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‘DisneyWar’ Whets Appetite for a Battle

Times Staff Writers

Five weeks before its scheduled debut, James B. Stewart’s book “DisneyWar” is living up to its name.

In a recent letter to Walt Disney Co., lawyers for Simon & Schuster accused the Burbank company of obtaining a copy without the permission of the publisher or the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. The book goes on sale March 7.

“We have informed Disney that they have an unauthorized copy of the book and put them on notice not to disseminate it,” said David Rosenthal, executive vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster. “It’s ours, and we want -- and need -- to control the timing of its release.”

Simon & Schuster has been closely guarding all advance material on the book, whose full title is “DisneyWar: The Battle for the Magic Kingdom.” The publisher has refrained, for example, from the usual practice of circulating advance copies to critics.

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Last week, it became clear that Disney had somehow gotten a copy. Rosenthal confirmed that Disney representatives had contacted Stewart to dispute certain aspects of the book. Disney lawyers also have put Simon & Schuster, which is owned by Viacom Inc., “on notice” that they could take legal action if the book contains inaccuracies, a source close to Viacom said.

A 12-page excerpt that ran in the Jan. 10 edition of the New Yorker focused on Chief Executive Michael Eisner’s hiring -- and subsequent firing -- of his friend Michael Ovitz, who served for 15 months as Disney’s president. Though many details in the piece had been widely reported, it whetted the appetites of Hollywood insiders, many of whom were interviewed by Stewart.

In recent weeks, the anticipation has grown as Stewart has begun circulating pages of the manuscript -- a common fact-checking technique.

According to several people who have read excerpts, the book paints a largely unflattering portrait of Eisner’s nearly 21 years at Disney’s helm and raises questions about how Disney President Bob Iger has managed the ABC-TV network. Iger is the leading candidate to replace Eisner, who is retiring.

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Zenia Mucha, a Disney spokeswoman, declined to discuss the matter.

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Times staff writer Sallie Hofmeister contributed to this report.


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