Reagan Signs Reported $5-Million Deal for 2 Books

Times Staff Writer

In one of his first private transactions in eight years, former President Ronald Reagan has signed what is believed to be a multimillion-dollar contract with Simon & Schuster to write two books, including a volume of memoirs, the New York publishing house announced Wednesday.

Neither Reagan’s California office, his agent, nor Simon & Schuster would divulge the amount of the contract. However, publishing sources reported it to be in the neighborhood of $5 million for the two volumes.

Unlike many major books, the memoirs were not put up for auction. Simon & Schuster held first negotiating rights to the prestigious contract under a decade-old option stemming from a book contract it had with Reagan in the 1970s, according to Richard E. Snyder, the firm’s chairman and chief executive officer. That book was never written, because Reagan was elected President.

Reagan signed the contract at his Bel-Air home on Sunday afternoon, less than 48 hours after leaving Washington, said Morton Janklow, the New York attorney and literary agent representing him. However, he said, terms of the agreement had been under negotiation for the last few months without Reagan’s knowledge.


“He (Reagan) didn’t even know about this (the negotiations) until Saturday,” Janklow said in an interview Wednesday. “This was something that was done by his blind trustee and me.” The trustee, attorney George T. Scharffenberger, was appointed to handle Reagan’s financial affairs while he was in office to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest.

The first of the two books, to be released in 1990, will be the text of his speeches placed in what the publisher called their “historical context,” with personal comments by Reagan on the events leading up to each.

The second, to be published in 1991, will be his memoirs. “I think this will be more philosophical and more anecdotal than many presidential memoirs have been,” Janklow said. “I don’t think he plans to rewrite the definitive history of the Reagan Administration. He’s going to talk about the philosophical ideas he represented and their impact on the American people.”

Asked if Reagan planned to write his own memoirs with a co-author or ghost writer, Janklow said no. “He may have an editorial assistant,” he said, “but there have been no negotiations with anyone.”

Reagan made no personal comment on the contract through his Century City office Wednesday. In a Simon & Schuster press release he said: “This will be an honest and straightforward look at where we have been with some thoughts on where we are going. . . . I’ve got my pen in hand and I’m ready to get started.”

Pen in hand?

The phrase, according to Simon & Schuster’s vice president of public relations, Julia Knickerbocker, was “figurative.” Asked if the former President could type, she laughed. “We never asked,” she said. The answer, according to Mark Weinberg, director of public affairs on the Reagan staff here, is “no.” He is expected to dictate at least part of his memoirs.

Reagan is the author of one previous book, “Where’s the Rest of Me?” that was published in 1965 in collaboration with the late author-screenwriter Richard G. Hubler. That book, named after a famous line in the Reagan movie “Kings Row,” is a simple, personal history laden with anecdotes describing Reagan’s rise and subsequent hard times as an actor.

History Project in Works

One authoritative history of the Reagan Administration is already in the works. That project, by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edmund Morris, reportedly brought $3 million after Morris was given unprecedented access to Reagan while he was still in the White House.

Until Wednesday, it was not publicly known whether Reagan even was represented by a literary agent. At least two other well-known Beverly Hills agents--Norman R. Brokaw, co-chairman of the board of the William Morris Agency, who represented former President Gerald R. Ford and his wife, Betty, and Irving (Swifty) Lazar--were believed to be vying for the Reagan memoirs.

However, the nod went to Janklow of New York, who represents Nancy Reagan on the book of memoirs she is now finishing. That book, which is scheduled to be published by Random House this fall, reportedly brought the former First Lady $2 million. Author Bill Novak is collaborating with her on the book.

One curious aspect of Reagan’s presidential memoirs is that they are being published by the same publisher--and edited by the same editor--as the highly publicized and unauthorized biography of Nancy Reagan by Washington biographer Kitty Kelley.

Kelley, who specializes in writing unglamorous portraits of glamorous people, including Frank Sinatra and Jacqueline Onassis, is not expected to produce a flattering portrait of the former First Lady. Her contract for the Reagan book reportedly brought her more than $3.5 million.

Editing both books is Michael Korda, the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster who is known for his flamboyance, his salesmanship and a handful of self-help books, including “Power! How to Get It, How to Use It.” He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Asked whether the Reagans had any misgivings about the same publishing house handling the two books roughly at the same time, Weinberg said, “We don’t comment on anybody else’s book.” He also declined to discuss terms of the contract.

Several publishing houses had expressed interest in the memoirs of the popular President, and at least one, the Putnam Berkeley Group, made a “very substantial offer,” a Putnam official said Wednesday. Estimates of the value of the memoirs had ranged between $2 million and $10 million before reports sweeping New York publishing sources late Wednesday put the price of the two books at a reported $5 million. That figure, however, was not confirmed officially.

“People are surprised it was only $5 million,” said Esther Newberg, vice president and co-director of the literary arm of International Creative Management, a major Hollywood and literary agency.

“If you get $1 million for an ex-general like Al Haig, $5 million doesn’t seem like much for someone who left office the most popular President in years.”

Reagan Keeps Screen Rights

Simon & Schuster will retain world rights to both hardback and paperback editions of the books, Snyder said. Screen rights “were retained by the President,” as is customary for such books, he said.

Books written by the most recent U.S. Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ford, did not prove financial successes. Publishing sources said both books fared less well than did books authored by their wives, Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford.

Asked whether he was concerned that the same might happen with Reagan’s memoirs, Snyder responded: “Ronald Reagan is the most popular and important President since F.D.R. and we have every right to believe it will do very well.”