Alasdair Marshall considers a Scots author's investigation of Steven Spielberg's early life.

STEVEN Spielberg is the most powerful film maker in Hollywood and some say he rules by Divine Right. ``It's a case of, `I am the King, I make the rules','' according to one anonymous Tinseltown agent. Others go further.

Oprah Winfrey once simpered: ``I sometimes feel you aren't a real person, Steven, but that God has loaned you to us.''

But even royalty and those divinely touched have their downside. ``People are scared of him and he assumes a huge place in people's minds. They see him as God. And not a loveable God either,'' says an anonymous ex-associate.

The rash of anonymity is understandable. Publicly fomenting treason and blasphemy has never been a good career move and in the US film industry. Those prepared to launch a broadside at Steven Spielberg are thin on the ground . . . and on thin ice professionally.

Scottish author Andrew Yule has no such inhibitions. There is every likliehood that his warts-and-all biography Steven Spielberg will turn the director of ET and Jurassic purple. It is also bound to trigger seismic rumblings along Hollywood Boulevard.

It may be overly melodramatic to suggest that Yule will never eat lunch in Tinseltown again - but you can say with safety that it won't be at Spielberg's table.

``I didn't set out to do a hatchet job,'' says Yule, who splits his time between his home in Kilmarnock and America. ``When the publishers initially asked me to write a book on Spielberg, I dismissed it out of hand. I didn't think he would be an interesting subject. He seemed so bland.

``A friend of mine disagreed. He suggested that I take a look at Empire of the Sun. (Spielberg's big-screen adaptation of J G Ballard's harrowing Booker Prize-winning novel about a small boy abandoned and taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Second World War).

``The subject matter was so atypical, so counter to the cuddly ET image, that I realised there must by another side to the guy.''

The other side was dark. ``Spielberg is one of the most ruthless deal-makers in Hollywood and he has regularly been accused of power abuse and bullying,'' says Yule. (This scarcely applied when he divorced his first wife Amy Irving. The settlement was said to be $100m - or approximately $78,000 a day for the three-and-a-half year marriage.) ``His reputation for stinginess is legendary. A former colleague I spoke to referred to the possibility of him picking up the tab for lunch as `an industry first''.

``Others say he has a more inflated ego than Orson Welles. In a studio jacuzzi room one pool was reserved `For Spielberg Only'.'' Taken along with the information that the maker of ET has one of the finest collections of guns in California, many of the anonymous barbs could be labelled malicious tittle-tattle. Envy and petty spite are often cited as the reasons why Spielberg never won an Oscar until Schindler's List.

``Even this triumph has been devalued by Schindler's widow who said earlier this year that her husband was nothing more that ``a greedy profiteer'' and that Spielberg's movie was ``packed with lies'', Yule reveals. With his dramatic reconstruction of the Twilight Zone tragedy a more serious note is struck.

The author explains, ``It was a four-part portmanteau movie co-produced by Spielberg and John Landis. When Landis was shooting his segment, two Vietnamese children and actor Vic Morrow were killed. Landis went on trial for involuntary manslaughter but escaped with a small fine.

``There was evidence that the children had been hired illegally. Witnesses were intimidated. They were never able to serve a subpeona on Spielberg's close friend and associate, producer/director Frank Marshall, who was present at the accident. He didn't appear at the trial.

``A lot of people came to the conclusion that if you were Spielberg or worked for Spielberg you were above the law.''

But it is the blow-by-blow account of an old contract dispute that will do blockbuster damage to the moviemaker's reputation. This has built into a multi-million-dollar David v Goliath legal battle which will probably be settled next year.

Since details of the law suit are a matter of public record in the States, Yule tells the story in detail for the first time in his book. ``In a nutshell it is claimed that Spielberg lied about his age to get out of a contract that would have cost him millions.

``When he was young and broke and desperate to make a movie he became friendly with a young businessman called Dennis Hoffman who financed the first film he ever made. It was a short called Amblin (later the name of Spielberg's company). It won awards brought him to the notice of the powers that be in Hollywood. There is no question it kick-started his career. Without Hoffman's financial assistance he might never have made it.

``Spielberg signed a contract agreeing to direct a feature film for Hoffman `within the next 10 years'. Later, after he had made millions with Jaws and Close Encounters, he claimed the contract was invalid because he was under 21 when he signed it.

``Hoffman accepted this, and a payment of $25,000 to cover his original investment. The pair remained on friendly terms until Hoffman discovered two years ago that Spielberg had been claiming all along that he was a year younger than he really is.

``December 18, 1947, is the date of birth listed by Spielberg himself on his driving licence and on his children's birth certificates. But his own birth certificate shows that he was born on December 18, 1946.

``Hoffman's lawyers contacted Spielberg's attorney and were begged not to file suit because Spielberg wanted to settle the matter and did not want it publicised. Then came a counter claim on Spielberg's behalf claiming financial harassment. I'd say there is a good chance it will be settled out of court.''

Yule adds: ``Hoffman seeks damages on account of Spielberg's fraud and breach of contract. Hoffman further seeks punitive damages to deter Spielberg from engaging in the same conduct in the future.''

The author tried for a close encounter with Spielberg but his request for an interview was turned down. ``I wrote him a three-page letter but he wouldn't talk to me,'' says the Kilmarnock writer.

Yule, a successful businessman, who became the managing director of a knitwear company, he dramatically changed course in his late forties and became a film writer. ``I'd always wanted to get involved in some way with the production side of film making and I had reached the age when it was ``now-or-never,'' he says.

He has written books on Chic Murray (his all-time hero), David Puttnam, Sean Connery, Peter Bogdanovich, Terry Gilliam and Al Pacino. Spielberg was published here on Thursday, but so far no date has been set in the States.

``It's not a question of testing the water here first as far as I know,'' says Yule. ``I'm not worried if Spielberg makes a fuss. What I have written is a matter of record.''

n Steven Spielberg - Father to the Man. Little Brown, #16.99.