Kelley at Borders Books and Music in Chicago, April 2010
April 4, 1942 |
|Notable work(s)||The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty (2004)
Oprah: A Biography (2010)
|Notable award(s)||PEN Oakland Censorship Award|
Kitty Kelley (born April 4, 1942) is an American journalist and author of several best-selling unauthorized biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, the British Royal Family, the Bush family, and Oprah Winfrey.
Although Kelley has been called "the consummate gossip monger, a vehicle for all the rumor and innuendo surrounding her illustrious subjects" she maintains, "I am an unabashed admirer of transparency and believe in the freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment" and, to that end, her writing is about "moving an icon out of the moonlight and into the sunlight".
Born in Spokane, Washington, Kitty Kelley received a B.A. in English from the University of Washington. She worked at the New York World's Fair in 1964 and went on to become a receptionist/press secretary for Senator Eugene McCarthy.
Following four years as a press assistant to McCarthy, Kelley worked for two years as the editorial page researcher for the Washington Post. Since then, she has had a full-time career as a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, People, Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune.
Jacqueline Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra biographies
Kelley's first celebrity biography was Jackie Oh! (1978), a life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, which was written at the request of Lyle Stuart, who launched the book into the New York Times Best Seller List. In the book, Kelley describes John F. Kennedy's womanizing and includes "revelations" about Onassis's love life, her depression and electric shock treatment. Journalist Michael Crowley stated Jackie Oh! contained "core truths—including an unflinching look at JFK that showed him to have been 'more of a Romeo than has been previously revealed.'"
This book was followed by Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star (1981).
Kelley's next book, His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra (1986) was declared "an act of bravery." Kelley discussed Sinatra's marriages, affairs and his links to the Mob. Sinatra filed a $2 million lawsuit to prevent it from being published but subsequently dropped it.
The book was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List and hit best-seller lists in England, Canada, Australia and France. William Safire of the New York Times said "His Way...turns out to be the most eye-opening celebrity biography of our time." In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley, wrote that "His Way is such an improvement over her two previous books ... that comparisons border on the pointless."
People magazine story
In 1990, Kelley wrote a piece for People magazine based on interviews she had conducted with Judith Campbell Exner, a former girlfriend of Frank Sinatra's who claimed to have had an affair with John F. Kennedy. Exner told Kelley that she had arranged ten meetings between Kennedy and Mafia gangster Sam Giancana, and they discussed having the "mob" kill Fidel Castro. It was subsequently revealed that Exner had been paid $50,000 to talk with Kelley and had not mentioned these "revelations" in her own autobiography, published years earlier. A former FBI agent said that Giancana had been under a federal wiretap, so these multiple meetings with Kennedy would have been impossible to cover up.
Nancy Reagan biography
In 1991 Kelley published Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography. She was paid $3.5 million to write the book. The book claimed that Reagan had had affairs with Frank Sinatra, that she frequently relied on astrology, that she had lied about her age, and that she had a very poor relationship with her children, even alleging that she hit her daughter, Patti. The reliability and sources were questioned. Slate magazine said that Kelly's book "was no more dishonest than the Reagans' own carefully groomed Norman Rockwell facade." According to Newsweek, "Despite her wretched excesses, Kelley has the core of the story right. Even her staunchest defenders concede that Nancy Reagan is more Marie Antoinette than Mother Teresa."
British royal family and the Bush family
In September 1997, Kelley wrote The Royals (Warner Books, New York, ISBN 0-446-51712-7) about the British royal family. Kelley stated that the Windsors obscured their German ancestry and described scandals surrounding the members of the royal family. The book claimed that Queen Elizabeth II was the product of artificial insemination, and that her sister Margaret was anti-semitic.
The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty was published in September 2004. Kelley announced plans for the book shortly after George W. Bush's election in 2001 and worked on it for four years.
Oprah Winfrey biography
On December 13, 2006, Crown announced it would publish Kelley's unauthorized biography of Oprah Winfrey. The book, Oprah: A Biography, was released on April 13, 2010. The New Yorker declared the biography "one of those King Kong vs. Godzilla events in celebrity culture." Oprah dismissed the book as a "so-called biography".
Kelley's most recent book — something different for her — Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys was published by Thomas Dunne Books in November 2012.
Perception of Kelley
Barbara Walters said books like Kelley’s are all about finding dirt, not the truth. The New York Times claimed that Kelley "just aims for the jugular." Time magazine reported that most journalists believe Kelley "too frequently fails to bring perspective or analysis to the fruits of her reporting and at times lards her work with dollops of questionable inferences and innuendos." Joe Klein described Kelley as a "professional sensationalist."
Awards and honors
Kelley won the 2005 PEN Oakland Censorship Award and the Outstanding Author Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors for her “courageous writing on popular culture.” She received the Medal of Merit from the Lotos Club of New York City.
- Crowley, Michael (September 15, 2004). "Kitty Kelley: Colonoscopist to the Stars". Slate. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
- "Q&A with Kitty Kelley". Washington Independent Review of Books. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
- "The Family by Kitty Kelley: Bio". Randomhouse.com. 1998-03-23. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
- Kitty Kelley (2008-04-22). "Unauthorized, But Not Untrue". The American Scholar. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
- William Safire, "The Truth About Frank," New York Times 9/29/86
- "The Dark Side of Camelot," http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20098379,00.html
- Bruni, Frank (September 16, 2004). "For the Queen of Exposé, Four Walls That Won't Talk". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-05.
- Goldberg, Bernard (2005). 100 People Who Are Screwing up America (paperback ed.). New York: Harper Collins. p. 99. ISBN 0-06-076129-6.
- Kitty Kelley, "The Royals", p. 23
- Kitty Kelley, "The Royals", p. 3
- "Oprah gets 'vicious' biographer". BBC News. December 14, 2006. Retrieved March 26, 2010.
- Collins, Lauren. "Kitty Kelley takes on Oprah Winfrey". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
- Shea, Danny (April 19, 2010). "Oprah Dismisses Kitty Kelley Book: 'So-Called Biography'". Huffington Post.
- Greg Tobin, The Kennedys, New York Times Book Review, December 2, 2012
- "Kitty Kelley discusses Oprah bio". The Washington Post. April 28, 2010. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- "Meeeow! The Saga Of Kitty". Time. April 22, 1991. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- Klein, Joe (September 20, 2004). "All You Have To Do Is Believe". Time. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- "PEN Oakland Awards". Penoakland.com. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
- "Awards History 20120401/0206E". ASJA.org. Retrieved 2012-04-01.
- Kitty Kelley Official Website
- "'Oprah' Captures a Complex Personality and Life" Los Angeles Times
- New York Times Book Review, "The Family: 'Here Comes the Son'"
- Village Voice, "Kitty Galore"