SHOPPING A BIG SECRET

In the City of Leaks, it is astonishing that the secret of Deep Throat lasted as long as it did. But now that the word is out, the scramble is on to cash in. Indeed, money is at least one reason that Deep Throat's family revealed his identity, through an article written by the family lawyer, John O'Connor, in Vanity Fair. Mark Felt's daughter Joan, once estranged from Felt (she was living on a commune when he was spying on subversives), is now his caretaker. As the Vanity Fair article made clear, she felt that her father deserved recognition before he died, and, as she put it, she saw a way to pay off some debts for her children's tuition bills. Her original hope was to work with Bob Woodward, The Washington Post reporter who made Deep Throat famous. But Woodward, who was unsure of Felt's mental capacity (Felt had suffered a debilitating stroke) to waive Woodward's promise of confidentiality, would never acknowledge that Felt was, in fact, Deep Throat.

So Joan, with O'Connor's help, looked elsewhere for an amanuensis. An attempt to sell the story to People magazine fizzled. A freelance writer, Jess Walter, was brought in to interview Felt. Walter spent about four hours recording conversations with Felt but found it "riddling" to talk to him, he told NEWSWEEK. Crisp G-man to the end, Felt was very fastidious about his appearance. Judith Regan, a well-known New York publisher who saw the project, was interested in the Felt book but balked. "Felt was in and out mentally. Some days he said he was Deep Throat, some days he said he wasn't," she told NEWSWEEK. David Kuhn, a well-connected agent representing the Felt family, says Regan's firm faxed an offer to O'Connor last Wednesday, and that it is under consideration, pending negotiations with other publishers (Kuhn says he and O'Connor met with seven publishers last week, have meetings with more scheduled--and have been in talks with movie and TV producers as well). Regan confirms that there's an offer on the table, but says she's still concerned about "his ability to be interviewed for the book."

As Felt toddled past reporters last week on his daily outing, he declared that he was enjoying the hubbub. "It's doing me good. I'll arrange to write a book or something and collect all the money I can," he exclaimed. (The family got no direct payment for the Vanity Fair article; O'Connor was paid a writer's fee, possibly about $10,000.) But if Deep Throat is in a fog, who will want to read his reminiscences? The one sure best seller is Woodward's own book about Deep Throat. In the works for months, it will be published in July. Woodward will presumably resolve the last mysteries, like why Deep Throat was described in "All the President's Men" as a heavy smoker, even though his family claims that he quit in 1943. (Hint from an anonymous source who sounds a lot like Woodward: ever met a secret smoker who lights up under stress?)

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