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Goodbye, Gotham, she's ours

High-profile publisher Judith Regan will finally open shop in Century City come June.

April 19, 2006|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Lying on a massage table Monday night, Judith Regan had an experience that has become all too familiar. "My masseuse said to me she can't run her business here anymore because it's so expensive to do business in New York," Regan said. "And I'm hearing this over and over."

She counts herself lucky to have come to her senses about the place. "New York is like a bad relationship that you can't get out of, because you still think the sex is good," the head of ReganMedia said. "Well, I think the sex is pretty good in L.A. too!"

Yes, the moment has finally arrived. The publisher and multimedia producer said Tuesday that she has pulled the trigger on the move to Los Angeles that she announced just over a year ago. The headquarters of her company will begin relocating next month and should be complete by June 1, she said, noting that some of the 30 staffers who will be making the move are waiting for children to finish the school year before heading west. "By the summer many will be settled in," she said.

The ReganMedia offices will occupy the 10th floor of a building at 10100 Santa Monica Blvd. in Century City, according to Suzanne Wickham, a veteran Los Angeles-based publicist for the publishing industry who will become the company's media director on May 1. "Right now they're working to reconfigure the office space and get it ready," Wickham said.

For Regan, those who question whether a publishing company can survive, let alone thrive, outside of Manhattan need to open their eyes. As she put it, "the dirty little secret in publishing that nobody talks about" is that nearly 50% of the staffs at major houses turn over annually because young, talented editorial assistants cannot afford to live in the city. They can't even afford to eat lunch at the pricey restaurants that surround her corporate offices in Midtown Manhattan, she said. Yes, she admits, life in L.A. is not exactly cheap, either, or problem-free. But life in New York, she has concluded, "is unbelievably exhausting; you're exhausted all the time."

And so, Los Angeles. Regan has embraced the city wholeheartedly, and with none of the stereotypical New York condescension. She was keen to correct the impression in an earlier newspaper article that, missionary-like, she wants to open a salon-ish "cultural center" in her soon-to-be-adoptive city. "I never said I wanted to bring culture to Los Angeles. I said the opposite. I said New Yorkers seem to think there's no culture in Los Angeles, and they're dead wrong."

Among the culture the publishing wing of ReganMedia has produced are bestsellers like "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" by Jenna Jameson and "Juiced" by Jose Canseco. The company has also published books by Wally Lamb, Iraq war Gen. Tommy Franks and Michael Moore. Regan, 52, has also been an executive producer for the reality television series "Growing Up Gotti" and is currently developing a reality show about Wafah Dufour, a niece of Osama bin Laden, who is a pop singer and musician.

Indeed, the brash, notoriously sharp-tongued Regan was once included on a list of the 50 most loathsome people in New York compiled by the New York Press, an alternative weekly; her divorce from her second husband was a nasty, drawn-out affair that was covered by the tabloids. She is known to put relentless pressure on writers to finish books quickly and is impatient with employees who don't share her passion for bare-knuckled competition.

"I can't imagine anyone leaving a good job in New York to follow her out to Los Angeles," sniffed one high-level publishing executive who is familiar with Regan's track record.

Friends tell a different story, suggesting that Regan is often judged more harshly, and unfairly, because she is a tough-talking woman who competes on an equal level with men. Even her worst enemies concede her legendary successes: At Simon & Schuster, Regan's former employer, she pioneered a new wave of celebrity books, commissioning runaway bestsellers by Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.

It hasn't been easy selling some of her colleagues on the move, the publisher admitted. Cal Morgan, editor in chief of ReganBooks, was initially quite skeptical.

"He went to Yale, he's a tweedy intellectual publishing type, and when I asked him what he thought of this move, he looked at me and said, 'Are you crazy?' " Regan said. "But I said he should come out to Los Angeles for a few days, and he loved it. If Cal Morgan can be moved by the Hollywood Hills and the architecture in Los Angeles, so can others."

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