In a vote for verbal quantity over literary quality, a Manhattan jury Tuesday said that Random House has to compensate the actress-author Joan Collins for a manuscript that its editors have already declared to be unreadable and unpublishable.
Jurors decided that Collins had indeed completed one manuscript in compliance with her contract with her publishers, although they said Random House did not have to pay her for a second manuscript because it was merely a revision of the first and not a distinct work of art. The decision means that Collins can keep her $1.2 million advance and collect more from Random House, though how much more remains in dispute.
The decision ended a five-day trial during which any pretensions that Collins had to literary respectability were forever shattered and the pre-editing warts of other best-selling authors were exposed by gleeful editors. It concluded with Collins testifying that the creative process of writing was “a living amoeba” and with grinning jurors leaving the courtroom lugging copies of her manuscript as souvenirs.
Random House, the publishing giant, had hotly pursued Collins in 1990 when she was in full celebrity bloom from her starring role in the nighttime soap opera “Dynasty.” In its eagerness to sign her, the publisher jettisoned a standard protection clause, which says that if a publisher is not satisfied with a manuscript, it can recover its advance.
Instead, Random House agreed to an unusual clause that Collins’ agent, the late Irving (Swifty) Lazar, sought for his celebrity clients: Anticipating that their prose might be found wanting, Lazar had insisted they be paid upon completion of their manuscripts, regardless of whether the publisher thought the writing had merit.
The central question of the volatile and voluble trial was over the interpretation of the phrase “complete manuscript.” Miss Collins’s lawyers argued that if she turned in the required number of words, she was in compliance.
Editors testifying on behalf of Random House, however, stiffly retorted that a complete manuscript was expected to be an author’s best, final effort, and should presumably incorporate a beginning, middle and end - much of which they said was undiscernible in Collins’ pages.
“Random House knew perfectly well what kind of writer she was,” said Donald Zakarin, a lawyer for Collins, in his summation.