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Leona Helmsley Inspires Books, TV Movies, Songs

September 20, 1989 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ First came the ads featuring Leona Helmsley as the perfectionist queen of her hotel empire. Then came her trial and conviction for tax evasion. Now Leona is coming to bookstores, piano bars and TV screens near you.

At least three books, several songs and two television movies in the works pay tribute to the arrogant penny-pincher whom Mayor Edward I. Koch once dubbed ″the Wicked Witch of the West.″

Mrs. Helmsley may also be a big hit on Halloween. Said Paul Blum, owner of the Greenwich Village novelty shop Abracadabra: ″We do have a Leona Helmsley wig, and then we put you in a prisoner outfit with a crown.″

In August, Mrs. Helmsley was convicted of evading $1.2 million in taxes by billing $3 million in personal expenses to her business. Her husband, Harry, 80, was declared incompetent to stand trial.

According to testimony from disgruntled former employees, Mrs. Helmsley insisted that bottles be returned for the nickel deposit, billed $8 worth of underwear to her business, and once said: ″Only the little people pay taxes.″

She will be sentenced Nov. 14.

″She epitomizes the 1980s to an extreme,″ said Newsday reporter Michael Moss, whose book ″Palace Coup″ was published by Doubleday in April. ″She was an incredibly selfish, self-centered, insecure person who hurt dozens of decent people in her unbridled lust for power.″

Or, as singer Christopher Mason put it: ″Everyone simply adores to loathe her.″

Mason wrote a ditty about Leona to the tune of ″I’m Just Wild About Harry.″ The lyrics include the lines: ″The moral of the story, as if you couldn’t guess, is it doesn’t pay to mess with the IRS.″

Franklin Roosevelt Underwood, who like Mason sings at parties and piano bars around town, wrote lyrics about Mrs. Helmsley to the tune of ″Ramona.″ The refrain goes, ″When Leona’s at the helm of the Helmsley.″

After the trial, Bantam Books rushed into paperback with ″The Queen of Mean: the Unauthorized Biography of Leona Helmsley,″ by New York Post reporter Ransdell Pierson. The book will be available nationally Friday.

″People are fascinated by why rich people do things that even us not-rich people wouldn’t think of doing,″ said a Bantam spokesman, Stuart Applebaum.

New American Library is bringing out ″The Helmsleys″ by Richard Hammer next spring. ABC is making a TV movie based on the book starring Anne Bancroft as Leona. Spector Corp. in Los Angeles has bought an option to turn Moss’ book into a TV movie also.

Mrs. Helmsley’s rags-to-riches story and subsequent fall makes for good drama. Daughter of a poor hatmaker, she made $1 million in real estate before marrying billionaire Harry. Together, they ran a $5 billion hotel and real estate empire.

″It’s the ultimate degradation for someone who’s very rich and very powerful to become a common felon and they sentence her to live behind bars where she’s not going to wear fancy gowns anymore or live in a penthouse,″ Hammer said.