When Andrew Morton took a typewriter-shaped hatchet to the Royal Family, he was on every chat show in town. When he explored the private lives of Tom Cruise and Madonna, TV feasted on every prurient revelation. But now he has written a book that might upset Angelina Jolie, Hollywood's most influential shows are ignoring him.
The British writer's unauthorised biography of Jolie hit the shelves of America's bookstores yesterday, promising all the usual intimate details about the life and many loves of the film industry's current Queen Bee. After a launch which made headlines in everything from the literary pages of The New York Times to the news section of The National Enquirer, it promptly soared to the top of the best-seller lists.
Yet even though Morton's biography – called, simply, Angelina – is now one of the celebrity world's hottest topics, and the book's launch was moved forward three days after internet rumours about its content went viral, the biggest entertainment shows on US television have conspicuously had nothing to do with it.
No one can be exactly sure why Extra, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight and The Insider all decided to forgo opportunities to carry out their traditional interview with Morton, whose revelatory tome about one of the most talked-about figures in showbusiness is sitting at number one in the list of biographies in the Amazon online sales charts.
Nor is it possible to work out what persuaded the producers of all four of the major network shows – which usually lap up celebrity controversy – to instruct their news teams to ignore the fallout from Morton's widely reported claims that (among other things) Jolie once had a fling with Leonardo DiCaprio, and spent two years of her childhood being raised by nannies in a Los Angeles service apartment.
John Murphy, the publicity director of Morton's publishers, St Martin's Press, has a theory, though. After staff at three of the TV shows refused to return his calls (and the makers of the fourth booked Morton and then cancelled at the last minute), he's come to the conclusion that they have been intimidated into ignoring the launch.
In an interview carried on the front page of this weekend's Hollywood Reporter, Mr Murphy said he believes that Jolie and her husband, Brad Pitt, are able to use their standing as the film industry's most elusive and sought-after interview subjects to intimidate networks into ignoring any story that might portray the couple in a negative light. "The fear that might have been imposed on these so-called entertainment news shows by the Brangelina PR machine has got them running scared from the story," he claimed, noting that Morton has previously been able to pick and choose his slots on all four of the programmes when he releases a book.
If Mr Murphy is right – and his theory does have a ring of truth, even if the couple have a relatively low-key PR operation and use their managers in lieu of an actual publicist – then the self-censorship is proving to be remarkably unsuccessful at keeping the book's revelations from the wider news sphere.
Morton's 350-odd pages of prose contain a mixture of startling and startlingly-petty anecdotes about Jolie, which have been like manna to more populist sections of the entertainment media. They include claims of significance such as that a tattoo she had scrawled on her nether regions in honour of her now-ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton was written in the helvetica font. In another chapter, he reveals that, as a child, she once urinated into an empty bottle of a soft drink called Mountain Dew, chilled it in the refrigerator and gave it to the then-mistress of her father, the actor Jon Voight.
The story is part of an effort by Morton to posit the extravagant theory that Jolie's tendency to embark on affairs with married men (including Pitt, who was married to Jennifer Aniston when their relationship began) stems from the fact that Voight cheated on her late mother, Marcheline Bertrand, soon after she was born.
As with most of his unauthorised biographies, Morton relied largely on unnamed sources, some of dubious provenance, to build this argument. However, he does carry fresh quotes from Jolie's childhood nanny, Krisann Morel. The book also contains a chapter detailing Jolie's well-documented battles with drug addiction and anorexia. It contains a series of previously unseen pictures of her – naked except for nipple tape and a blindfold in one, and apparently taking drugs in another.
The author: Tittle-tattle or history?
Andrew Morton is no stranger to tackling the lives of some of the world's biggest names. Although he penned the 1992 exposé of Princess Diana, translated into 29 languages, the Yorkshire-born former Daily Star reporter received greater US prominence with his biography of Monica Lewinsky. Although the 57-year-old still lives in London, his US fame led him to concentrate on high-profile American stars such as Tom Cruise and Madonna – and now Angelina Jolie.
Each of his biographies has earned him an estimated £3m, but Morton also sees himself as a serious historian after being invited to write the biography of Daniel arap Moi, the former Kenyan president, and an account of the Quecreek mine rescue in Pennsylvania in 2002.
Over the years, his mix of facts and tabloid gossip has landed him in hot water, with Tom Cruise, David and Victoria Beckham and Madonna all threatening legal action over claims in their biographies. But only Mr Moi took action, winning £45,700.