Their latest joint project is the feature film Morning Glory, a sweet, low-budget love story set in rural Georgia in the 1940s, starring Raffin and Christopher Reeve. Raffin discovered the tale, based on the 1990 La-Vyrle Spencer novel, while abridging it for Dove's books-on-tape division, the true heart of the couple's operation. Dove Audio has already put some 140 books on tape this year, including Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County and Stephen W. Hawking's A Brief History of Time. The small business Raffin and Viner started at home in 1986 has become a $23 million-a-year mini-conglomerate with plush offices in Beverly Hills.
Still, Raffin and Viner's most impressive accomplishment may be their harmonious marriage. "How many arguments do we have a year? One? Two?" Viner asks. Raffin says, "That's because we respect each other, and we don't compete." They also complement each other: Viner is intense and businesslike—the deal-making half of the equation. Raffin is more lighthearted and subtle, a master at getting the most out of readers such as Kirk Douglas, Joan Rivers, Amy Tan, Carrie Fisher and Al Gore. (The Vice President recorded his book, Earth in the Balance, for Dove last year.) "I'm enormously impressed with Deborah as a producer," says Sidney Sheldon, who has had 13 of his books recorded by Dove. "She's very encouraging and has great instincts."
Raffin says the secret of her success is that she always works with people who "feel passionate about what they are doing." For instance, Paul Newman recorded Evan Connell's Mr. Bridge for Dove, while Joanne Woodward read Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. Says Viner: "Paul and Joanne worked for very little because they wanted to do it." (The average reading fee is $2,000 a book, plus royalties.)
There was a time, though, when Raffin didn't feel particularly passionate about Viner. On the night of her 21st birthday, when a producer friend set them up on a blind date, she remembers feeling cool to the idea of seeing someone nine years her senior. But Viner, a Washington native who was an advance man for Robert Kennedy before moving to L.A. in 1968 and becoming a record producer, took Raffin to a black-tie tribute to James Cagney, one of her favorite actors, and she changed her opinion of older men. Viner, too, was smitten. "I couldn't believe, she was as nice as she seemed," he remembers. "I thought I'd go out with her until her bitchy side emerged. We're still going out."
The couple wed in August 1974, four months after their first meeting. In 1978 they started Dove as a film-production company. Then, seven years ago, the company's fortunes changed when Viner won $8,000 in a backgammon game with friend Sidney Sheldon. "Sidney wanted me to take the money, but Deborah didn't," says Viner. As a compromise they used it to start the audio book company—and gave Sheldon 25 percent ownership. "The most profitable loss I've ever had," says Sheldon, who has had three of his books turned into miniseries by Dove's film division.
The company's remarkable climb has come with a personal cost. Raffin and Viner spend more lime in their Mediterranean-style office than in their airy, four-bedroom house off Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills. They also own a getaway on 10 acres in Stowe, Vt. The couple put off having children while Viner successfully battled cancer (he completely recovered some 10 years ago) and now feel that, psychologically, the time for kids may have passed. "I'm set in my ways," says Viner. "I don't think I could be a good father anymore."
Their ever-blossoming business, the two say, is satisfaction enough. "It's scary and thrilling," says Raffin of Dove's success, offering a prescription for corporate prosperity that sounds like the secret to marital longevity as well. "Keep taking chances even though it's frightening," she says. "Setting higher goals pushes you to grow."
LEAH FELDON-MITCHELL in Los Angeles and CATHY NOLAN in Paris