St. Martin's editor commits hara-kiri, recovers fast

He quit Tuesday; he starts his new job at Talk on Monday.

Published October 28, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

When Robert B. Wallace resigned as editor in chief of St. Martin's Press Tuesday, he issued a statement announcing, "I do not in any way wish to have my name associated with 'Fortunate Son' or future books published by Thomas Dunne Books over which I have no control." Objecting to his company's handling of J.H. Hatfield's discredited George W. Bush biography, a book that alleged, on the authority of three anonymous sources, that Bush had been arrested for cocaine possession in 1972 and had used family connections to have his record expunged, Wallace seemed to be taking the high road.

According to some publishing veterans, it's also the road less traveled. Insiders were at a loss to cite another such dramatic gesture in the recent history of the industry -- an editor in chief resigning in order to distance himself from one of his own company's books.

"I can't recall a similar action," Stuart Applebaum, Random House Inc.'s chief spokesman said.

"I cant think offhand of an analogous case," W.W. Norton editor in chief Starling Lawrence concurred.

Publishers Weekly editorial director John F. Baker remembered a time, 30 years ago, when an editor working with "Spartacus" author Howard Fast resigned rather than be associated with a reputed communist sympathizer. But he noted that the cases were far from identical. (Fast himself told Salon that he could not recall a similar case.)

For one thing, the 48-year-old Wallace's statement upon his departure suggests that the Thomas Dunne imprint functioned completely independently of his authority as editor in chief of the entire house. Yet in a New York Times article Wednesday, his former boss, president and publisher, Sally Richardson, stated that Wallace had "advised on various aspects of the book's launch."

Wallace claims he never read the book and that he was "looped out of the process until the last minute" -- presumably referring to the decision to publish the book's controversial afterword that contained the allegations about Gov. Bush.

Former ABC producer and Rolling Stone editor Wallace does not, however, seem to be out of the loop in the employment market. In a press release Wednesday, Talk Magazine announced that Wallace starts Monday as its new editorial director.

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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