Is Book on Disney Caught in a Mousetrap?

Kim Masters' publisher suddenly refused to publish her book, <I>The Keys to the Kingdom</I>, and she blames Disney.
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A veteran business journalist says

Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

is trying to kill a book she's written about the company and Mouse Chairman Michael Eisner.

The Keys to the Kingdom

, by Kim Masters, has been in limbo since earlier this year, when

Broadway Books

killed the book after receiving a finished draft. Masters, who covers Hollywood for

Vanity Fair

and

Time

, says Broadway President Bill Shinker told her that Disney pressured him to drop the book, which had been heavily promoted in the publisher's 1999 catalog of upcoming releases. (The controversy was first reported by

MSNBC.com

.)

"I know that they got a call from

Disney Chief of Corporate Operations Sandy Litvack," says lawyer Bert Fields, who's representing Masters in the dispute. "They raved about the book, and then a little bit later, they said, 'we're not going to publish it.' ... This is very strange behavior."

Disney says it didn't interfere with the book. "There was no pressure from us," says a spokesman.

Shinker, who quit Broadway earlier this month, says Masters' claims are untrue.

"I can tell you unequivocally that no pressure was brought on me in any way by

Random House

, by

Bertlesmann,

by Disney, by anybody, to do anything about this book," Shinker says. "We had editorial concerns about what she delivered. ... We went through an extensive editorial process, and when the manuscript came back to us for the last time, it was unacceptable." (Broadway is a division of Random House, which is owned by Bertlesmann, a privately held German media conglomerate.)

And Trigg Robinson, a vice president at Broadway, says the publisher was "never under any pressure at any time by Disney or Eisner, never any suggestion made not to publish this book ... Bertlesmann has a long history of honoring our publishing houses' autonomy, including publishing books that are critical of major corporations."

It's impossible to judge for certain why Masters' book was shelved. But earlier this decade, a book about Disney by author Robert Anson was shelved under similar mysterious circumstances. Anson, who couldn't be reached for comment, is reportedly still working on the book.

And Masters is hardly an unproven journalist or a stranger to covering Hollywood. In addition to

Vanity Fair

and

Time

, her pedigree includes stints at

The Washington Post

and

Premiere

magazine.

Masters has "tremendous news instincts and tenacious drive," says Richard Leiby, her one-time editor at the

Post

. Leiby says Masters' Hollywood contacts were so good that he recommended the paper assign her to cover the movie industry full-time.

"She's the resident expert for us on Hollywood and the business of Hollywood," says Ned Zeman, Masters' editor at

Vanity Fair

. "She's a top-caliber journalist -- I can't think of a bad thing to say about her."

Masters also won critical and commercial acclaim for her last book,

Hit & Run

, an unflattering portrayal of former

Sony

studio chiefs Jon Peters and Peter Guber she co-authored with Nancy Griffin.

Business Week

called

Hit & Run

one of the top 10 business books of 1996, although some reviewers complained that the book was heavy on unnamed sources.

With that track record, Masters was able to get a $750,000 contract for a book on Disney in early 1997. She produced a finished draft by fall of last year. Then her editor on the book, John Sterling, quit to join another publisher and Shinker -- for whatever reason -- decided Masters' efforts weren't up to snuff.

Now Masters and Broadway are apparently locked in a escalating legal battle, with Broadway demanding she return the first half of her advance, while Masters is asking for the remaining $375,000 she's due, says Fields, the attorney. Masters also wants to force Broadway to give up all rights to her book so that another publisher can pick it up. A second publisher has already tentatively agreed to buy the book as soon as it's available, Fields says.

Until then, we'll have to depend on Eisner's

insightful autobiography to keep us informed about Disney.