Morris doesn't tell all Scandal: But the prostitute in the affair is shopping her own version.

January 15, 1997|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN STAFF

The reviews are starting to come in on Dick Morris' tattletale book, "Behind the Oval Office." The New York Times calls it "lively, readable and anecdotally rich." Even the White House has spoken: "fascinating reading" if at times "factually wrong."

But if you're interested in a review from Sherry Rowlands, the prostitute who made Dick Morris famous outside the Beltway with her tabloid revelations of his foot fetish and propensity to share presidential phone calls, you'll have to wait. She's not about to spend $25.95 on it, and instead is waiting for a free copy that her own book agent has promised to send.

"He's got his money," Rowlands said in a telephone interview yesterday from her Virginia home. "The whole thing why you have people and connections in literary circles is for a free book here and there."

Rowlands, inevitably, is working on her own book. It will expand on the titillating tales she told the Star tabloid last August, which pretty much upended the Democratic convention that Morris had been orchestrating as President Clinton's top adviser.

Morris has no one but himself to blame. Rowlands said she got the idea to write a book from Morris, who was already at work on his book when the scandal broke.

"He was writing a book about the president, and I thought, if anyone has a book to write, I have a pretty interesting one," said Rowlands. She has the usual scandal-spawned coterie of lawyer, agent and ghostwriter, and hopes to hear later this month on whether any publishers are biting.

It's a pretty amusing picture that she paints: During what she calls "our liaison or whatever," Morris would hang up the phone with the president and immediately jot down notes about the conversation. Later, after Rowlands had left Morris for the night, she would take pen in hand and jot down her notes in a diary.

Just another modern-day epistolary tale. The Griffin and Sabine of the Jefferson Hotel.

Rowlands has watched Morris' downfall with a philosophical shrug.

"I believe in destination," she says. "This was his destination. You can only get so big in the head. If you're doing things behind the back, stabbing people in the back, it's only a matter of time."

Don't cry for Dick Morris, though. "I think he's going to be just fine. Nothing can get him down. I hear he and his wife are divorcing, and I'm sorry about that. Other than death, that's the saddest thing. Other than that, he's going to be fine," she says.

Indeed, Morris received $2.5 million from Random House for his book and is treading the usual rogue's path to sell it -- "Good Morning America" tomorrow, "Larry King" tomorrow night, "Today" on Monday morning, the book tour after that.

Still, the marketing of the book has not been as smooth as Morris' political campaigns, or rather, as smooth as he makes them sound in his often self-congratulatory book.

U.S. News & World Report initially won the excerpting rights, offering $60,000 in a deal that included second rights for the New York Daily News. But the deal fell apart because the newsweekly, newly on a high horse since James Fallows became its editor in chief, wanted to run its own analysis in addition to the excerpts.

Next, Newsweek stepped up, offering $55,000 for an excerpt. But then Barnes & Noble bookstores started selling the book, and newspaper stories quoting the book began turning up. So Newsweek backed out.

But while the book is generating the sort of intense, if often fleeting, buzz that fuels certain Washington circles, the rest of the country may not be as interested in its minutiae of campaigning and White House staff battles.

Sales are going well, according to Crown Books, a chain whose stores are largely concentrated inside the Beltway. At the Borders in Towson, though, inventory manager Sara Hill says there's been little interest, although that may change once Morris hits the airwaves. Random House says it initially printed 150,000 copies, and sales have prompted a second run of 25,000.

Peter Reynolds, a spokesman with the American Booksellers Association, says the book could sell well initially but thinks its appeal may be limited, especially since Morris focuses more on political process than on racier fare.

"A lot of times, what happens with these books of the moment is, they'll sell well right out of the gate, but there's no staying power," Reynolds said.

Indeed, Morris barely deals with l'affaire Rowlands, offering instead the all-too-predictable hubris excuse so popular with powerful men caught in an indiscretion.

"I am, I suppose, merely the latest example of the Greek aphorism, 'Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad with power,' " he writes. It's lonely at the top, he sought comfort in sex, blah blah blah. He endlessly apologizes to his wife and makes a less than convincing nod to the feminist stance on prostitution: "Like all men who have paid for sex I am guilty of exploiting the woman involved."

Paying for services rendered, of course, is a concept both Morris and Rowlands understand.

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