December 29, 2003 05:42 PM

An unauthorized biography of Catherine Zeta-Jones has been shelved after its British publishers got cold feet over the project, reports the BBC.

The book, by biographer Cliff Goodwin, who has also chronicled the life of the late actor Richard Harris, was due to have been published in time for Christmas.

But Goodwin, who spent months researching the project, was forced to abandon the 256-page “Catherine Zeta-Jones: The Biography” once he and the publisher, Virgin Publishing (part of Virgin Air entrepreneur Richard Branson’s empire), received threatening letters from Zeta-Jones’s legal team, according to the BBC.

Goodwin said that the project had been difficult nearly from the start, given that the parents of the “Chicago” Oscar winner, who hails from Wales, rarely speak to the press and did not talk to him. Nor did her close family and friends.

Zeta-Jones, 34, and her husband, Michael Douglas, 59, gave their lawyers quite a bit of business this year. Only last month, after a high-profile trial, the two were awarded $24,250 in damages from the British celebrity magazine Hello! in London’s High Court — far short of the nearly $831,000 the couple wanted from the publication for having published unauthorized photos of their November 2000 wedding.

During the trial, Zeta-Jones called the photos sleazy and unflattering. But Judge John Lindsay ruled against the couple on several key points. Although he said Hello! had breached the couple’s rights of confidence, he ruled against the stars’ claim of invasion of privacy and rejected their demands for “aggravated and exemplary damages.”

Also last month, the Smoking Gun Web site reported that Zeta-Jones was bent out of shape by reports that she lost weight thanks to the high-protein Atkins diet, so a warning letter was sent to media outlets by her Century City, Calif., law firm.

The letter said that that she had become aware that her “likeness and persona have been improperly linked” to the “world-renowned Atkins diet,” and that the incorrect information is “falsely representing to the average reader … that Ms. Zeta-Jones would recommend this diet to any person looking to lose weight.”

The legal letter said that no link between Zeta-Jones and the Atkins plan should ever be made.

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