Was best-selling author Tom Clancy pressured to drop his franchise character from his newest thriller because of ageism?
And is he writing his own books?
The answer to the first question, according to sources, is "yes." Jack Ryan is not the star of "The Teeth of the Tiger," which will be published next week by Putnam. Instead, the hero with the Teeth is John Ryan, Jack's dashing — and much younger — son, Jack Jr.
"The Teeth of the Tiger" is already no. 2 on the Amazon best-seller list even though it won't be available until August 11th. I have a sneaking suspicion that the general public is unaware that Clancy has switched to a younger, more movie-friendly protagonist.
Some of the credit, or blame — your choice — for this move is given to Clancy's rep, Michael Ovitz, the über-talent agent who was once the head of Creative Artists Agency and the Artists Management Group.
A couple of years ago Ovitz, then with AMG, poached Clancy from the William Morris Agency's Robert Gottlieb, the man who literally made Clancy's career. Subsequently, AMG was absorbed into an even bigger agency, The Firm. I'm told Ovitz kept Clancy as his one-and-only client.
According to my sources, it was Ovitz who had advised Clancy to come up with a new-generation hero so that the role would be available to a younger set of actors.
Jack Ryan Sr. has been played, in succession, by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. At this rate of de-aging, Jack Ryan, Jr. could conceivably be played in the next movie by Leonardo DiCaprio, whom Ovitz helped set up with director Martin Scorsese for "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator."
But did Ovitz instruct Clancy to make these changes, or did he have to contact someone else? As the public awaits "The Teeth of the Tiger," many in the book world are reviving an oft-told tale.
For years, publishing insiders have wondered whether Clancy has written all his books by himself. A series of paperbacks under the "Op Center" moniker, with Clancy's name attached, have been openly written by and credited to Jeff Rovin, a former comic-book writer and "fixer" for celebrities who want to keep their names out of the National Enquirer.
Rovin has done such a bang-up job with "Op Center" that Clancy fans have been wondering if he isn't a major contributor to, if not the outright author of, novels like "Teeth" and other recent Clancy offerings such as "Red Rabbit" and "Without Remorse."
The genesis of the authorship question comes from Clancy's first hit novel, "The Hunt for Red October." Clancy — who was then an insurance salesman — wrote the book in 1983 and got it published it a year later.
In the introduction to the paperback edition, Clancy conceded that the book "belonged" both to him and to Larry Bond, although Bond's name was not on the title page or cover.
The same thing happened again with "October"'s successor, "Red Storm Rising" (1986), which did not carry Bond's name on any edition. Even so, Bond's biography on the Warner Books Web site reads in part: "Larry's writing career started by collaborating with Tom Clancy on 'Red Storm Rising'..."
Bond eventually drifted out of Clancy's circle and wrote his own "techno-thrillers." "Bond," says one insider, "must have gotten burned out" working for Clancy.
In a 1992 essay in "The Tom Clancy Companion," Bond wrote: "We first met when he bought a copy of a war game that I had written. He used it as a data source, one of many he found for 'The Hunt for Red October.' ... Tom and I started work on what would become 'Red Storm Rising.' We plotted the book out together, then, while I researched the military issues, Tom wrote the book. I also edited the text..."
More collaborators followed with Martin H. Greenberg and Steve Perry, as well as Steve Pieczenik and Jeff Rovin.
Greenberg edited "The Tom Clancy Companion," published with the subject's blessing by his publisher. The book contains an interview with Clancy by Greenberg and a glossary of terms from all his books. It also features several miscellaneous, rambling and unfocused pieces of non-fiction writing by Clancy, none of which read at all like his best-sellers.
Rovin's experience is similar to Bond's. When the "Op Center" series started in 1995, it was simply called "Tom Clancy's Op Center." The byline, as it were, read: "Created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik."
If there was an actual author, Clancy was being coy about it. And Pieczenik was not that person. "He sent me a novel once and it was not publishable," says one literary agent. The real writer of "Op Center" was Jeff Rovin, who would go on to author 11 "Op Center" novels altogether.
His name, however, doesn't appear until the 7th installment, "Divide and Conquer."
These days, Rovin, a longtime New Yorker, lives in California. He is bound to a tight confidentiality agreement that prohibits him from ever discussing Tom Clancy or his business with him. Nevertheless, friends claim they have heard him boast about his work for Clancy not being limited to "Op Center."
The veil may soon be lifted on Clancy's operation, especially if his ex-wife has anything to say about it. Wanda T. King, Clancy's wife for 30 years, recently filed suit against Clancy because she says he was undermining publication of "Op Center." In her divorce agreement King got a 25 percent cut of "Op Center" profits, making Rovin, as one friend says, "a marital asset."
The issue in court is whether Clancy has tried to stop "Op Center" from getting bigger —and thus producing some big bucks for his ex-wife.
Apparently, he's been working quietly to bring the series to an end. Pieczenik, Clancy's researcher, told Washington Post reporter Michael Amon in a story published July 9th: "He does not want to have the 'Op-Center' series in existence. That's no secret."
If "Op Center" does come to an end, it could mean a big loss to Rovin. Nevertheless, he has managed to get his own novels optioned at various studios, thanks to the Clancy connection. And then of course, there are Clancy's "regular" books, which Rovin may be contributing to as well.
Rovin can't speak, thanks to the gag order, but a source at his literary agency, Trident, denies that he's the real writer of the Clancy novels.
"Tom Clancy writes those books," the source insisted, but not with much enthusiasm.
I have to give publicist Norah Lawlor a lot of credit. Halfway into our expedition to Las Vegas last weekend she renamed America's Sin City.
This is because nearly everyone we saw — men, women, children — had inky art inscribed on their bodies of some sort. Welcome to Las Vegas, she declaimed, the Tattoo Planet.
Las Vegas has really burgeoned since I was there for the opening of the Hard Rock Hotel in 1995. Last Saturday night there were, by some counts, 16 major acts playing somewhere in town.
Among them: Mariah Carey, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Aimee Mann, Gladys Knight, Cyndi Lauper and Meatloaf, John Mellencamp, Busta Rhymes and so on. Comedians George Carlin and Jay Mohr were each doing their acts as well. This doesn't count the "permanent" must-see shows like Cirque du Soleil's "O" or Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance."
And there was more, so much more!
For the hip and jaded, Vegas has finally pulled out of the kitsch mode by building extremely upscale restaurants and hotels. We were parked at Bally's, which is sort of a "B" hotel with a lot of amenities and excellent, renovated rooms. (Full disclosure here: we paid. There are no freebie rooms in Vegas, unless you're a high roller.)
But the chic set get to choose among the Four Seasons (no casino, too restrained), the adjacent Mandalay Bay (elegant but fun) and the Bellagio, which has become the quintessential Vegas stop, far outclassing Caesars Palace, the Venetian and the Mirage.
In fact, for real Vegas fun you could check into the Bellagio and never leave. They have two spectacular four-star restaurants by Sirio Maccioni (search) (Le Cirque and Circo), as well as the highest-end shopping in open-all-night Chanel, Armani, Prada, and Hermes boutiques. They also boast the Picasso restaurant downstairs, which — though horribly overpriced — contains owner Steve Wynn's "donated" collection of Picassos.
Most museums would give their switchboard operators for this collection, which included a rare 1938 portrait of Picasso's lover Marie-Thérèse Walter.
And what about the Hard Rock? Seven years after it opened, Peter Morton's pet project — like the Palms hotel on the other side of town — is for the hipsters, the rock-star set, Leo and Tobey, etc.
Newly installed at the Hard Rock, alongside a Vegas edition of Nobu, is Kerry Simon's new eatery. Simon got his start with Jean-Georges Vongerichten some twenty years ago in New York. Now he's got what's considered the culinary hot spot of the moment.
Cool in a SoHo way, Simon Kitchen and Bar (that's its name) bears no resemblance to the Vegas of old. Where's the all-you-can eat buffet? This is neo-Vegas, and it's a happy respite.
Still, the old Las Vegas is still functioning quite well, thank you. A trip into the casino at the Excalibur Hotel was enough to remind anyone of the old days.
They have McDonald's and Krispy Kreme positioned on the casino floor, right next to the penny slots! Needless to say, there was no sign of Ben Affleck at this place!
And the Barbary Coast is still blinking its neon, with a breakfast buffet and a 16-ounce prime rib for $10.95. Not everything is minimalist. But Las Vegas is changing, and fast.
And what was the show-stopper? I thought I'd seen everything Cirque du Soleil had to offer over the years, but "O" is worth the trip to the Tattoo Planet just for itself.
"O" is set over a huge pool and features dozens of aquatic acrobats who perform the most amazing stunts you will ever see. Conceived like a new-millennium Esther Williams movie, complete with synchronized swimmers and sensationally courageous divers, "O" is a phenomenon.
It also can only be staged in one place — the Bellagio. Like I said, if you can get a room there, you'll never have to leave.
The next Cirque du Soleil show, "Zumanity," starts next month, by the way. This will give the Montreal circus troupe three permanent shows in town.
The new one is said to be very raunchy, with lots of fake genitalia covering real genitalia. So you see, the old Vegas is still lurking about. It wouldn't be the same otherwise.