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The Book on Arnold

Did a book agent at Hollywood’s venerable William Morris Agency stop representing a proposed warts-and-all biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger because it got too hot to handle? Or did he never start representing it in the first place?

As the L.A. Weekly first reported, New York–based freelance journalist John Connolly was planning to shop his book proposal about Ah-nuld right after the October 7 election. Connolly, author of that infamous Premiere magazine profile of Schwarzenegger that alleged moral turpitude and sexual harassment, said that William Morris’ Mel Berger was his agent for the project.

On Tuesday evening, Connolly said he’d just received a panicky call from Berger who seemed alarmed that the project was suddenly receiving premature publicity. That day, not only had Connolly told Berger he’d talked about the book to the Weekly, but a blogger had written that the William Morris Agency (WMA) was representing it. However, Connolly maintains that when he went to bed on Tuesday night, Berger was still the book’s agent.

What a difference 12 hours can make.

On Wednesday morning, the Weekly received a call from Chris Petrikin, spokesman for WMA, saying Berger was not representing Connolly’s Arnold book. Quoting Berger, Petrikin said the agent who had represented Connolly years ago passed on the current project between 4 and 6 p.m. EST on Tuesday and had delivered the bad news to Connolly during the same time frame.

"Mel said the Premiere magazine article he was sent for consideration was ‘too mean-spirited,’ Petrikin told the Weekly by e-mail. "Mel said, ‘It was my decision alone, in fact no one else at WMA even knew I was reading the article."

When the Weekly asked Connolly for comment on Wednesday, he was, in a word, aghast. He said he had not heard anything of the sort from Berger the day before, and that it was only on Wednesday morning that he’d received two calls from Berger that he hadn’t yet returned. By the end of Wednesday, Connolly said he was "spitting blood" he was so angry. "And I learned a long time ago that when you’re really upset about someone not to comment on it. So I’m not going to comment on it. But my recollection is that the events as you have told them to me are at variance with what I know to be true."

Indeed, there’s considerable "he said, he said" conflict in both Berger’s and Connolly’s versions of what happened. Berger claimed he only was contacted by Connolly a week to 10 days ago with the request to read the Premiere piece and consider representing him on an Arnold book. Berger claimed he only received the Premiere article this Monday and didn’t read it until Tuesday, at which time he passed.

Connolly indicated Tuesday that he had many talks with Berger about the book’s content beyond the Premiere article, but that these discussions may not have been known to the William Morris Agency at large. Connolly said that as of Tuesday, they both agreed that the direction the book should take — that even with any negative info about Schwarzenegger "you have to admire this man’s ambition and drive, no getting around that. And that this is a great American story: Musclehead comes here from Bavaria, makes a fortune, marries a Kennedy, becomes a huge star, and is elected governor of California."

That’s why Connolly was fuming Wednesday by what he obviously saw as Berger’s betrayal. "How do you go from ‘Here’s a great American story and a big book’ to ‘I’ll pass’? This is really somebody-got-to-somebody. That’s what happened here."

But the WMA spokesman steadfastly denies anyone "got" to the agency about the book, pointing out that, along with a long history of representing the memoirs of many recent Republican administration officials, the current WMA president, Jim Wiatt, is a longtime Democratic activist and contributor.

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