By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com November 11 2003 12:00 AM ET
Rosie O'Donnell said her publisher deceived her about how her magazine would be run and that she was the victim of a "coup d'état." O'Donnell, finishing her testimony Friday at the breach-of-contract trial, said she entered the joint venture with publisher Gruner+Jahr USA believing she controlled the editorial content and staff of Rosie. By the end of summer 2002, she said, she believed that was no longer true. In e-mails shown as evidence at the trial at New York State supreme court in Manhattan, O'Donnell said she would control the magazine's editorial content or shut it down. The last issue of Rosie was December 2002.
The entertainer said problems began July 10, 2002, when editor in chief Susan Toepfer chose a photo for Rosie's September cover feature on the women of The Sopranos and fought O'Donnell over whether to use it. O'Donnell said the incident and others convinced her that Daniel Brewster, the G+J chief executive who hired Toepfer, had violated her contract with G+J. "I felt there was a coup d'état," she testified. "Susan Toepfer was trying to take over my magazine. Having a magazine with my name on it go out to the public without my control was never an option for me." O'Donnell testified that after she told Brewster, "You and I are done," she asked a colleague to remove pictures of her children from her office. "I didn't want his [Brewster's] vibrations near my children's spirits," she explained.
O'Donnell's brother, Ed O'Donnell, testified that when he was asked to study Rosie's numbers to see what could be done about circulation problems and difficulties attracting advertising, an executive told him the numbers he was using were fake. Ed O'Donnell, a senior vice president of marketing at NBC, said Cindy Spengler, the magazine's marketing executive, told him the sales and circulation numbers sent to the industry's Audit Bureau of Circulations were exaggerated so they would look better. O'Donnell had a clause in her contract with G+J that allowed her to cancel the joint agreement if the magazine's sales dropped below a certain level. Her lawyers say G+J executives lied about the numbers so they could continue to publish Rosie.
G+J lawyers, responding to a question from Justice Ira Gammerman, said the magazine lost about $19 million during its 18-month existence. O'Donnell put up $6 million. O'Donnell quit the magazine in mid September 2002. G+J lawyers say she killed the magazine because of the fight with Toepfer over the Sopranos photo. The cover, showing O'Donnell standing between Lorraine Bracco and Edie Falco, was never used. The publishers sued O'Donnell for $100 million, alleging breach of contract. She countersued for $125 million, declaring that by cutting her out of key editorial decisions, G+J had violated the contract. Gammerman, who has overseen cases involving Joan Collins and Woody Allen, is hearing the trial without a jury and will decide the case. The trial was expected to conclude Monday. O'Donnell said as she left court Friday, "I will not appeal the verdict, no matter what it is. The judge is a very wise man, and I will abide by whatever he says."