The publisher who helped make E L James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" a phenomenon is being forced out amid a company restructuring.
Anne Messitte, longtime head of the Vintage and Anchor paperback imprints, will depart next month, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group announced Wednesday.
Spokesman Paul Bogaards said that Vintage and Anchor had operated independently, but now would be more closely aligned with the hardcover publishers Doubleday and Alfred A, Knopf. He declined further comment on the news, which marks an abrupt end to Messitte's 20-year reign.
Messitte will be succeeded by Suzanne Herz, who will continue in her current job as Doubleday's executive vice president and executive director of publishing. Knopf Doubleday Chairman Sonny Mehta said in a statement that Messitte had invigorated "all aspects of our paperback program" and cited her work with authors and launch of the Spanish-language publishing program Vintage Espanol.
"Anne has taken our marquee backlist of over five thousand titles and run it as a front-list program," Mehta said, "curating opportunities for our authors, optimizing marketing and media promotion for their books, and developing other strategic initiatives — from series publishing to reading groups to academic marketing and movie tie-in programs — all as a means of driving consumer awareness."
Vintage and Anchor are two of the premier paperback lines, with authors ranging from Margaret Atwood to Robert Caro. Paperbacks usually follow the hardcover editions, by a few months or longer, but Messitte is best known for signing up books that went straight to paperback.
She is widely credited with spotting the potential of James' explicit fiction, acquiring the "Fifty Shades" trilogy when it was just catching on as a digital release and publishing the books as paperback originals in 2012.
The three novels — "Fifty Shades of Grey," ''Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" — have since sold more than 150 million copies and were adapted into a blockbuster movie franchise.
Paul Feig's "Last Christmas" looks every bit like your standard holiday romantic-comedy, but it has some surprises under its gauzy wrapping.
Kate (Emilia Clarke) works in a year-round Christmas ornament shop in London where she must dress daily in a green elf costume. A repeatedly self-described mess living couch to couch, Kate's life begins to change after she meets a mysterious stranger (Henry Golding) whose life advice — "Just look up" — would be too hokey for anything but aspiring meteorologists.
So far, this might sound like a reworking of Ernst Lubitsch's "The Shop Around the Corner" (still the greatest X-mas rom-com). And yet "Last Christmas" turns out to be something less familiar. It's the first — and likely the last — Brexit Christmas movie.
That's not exactly the stuff of movie posters. Those drawn to "Last Christmas" by the infectious lilt of the Wham! classic and the appeal of seeing Clarke newly freed from "Game of Thrones" will encounter a holiday fable that slyly inverts many of the usual trappings of the romantic comedy — so much so that's it's neither particularly funny nor especially romantic.
"Last Christmas" was written by Emma Thompson (who also plays Kate's heavily accented mother — their family are longtime Londoners who emigrated from war-torn Yugoslavia) and Bryony Kimmings. Thompson, of course, is already an integral part of one Yuletide perennial, "Love Actually," so it's natural to come to "Last Christmas" seeking some of the same spirit.
It's not to be found. "Last Christmas" is about as buoyant as leftover eggnog. Clarke's natural charm comes through — she looks ecstatic to be out of Westeros and playing a less upright character — but such a fleabag-screwup role feels better suited to a more comedic performer.
Yet it's often entertaining the way Thompson and Feig take a rom-com set-up and steadily pull it apart, even as they add in the requisite gobs of syrupy sentiment. These movies can be rosy portraits of their cities and their wealthier, white residents. But "Last Christmas" captures a diverse London of immigrants and outsiders, and gravitates not toward its tourist landmarks but its street dwellers. This is set amid the harsh context of Brexit, with background TVs showing the U.K. debates and one "go back to where you came from" encounter on a city bus.
Kate is going from one one-night stand to another, steadfastly refusing to retreat home to her overbearing family in the suburbs. When not working at the store, she makes half-hearted auditions, trying to break through as a musical performer. Her boss at the boutique shop goes by the name Santa (Michelle Yeoh) and delights in sarcastic quips aimed at her lone elf.
Kate is also recovering from a health issue referenced only vaguely at first. And when she meets Tom (Golding), Kate is reluctantly inspired to begin putting her life together — even though Tom is always disappearing, only popping up randomly.
There are good intentions all around but hardly any jokes, which makes the movie's treacly third-act reveal of Tom's identity still harder to swallow. Movies like "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat" made Feig one of Hollywood's top comedy directors, but since his "Ghostbusters" reboot, Feig has turned more toward other genres, relying on narrative twists that he can't always pull off. His last film, the 2018 suburban noir "A Simple Favor," was derailed by wild, "Gone Girl"-inspired plot developments.
George Michael's "Last Christmas" was always more of heartbreak song than a holiday anthem. Feig's movie, too, diverts from standard rom-com beats for something more about rehabilitation, charity and diversity. Its heart might be in the right place, even if its storyline isn't.
"Last Christmas," a Universal Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for language and sexual content. Running time: 103 minutes. Two stars out of four.
Walter Mercado lay in his coffin Wednesday wearing a velvet suit that ranged in color from his favorite violet to dark blue as a teary woman stood nearby, transfixed by a screen that showed pictures of the legendary Puerto Rican astrologer surrounded by friends, family and his dog, Runo.
She was among the dozens of admirers who stopped by a funeral home in the capital of San Juan to say goodbye to the TV star and icon in the gay community beloved by millions in the U.S. and across Latin America.
Fans ranged from elderly women with pearl earrings and immaculate manicures to people in their 30s and 40s wearing faded tank tops and sneakers.
One admirer, Axel Maldonado, drove two hours from the southern coastal city of Ponce. He recalled how he used to pretend to be Mercado when he was a boy and sit in a huge wicker chair to make predictions.
"He never said anything negative and told you what you needed to do to have a positive day," Maldonado said. "I really liked that about him."
Mercado was known for wearing lavish capes in bright colors affixed with large and shiny brooches as he pointed to the cameras with a flourish of fingers bearing large gemstone rings while delivering predictions for each sign.
It was those hand movements that were a favorite of Pedro Esquilín, a computer technician who drove from the eastern coastal town of Loíza to pay his respects to Mercado.
"He had such style and elegance," Esquilín said.
Mercado, who died late Saturday of kidney failure, became well-known in Puerto Rico for his dancing and acting skills and his popularity began to soar in the late 1980s. He then moved to South Florida, where he joined Univision and began delivering horoscopes that ended with the famous phrase: "Above all, lots and lots and lots of love."
As night fell on San Juan, fans continued to trickle in, including 71-year-old Maria Fuentes, who once called Mercado's hotline and talked to him directly before he became famous. She was in her late teens and doubting what she should study and what direction she should take in life.
"He told me to believe in myself, that we Geminis were full of talent, and to have confidence in myself," she recalled.
ABC News faced questions Tuesday about its reluctance to air a sensitive story of alleged sexual misconduct after a leaked video emerged of reporter Amy Robach complaining about how her bosses handled an interview with a Jeffrey Epstein accuser.
The conservative web site Project Veritas released video of Robach venting that "every day I get more and more pissed" that her 2015 interview with Virginia Giuffre never made the air. Robach made her remarks late in August while sitting in a Times Square studio with a microphone but not on the air.
ABC said Tuesday that the interview didn't meet its standards because it lacked sufficient corroborating evidence. Robach, co-anchor of ABC's "20/20" newsmagazine, said the leaked video caught her "in a private moment of frustration."
The episode was remindful of Ronan Farrow's accusations that NBC News discouraged his reporting on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's misconduct. Farrow then took his Pulitzer Prize-winning story to the New Yorker magazine.
ABC sought to minimize the comparison, saying it has pursued and aired other stories about Epstein, the New York financier who died Aug. 10 while in police custody on sex trafficking charges.
Project Veritas is known for its efforts embarrass mainstream media outlets, often sending undercover reporters to catch employees making statements that display an anti-conservative bent. But it needed no such help with the Robach video, which Project Veritas said came from an "ABC insider" it would not identify.
The correspondent was visibly exasperated as she complained that "I tried for three years to get (the interview) on to no avail and now it's coming out and it's like these 'new revelations' and I freaking had all of it."
Giuffre, whose maiden name is Roberts, alleged that as a teen, she was forced by Epstein to have sex with prominent men, including Prince Andrew. The prince and Epstein both denied the charges.
In the video, Robach said she was told "who's Jeffrey Epstein? No one knows who that is. This is a stupid story."
Robach also complained in the video that lawyer Alan Dershowitz and the British Royal Palace applied pressure to ABC not to air the interview with Giuffre. She suggested that the network feared that airing the interview would hurt its ability to get interviews with Prince William and Kate Middleton.
ABC denied that outside pressure had anything to do with its decision.
"At the time, not all of our reporting met our standards to air, but we have never stopped investigating the story," ABC News said in a statement Tuesday.
Giuffre first outlined her allegations against Epstein anonymously in a lawsuit filed in 2009, and she did her first on-the-record interviews about them with the Daily Mail in 2011. At the time of ABC's interview, Giuffre's lawyers were battling with Dershowitz, who was fighting back against her claim that he was among the men who had sex with her when she was a minor.
While her allegations received widespread attention, some news organizations have treated elements of her story with caution because the list of prominent men she accused was long and her allegations difficult to independently confirm.
The Associated Press doesn't generally identify people who say they're victims of sex assault, unless they come forward publicly as Giuffre has done.
Robach said in her statement Tuesday that she had been referring in the video to what Giuffre had said in the interview, not what ABC News had verified through its own reporting. Corroborating evidence of the type the network sought could include interviews with people familiar with Giuffre's allegations or records that would verify she was at the places the alleged sex acts took place.
"The interview itself, while I was disappointed it didn't air, didn't meet our standards," Robach said Tuesday. "In the years since no one has ever told me or the team to stop reporting on Jeffrey Epstein, and we have continued to aggressively pursue this important story."
ABC says it plans to air a two-hour documentary and six-part podcast on the Epstein case next year.
It's still unclear whether Robach's Giuffre interview will be part of it. Now that it is four years old, it would likely need to be updated.
Bruce Springsteen will be presenting a lifetime achievement award next spring to Richard Ford, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "Independence Day" centers on a real estate agent from Springsteen's native New Jersey.
But not everyone is happy about Ford's receiving the Hadada Award, bestowed by the Paris Review at the magazine's annual spring Revel.
Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen was among those on Twitter who noted that the Hadada has only been given to white writers. Others, including author Roxane Gay, cited Ford's history of hostile behavior toward writers who criticized his work. In 2004, he spat on Colson Whitehead after Whitehead wrote a negative review of Ford's "A Multitude of Sins." In a 2017 column that ran in Esquire, Ford expressed little regret.
"I can tell you that, as of today, I don't feel any different about Mr. Whitehead, or his review, or my response," he wrote.
The Paris Review didn't have an immediate comment Tuesday and Ford did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Whitehead declined comment.
The 75-year-old Ford is known to many for his works about the New Jersey sports writer-turned real estate agent Frank Bascombe: "The Sportswriter," ''Independence Day," ''The Lay of the Land" and "Let Me Be Frank With You," a Pulitzer finalist in 2015.
Ford has also written book reviews, including one for The New York Times about Springsteen's memoir, "Born to Run," which came out in 2016. (Springsteen has cited Ford as a favorite writer).
"It helps that Springsteen can write — not just life-imprinting song lyrics but good, solid prose that travels all the way to the right margin," Ford wrote. "Oh, there are a few gassy bits here and there, a jot too much couch-inspired hooey about the 'terrain inside my own head.' A tad more rock 'n' roll highfalutin than this reader really needs — though the Bruce enthusiasts down in Sea-Clift won't agree with me. No way.
"But nothing in 'Born to Run' rings to me as unmeant or punch-pulling."