Clear Writing Secrets Used By Doris Day’s Ex-lawyer

As promised last Tuesday, today’s post  is a preview of my soon to be published ebook, “The Art of Clear Writing.”  This preview is taken from the introduction to Section I of the ebook.  It explains how I came to represent multi-talented singer/actress  Doris Day’s ex-lawyer, Jerry Rosenthal, back in 1974, and the writing secrets he passed on to me.

Here’s the excerpt:

“Once upon a long time ago, I was the lead defense lawyer when Doris Day won $26 million from her lawyer/business manager, JerryRosenthal.  You may have heard about it.  That was way back in 1974.  What’s the relevance here?  The case enabled me to meet Rosenthal, who,with all of his faults, was nevertheless an accomplished legal writer.

Rosenthal, who died in 2007, believed strongly in the persuasive power of his writing.  He never undertook any writing project without concentrating intensely on it. Valuable writing lessons were there for the taking.

Let me explain.

It all began for me in 1972, when I left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, and joined the Los Angeles law firm of Kirtland and Packard, which specialized in insurance defense cases.  Shortly after I joined the firm, Bob Packard, the firm’s senior partner, handed me a file and asked me if I wanted to meet Doris Day.  I thought he was joking, but it was a serious question.   Her cross-suit for legal malpractice against Rosenthal was one of many cases then pending in the office.  The question sparked an immediate interest in the case for me.   Doris Day was then, and still is, one of my favorite entertainers.

I had tried many cases as an Assistant United States Attorney, and ultimately, because of that experience, I took over responsibility for the case. There was little appreciation then for the enormous time constraints which would be imposed on me for the next two years.

Before finishing with the case, I was confronted with the need to research, and understand, a huge array of complex legal issues which were enmeshed in the case.  These included aspects of entertainment law, corporate law, partnership law, contracts, income tax law, and oil and gas taxation, just to name a few.

Notwithstanding the huge inroads on my time required by the case, I developed an intense interest in the background of the parties as they related to each other.  The Melchers and Jerry Rosenthal enjoyed a smooth relationship for many years, dating back to around 1951. There was no hint of the bitterness and acrimony which later was to develop.  Rosenthal and Doris Day’s husband and business manager, Marty Melcher, were extremely close, “like brothers,” as Rosenthal once said, holding up an intertwined index and middle finger to emphasize the point.  They had offices down the hall from each other at 250 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, California, and conferred with each other virtually on a daily basis about Day’s business and financial affairs.  Day relied exclusively on Melcher to handle all of her business and financial affairs and Melcher relied exclusively on Rosenthal to handle all of the Melchers’ legal affairs.

All of that changed in 1968 when Marty Melcher died.  According to Rosenthal, Day failed to honor certain contractual obligations involving her investments in hotels and oil wells. So, Rosenthal took the only step which appeared open to him – litigation, suing her for breach of contract. The trouble with Rosenthal’s case was that he had a ten per cent financial interest in those investments, a clear conflict of interest, which was fully disclosed and consented to in writing by the Melchers.  Day sued Rosenthal back for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty based on conflicts of interest, and other theories.

The case went to trial in 1974 in Los Angeles County Superior Court before Judge Lester E. Olson.  At the end of a six month court trial, jury having been waived, (thirteen cases, unluckily for Rosenthal, were consolidated for trial), the judge commented that, “Somebody should write a book about the case.”  Although the judge looked at me when he made that comment, the book has never been written.  Not yet anyway.  It was simply too traumatic to relive the ordeal of that trial, the tension, the long hours, and the continuing crises and deadlines that surrounded it, as well as the prospect of having to deal further with Rosenthal, which would have been another trial unto itself.  But now that I’m retired and with the ameliorating effects of the passage of time, and Rosenthal’s death, I may confront those demons and do it yet, in one form or another.  There would be quite a bit to tell.

Jerry Rosenthal had a genius I.Q., or so he claimed, with an ego to match. That was the cause of many of his problems, but that’s a whole different story, which we’ll leave for another day.  Despite Rosenthal’s detractors – there were a lot of them; many thought him devious, arguably deservedly so – he could also be quite a charmer when the mood struck him. At one time he hosted a whole stable of Hollywood celebrities as clients including actors Kirk Douglas, Hedy LaMarr, and Gordon MacRae, and producer Ross Hunter, among others.

Rosenthal was an experienced litigator who knew his way around the courtroom.  He often tried to use his courtroom wiles as a bludgeon against his adversaries, usually successfully.  One of his enduring traits was tenacity, some called it plain stubbornness, a trait which was overused in Rosenthal’s situation because he usually failed to surrender on any issue, even a trivial one.  Moreover, his negotiating stance, when negotiations were in order, was often unrealistic in view of existing circumstances.   (When it comes to writing, however, tenacity can be a crown jewel, as pointed out … in the section on development of confidence in your writing.)

One of the lingering memories of my relationship with him was his penchant –call it a phobia – for using the right word, whether in writing or speaking.   Rosenthal boasted to me one day that the clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court had advised him that his framing of the issue in a petition he had written was the most clearly worded issue the clerk had ever seen.

I had long held a strong interest in writing even before meeting Rosenthal.  But his fixation on word selection, together with his extensive vocabulary and his flair for writing, piqued my own long standing interest in that subject and caused me to focus on my writing even more readily.  He screened all the documents I prepared during the case with a critical eye, concluding when satisfied, “That’s a good paper.”  If the comment wasn’t forthcoming, the “paper” went back to me for more revisions.

There were probably three singular writing lessons I took away from my relationship with Rosenthal.  First, carefully plan what I am going to write. Second, cultivate a propensity to find and use the right words, the precise words, to fully express my thoughts in writing.  Third, thoroughly review and edit my work before pronouncing it “done.”  These lessons, together with my continued perseverance and research, led to the development of an effective writing style over the years.

Now, I want to pass the fruits of that experience on to you.  Mastery of the guidelines and techniques explained in this ebook will go a long way to improve the clarity of your writing.  The ability to write clearly will greatly enhance your efforts at advancement in whatever undertaking you may choose.”

That concludes the excerpt.  Next Friday, I will pass on another excerpt from my ebook for you.  It will be a “recipe” for clear writing success.

In addition, my article “Antietam and Gettysburg – Two Pivotal Civil War Battles That saved The Union,” is now available on Kindle.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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