August 03, 1981 12:00 PM

This is a book on legalized thuggery,” gloats Robert Morrison in the preface of Divorce Dirty Tricks. “It will teach you to be the dirtiest, rotten, meanest, most low-down son of a bitch. It will show you how to take someone’s hide before they know what happened to them.” Unfortunately for Morrison, one of the 20,000 people who read his book was his third ex-wife, Sean, who recognized their own divorce battles in it and is now suing him for $1.5 million.

According to Sean’s lawyer, Murray Miller, Robert Morrison’s 1980 divorce agreement with Sean was breathtakingly one-sided: Having promised to pay her $50,000, Miller says, he persuaded her instead that “it would be good for her morale and independence if he didn’t. He even convinced her that the $10,000 he paid her originally should be given back—with interest” (see Chapter 6, entitled Alimony).

Morrison also fought for custody of his sons from an earlier marriage, Jimmy, now 12, and Shawn, 10. He won (Chapters 7 and 8). “Our community property,” says Sean, “included yachts, cars, expensive jewelry and at least $300,000 in cash.” Yet Morrison, she now contends, managed to conceal most of it from her (Chapter 5) and even lulled her into believing that his lawyers would represent both their interests (Chapter 3). Morrison refuses to discuss his ex-wife’s charges except to protest that some of the dirty tricks she accuses him of “aren’t even in the book.”

Their marriage began as it ended, in print. In 1976, Morrison, a 38-year-old high school dropout who had already made a fortune writing how-to-claw-your-way-to-the-top manuals and selling them by mail, placed a personal ad in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Wanted—young, adventurous woman for trip to Mexico on my 110-foot yacht.” Sean was 24 and experienced at sailing, having raced yachts while getting her economics degree at San Francisco State. So, along with 100 others, she answered the ad. Soon Morrison’s secretary called Sean and arranged a meeting. Shortly thereafter Sean and Bob boarded his boat, The Finale, and set sail for Mexico. One month later they were married.

“We lived on board his boat for a year in Nassau,” Sean recalls. “We had a condominium in San Diego and we bought a four-bedroom house in Phoenix.” She says she tried to be the “perfect wife” and was persuaded, without pay, to help him in his business. But as their fourth anniversary neared, the ties that bind began to chafe. “He picked all my clothes,” she says. “I was never allowed to go to hairdressers because he didn’t believe in them. I had no friends. I wasn’t even permitted to speak to my mother. I was constantly crying. I took five baths a day and was on antidepressant drugs.” She calls Bob a Svengali. “He was a cult leader with one member—me. He can make you do things you never thought you would do. My ex-husband was a very good salesman.”

On that, at least, they are agreed. “I’ve been a greedy bastard and s.o.b. most of my life,” he concedes. “Most businessmen are the same way, but they don’t want to admit it.” That has been the theme of many of his 40 books, including Why S.O.B.s Succeed and Nice Guys Fail in a Small Business, The Greedy Bastard’s Business Manual and How to Steal a Job. “I take an idea, give it a twist, and the money rolls in,” he boasts. The idea for Divorce Dirty Tricks (DDT is his nickname for it) came after his custody battle with Sean.

Though Morrison is married again (to 23-year-old former model Tricia Seefried, who describes him as “highly moralistic, sexy, ambitious and compassionate”), he claims his first two marriages and divorces had made him reluctant to marry Sean in the first place. It was her idea, he says. “She pointed out that we could sign a pre-nuptial agreement. I hadn’t even heard of it until she brought it up.” In his countersuit, Morrison argues that Sean, who now lives with a group of friends in a rented house in Phoenix, got what was stipulated in that agreement—plus what was included in the subsequent property settlement. She says all she got was a Jaguar that needed $8,000 worth of repairs. But she did get one gift from him that came in handy—an autographed copy of DDT. The inscription: “For Sean—my favorite ex-wife.”

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