Judith Regan's strange TV date [Updated]
Judith Regan was once called a "foul-mouthed tyrant" and the "enfant terrible of American publishing," but on Tuesday night, Bravo's "The Millionaire Matchmaker" dubbed her something different: "The Queen of All Media." To make sure people got the message, the tag line was repeated. And repeated again.
Maybe "all media" is a little strong. Regan, who now has a Sirius radio show, certainly knows how to publish bestsellers. In more than 11 years running her imprint at HarperCollins, Regan published runaway, surprise hits: Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star," "Juiced" by Jose Canseco, and Howard Stern's "Private Parts." She also published "The Zero" by Jess Walter, a critical hit and a National Book Award finalist.
Then there was the book that caused a storm of controversy in 2006: O.J. Simpson's "If I Did It," in which Simpson outlined how, hypothetically, he would have killed ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The book's announcement, which came just weeks before it was due on shelves, caused such an uproar that its release was canceled, although the print run was said to be in the hundreds of thousands.
Publisher Regan took a lot of heat for the book, and for a TV special planned to coincide with it during which she interviewed O.J. Simpson. The two-part interview was also pulled, and even Rupert Murdoch called it "an ill-considered project."
About a month later, Regan was fired –- but not for "If I Did It.” Rumors spread that the reason for her firing had been anti-Semitic comments, but in 2008, in the settlement of a lawsuit she’d brought, News Corp. issued a statement saying, “After carefully considering the matter, we accept Ms. Regan’s position that she did not say anything that was anti-Semitic in nature, and further believe that Ms. Regan is not anti-Semitic.”
Neither the O.J. book nor her firing came up on "Millionaire Matchmaker," although the group of three men selected for Regan did ask why she'd quit publishing. Regan waved them off. "I like to mix things up," she said.
Regan had three comedians to choose from, after having told matchmaker Patti Stanger, "I like men who are funny" and saying that her ideal man was Bruce Vilanch.
"He's gay!" Stanger shouted. Vilanch is the openly gay, heavyset comic best known for working on Oscar broadcasts. Stanger later told the camera, "All we need is a straight Bruce Vilanch and we're all set." Before setting Regan up with any actual dates, Stanger had her lunch with Vilanch himself.
If Regan is looking for a not-gay version of the famously gay comedian, then it's a switch from her previous dalliances. As was mentioned in a now-settled $100-million lawsuit she filed in 2007 against Murdoch's News Corp., Regan had an affair with New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, an ally of Rudolph Giuliani who rose to national prominence after 9/11. Kerik, the New York Times wrote, "wielded power with a signature mix of brash confidence and tough-guy charm"; in February, he was sentenced to four years in prison on eight felony charges, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.
Not exactly the kind of guy who comes up with one-liners for James Franco.
In contrast to the other narrative, Regan -- despite admitting being more than 15 years older than the other woman -- came across as more youthful, more charming and more engaged in the process.
Her chosen comedian was a bald, solid guy whom the matchmaking staffers called "punk rock Johnny." Regan showed up for her date in a white button-down and electric purple jacket; Johnny wore an orange T-shirt with "Burn Out" emblazoned on the chest. Over the course of the show, Stanger had spoken graphically about Regan's physicality, implying that she did not have an active sex life. So where else for her date to take her than New York's Museum of Sex?
Regan trailed after Johnny as he threw out jokes about the exhibits, gamely laughing along. She even stepped into a bondage contraption, causing Johnny's eyes to bug. "Wow, this girl is SLAMMIN'!" he said to the camera later with the same overheated enthusiasm.
Afterward, at a restaurant, Regan told Johnny, "You're a romantic at heart." About the date, she told Stanger, "There was a little -- pulse." About going on the show, she told the Daily Beast, "I did it because it's so ridiculous and so outrageous -- but all of life is that way now. That’s the way the culture is. That's the way everything is."
No matter how unserious her sort-of-Bruce-Vilanch date was, it showed that Regan is not unpleasant to watch. Does it surprise you that she's got a TV pilot in the works?
-- Carolyn Kellogg
[For the record, 2:00 p.m. Dec. 21: An earlier version of this post said that Judith Regan was fired in 2006 for making anti-Semitic comments, without making note of the 2008 statement released by News Corp.]
Photo: Judith Regan at her desk at Sirius Radio in 2006. Credit: Richard Drew / Associated Press