The Charlatans

Hampered by court judgments and nonpayment lawsuits, Romero was certain that his financial salvation was Solotaroff's book. In a tape-recorded conversation with Hodes in May 1997, Romero announced there was "no doubt [Group] will be sold to TV and to movies, which will give us a serious chunk of change right up front. So, within the next 12 months, there's gonna be a major influx of money from Paul's book."

By July, Romero was in rehab and planned business ventures with Hodes and Donnenberg were dead. Solotaroff was panicked, Hodes recalled, because he feared that, in light of Romero's behavior, one of the patients profiled in the book might not sign a final release authorizing Solotaroff to tell their story. The doctor's troubles had caused collateral damage to Hodes, Donnenberg, and Solotaroff, and the men— all of whom had been treated by the doctor— felt betrayed.

The shuttering of Romero's practice forced Hodes to vacate the space he had shared with the doctor, who authorized Hodes to sell or dispose of his property left in the loft. But before vacating the conjoined space, Hodes and his wife Anna met up one evening in the loft with Donnenberg, Solotaroff, and the author's wife. As they drank champagne, Solotaroff's wife burned sage, Hodes and Donnenberg recalled, to "purify" Romero's space. Quickly, Hodes recalled, the evening turned into a "cathartic experience" as the three men took turns destroying most of Romero's artwork and some of his personal property. "Are you familiar with the term Kristallnacht?" Donnenberg asked. At the end of the night, Solotaroff's wife left with Romero's collection of classical music CDs and a stamp set from China.

Romero's downfall clearly forced Solotaroff to recast Group. A comparison of the published book and a late draft reveals how Solotaroff is carefully distanced from his protagonist. In the book, Solotaroff claims that he visited Romero's Manhattan office one day in July 1997 to buy the psychiatrist a drink to mark the completion of Group's first draft (two months earlier, Romero told Hodes in a taped conversation that the draft was already complete). There, he discovered Romero drunk. A single call to one of the doctor's friends— apparently Hodes— turns up information that his book's central figure is a deadbeat drunk who regularly goes AWOL for days at a time. "It would strongly understate matters to say I was stunned," wrote Solotaroff.

Later that month, according to Group, Romero checked into rehab "less at the beseechment of friends" than at the possible seizure of his medical license. The author then briefly recounts a visit to the rehab center's rolling campus, where he spoke about treatment protocols with the doctor's therapist.

The draft version offers a rather different series of events from the finished book, which strains to distance the author from the doctor and his various problems. This draft states that when he discovered Romero plastered, the psychiatrist did not know his collaborator's name. Instead, Romero addressed Solotaroff as "Mr. Pulitzer." (The author's bio notes that he has been nominated twice for journalism's highest prize.) Instead of claiming that a close friend of Romero's gave him the lowdown on the doctor's debauchery, "Lathon's neighbors" are credited with quickly bringing Solotaroff up to speed. The author then claimed to have broken down in tears because "so painful was the sight of that proud man debased that I could not help myself."

The draft version also states that the morning after discovering Romero drunk, Solotaroff and a friend of the psychiatrist "entered him into a treatment facility." (The book itself claims the rehab admission came sometime later in the month, not the next day.) There, it was Hodes and Solotaroff— not Romero's estranged wife or any other family member— who met privately with the admitting therapist to provide a précis on the doctor's addictions. Hodes recalled that he and Solotaroff each offered the intake official details of Romero's substance abuse.

But when Group was published two months ago, the fact that Solotaroff himself was the one who carted Romero off for treatment had been removed from the book. Were Solotaroff to admit this level of intimacy and involvement with Romero, his pose as detached observer ("I knew little about him") would appear fraudulent. A reader might also wonder, when he drove Romero to that treatment facility, was he looking to salvage the man or the manuscript? The final draft also noted that Romero's behavior "begged a question: what was canned, and what was candid, and how could I tell the difference?" This glimmer of self-doubt, though, was edited out.

Hodes laughed at Group's description of how Solotaroff found Romero in a stupor, calling the account "completely untrue." Hodes said that Romero had frequently spoken with him about his alcohol and drug abuse. And while Hodes advised him to stop, the frequency of Romero's binges only increased. So when Hodes found drugs strewn across Romero's ramshackle office, he said he contacted Romero's own physician as well as the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct and the Committee For Physicians' Health. It was then that Romero agreed to seek treatment. According to Group, after voluntarily surrendering his medical license, Romero later had it "provisionally restored" so that he could resume a limited practice, one which allows him to treat children and adults under "rigid supervision."

« Previous Page
Next Page »