977.

She explained that her husband was by then suffering from diabetes-related health problems and "he did not have the fortitude to try to find a different home for his work." She says further that she had his blessing to find a publisher for "Doom Fox," telling her, "You can do whatever you wish with this after I pass."

Six years passed between his death and publication of the book. She didn't decide immediately to tackle the project, she says, and once she did it took some time to find the right agent. She acknowledges, "Of course it's not one of his better books. It is a draft. It needed a rewrite, but who can rewrite when a writer's gone?"

Corber contends, "[Diane Beck's] brother wrote the book, according to what was admitted to at that meeting." Corber says Camille Beck first became suspicious because of "the writing style. She's very knowledgeable about her father's writing style. 'Doom Fox' never seemed to be something he wrote."

Nonsense, says Diane Beck. She says her brother, Dan Millman, a well-known New Age writer based in Marin County, "had nothing to do with it."

Camille Beck wants any profits realized from the book and also wants the book taken off the market. As for damages, Corber says he and his client want a jury trial and "are seeking whatever a jury will award us."

While Corber says he believes Camille Beck to be the rightful heir to her father's estate, Diane Beck says only she and Melody were named in Beck's will and were to split the estate. She says his third daughter was excluded and Camille was disinherited in a codicil Beck signed about 18 months before he died.

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