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Random House to Pay $3 Million for Reagan Biography

Times Staff Writer

Outbidding seven other publishers, Random House Inc. has agreed to pay $3 million for Ronald Reagan’s official presidential biography, publishing sources said Tuesday.

The sum easily tops the $1 million that former President Jimmy Carter received for his memoirs and the more than $2 million that former Budget Director David A. Stockman was paid for his remembrances of the Reagan Administration.

The 600-page work by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edmund Morris will not be written until the end of the Reagan presidency and will not appear until 1991. But because of Morris’ reputation and the unprecedented access he is being given at the White House, the book received extraordinary interest among publishing houses.

Harper & Row, which bought Stockman’s book, was runner-up in the auction for Reagan’s authorized biography, the sources said, with a bid of about $2.7 million.

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Morris, whose widely acclaimed work, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, accompanied Reagan to the Geneva summit. He is expected to interview the President at least once a month and will have wide range of the White House.

Won’t Receive Profits

Reagan will not receive any profits from the book and will not see the manuscript before publication. Morris and his literary agent, Georges Borchardt, met personally with book publishers to describe the project before the bidding began.

“Ed Morris made it very attractive to this company and any bidder in it,” said Jack Romanos, president of Simon & Schuster’s Trade Publishing Group. “Each of the publishers met personally with Morris and we had roughly an hour meeting with him. He talked through the book. An author of Morris’ quality doesn’t need to audition a great deal.

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“The combination of who he is and what he has been able to do and the access to Reagan and the inside story was of great interest to everyone involved. . . . One of the thoughts that ran through a lot of minds in the auction is it doesn’t preclude Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan from doing an autobiography.

‘Perfect Combination’

“I think the kind of book Morris will write will be the kind of perfect combination of quality and commercialism. That’s what everyone was banking on. He will have a quick commercial success and the literary value of what Morris does will make this book last. It will be a bit different from the other presidential memoirs. . . . The big difference in this book is it is not a first-person book. You do not have Ronald Reagan out on the Phil Donahue show.”

While the price appeared to be a record for works about public officials, it is by no means a record for a book. Fiction writers tend to do better than writers of fact in the literary marketplace. In 1979, for example, Bantam Books paid author Judith Krantz $3.2 million for her novel, “Scruples.”

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Morris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Theodore Roosevelt is the first in a projected three-volume series. His wife, Sylvia, is also an author who wrote a biography of Edith Roosevelt, Roosevelt’s second wife. She is currently working on a biography of Clare Boothe Luce.

Reagans Enjoyed Book

Shortly after the 1980 election, Selwa Roosevelt, the State Department’s chief of protocol, who is married to the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, forwarded Morris’ Roosevelt biography to the White House, where President and Mrs. Reagan enjoyed reading it.

In 1983, Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) invited the Reagans to meet with a number of historians, including the Morrises. Later, Michael K. Deaver, then White House chief of staff, arranged a dinner where he, the Morrises and the Reagans talked in greater detail.

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Out of those meetings, the unusual project grew. While historians have worked in the White House as presidential assistants--Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., for example, served in the John F. Kennedy Administration--Morris will have no official duties. His task will be to observe purely as a historian.


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