A cancer survivor burst into tears Wednesday when she testified that Rosie O'Donnell had suggested she was lying about goings-on at O'Donnell's now-defunct magazine, Rosie, and told her that liars get cancer. Cindy Spengler, who was head of marketing at the glossy monthly, said O'Donnell made the remark after a July 2002 meeting to discuss Rosie's problems. Spengler said O'Donnell called and told her that her silence in the meeting was the same as lying. "You know what happens to people who lie," the witness quoted O'Donnell as saying. "They get sick and they get cancer. If they keep lying, they get it again."
Spengler, who said she had survived breast cancer, was testifying in Manhattan's state supreme court, where O'Donnell and Rosie publisher Gruner+Jahr USA are suing each other for breach of contract. Spengler began weeping. She said she asked O'Donnell, "Your mother died of breast cancer. Was she lying?" "Yes," Spengler quoted the entertainer as saying. O'Donnell's publicist, Cindi Berger, said Spengler was referring to denials by the talk-show host's mother that O'Donnell had been molested as a child by a male relative. Berger refused to give details about the incident. In her autobiography, Find Me, O'Donnell wrote, "I was an abused kid. This is something I've chosen not to dwell on in my public life. So, yes, I had been abused, although the details are not important."
Outside court, O'Donnell said she had called Spengler the very next morning and apologized for the cancer comment. "I'm sorry I hurt her the way I did," O'Donnell said. "That was not my intention." O'Donnell said she and Spengler, who is now a G+J USA marketing vice president, had spoken often about breast cancer. "It was the monster that took my mom," she said.
Spengler admitted during testimony that she sent an e-mail on October 1, 2002, to Susan Toepfer, Rosie's editor in chief, suggesting that "we do our own little 'ding dong the witch is dead' song and dance" after O'Donnell broke with G+J. In an e-mail response, Toepfer, who had said she wanted to move into O'Donnell's office, promised to "take out the bad vibes." She also said, "I think you're supposed to burn sage in all the corners."
G+J lawyers allege that O'Donnell destroyed the magazine because of a fight over which cover photo should be used for a feature on the actresses from the TV show The Sopranos. The cover, showing O'Donnell between two of the actresses, was never used. During the testimony of Daniel Brewster, chief executive officer of G+J USA, O'Donnell's lawyer Matthew Fishbein showed parts of the joint venture agreement between the entertainer and G+J. The contract says O'Donnell has "control over the editorial process and the editorial staff," subject only to Brewster's veto a week before publication. It also says O'Donnell and G+J will jointly appoint the magazine's senior staff. Brewster said, "We interpreted it [the veto provision] as having ultimate editorial control." Justice Ira Gammerman said he is the one who will interpret the contract.
O'Donnell quit the magazine in mid September 2002 following a months-long dispute over editorial control, crystallized by the fight over the Sopranos cover shot. The publishers sued O'Donnell for $100 million, alleging breach of contract for walking away. She countersued for $125 million, declaring that by cutting her out of key editorial decisions, G+J had violated its contract with her. Gammerman, who is hearing the trial without a jury, will decide the case. The judge has overseen other high-profile cases involving Joan Collins and Woody Allen.