Kitty Kelley

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Kitty Kelley
Kitty Kelley Photo by Raymond Boyd (cropped and modified).jpg
Kelley at Borders Books and Music in Chicago, April 2010
Born (1942-04-04) April 4, 1942 (age 76)
Spokane, Washington
Occupation Journalist, writer
Notable works The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty (2004)
Oprah: A Biography (2010)
Notable awards 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, Rock Hudson, 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"[1] she maintains, "I am an unabashed admirer of transparency and believe in the freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment"[2] and, to that end, her writing is about "moving an icon out of the moonlight and into the sunlight". However, as her work endured more scrutiny, many of the facts she reported did not hold up.[1]

Early life

Kelley was raised in Spokane, Washington, the eldest child of Adele and William Vincent Kelley, a lawyer who served as president of the city's bar association. Growing up Kelley helped take care of her five sisters, Mary Cary, Ellen, Margaret, Adele Monica and Madeleine Sophie, as well as her brother, John.[3] The family vacationed in Europe and spent summers at their two lakeside cottages in western Idaho.[4] Kelley graduated from St. Augustine's Elementary school and then attended the private prep school Holy Names Academy[5] In 1962 Kelley allegedly left the University of Arizona in lieu of criminal charges for suspected theft being filed against her, according to the biography Poison Pen by George Carpozi Jr. Her parents refused to let her live with them and sent her to live in Seattle with her maternal grandparents, the Martins. It was here that Kelley suffered a breakdown and used a wheelchair during some of that time.[6] After this eight-month hiatus, Kelley surfaced at the University of Washington[7] where she received a B.A. In English. She worked at the New York World's Fair in 1964 and went on to become a receptionist/press secretary for Senator Eugene McCarthy.[1]

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.[8]


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. Kelley's publisher Lyle Stuart was later quoted saying "at the time I believed her shock-treatment story. Looking back, I feel I was had and the whole thing was a fable. I doubt that it ever happened. And knowing how she makes things up, I believe she was sure she could get away with it because no one would sue."[9] 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.'"[1]

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."[1] 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.[10]

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."[11] 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."[1]

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.[12] 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.[1] 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.[1]

Nancy Reagan biography

In 1991 Kelley published Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography. She was paid $3.5 million to write the book.[13] The book claimed that Nancy Reagan had had affairs with Frank Sinatra,[1] 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."[1] 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.". However Newsweek also criticized the book's basic factual accuracy, noting that Kelley had reported that Ronald Reagan had allegedly date raped a 19- year-old, when the accuser would have actually been 25 at the time.[1]

Former President Ronald Reagan issued a statement saying the book "has no basis in fact and serves no decent purpose."[14]

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 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 2000 and worked on it for four years.[15]

Oprah Winfrey biography

In December 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."[16] Oprah dismissed the book as a "so-called biography".[17]

Capturing Camelot

Kelley's most recent book, Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys, was published by Thomas Dunne Books in November 2012.[18]

Perception of Kelley

Barbara Walters said books like Kelley’s are all about finding dirt, not the truth.[19] The New York Times claimed that Kelley "just aims for the jugular."[20] 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."[21] Joe Klein described Kelley as a "professional sensationalist."[22]

Awards and honors

Kelley won the 2005 PEN Oakland Censorship Award[23] and the Outstanding Author Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors[24] for her “courageous writing on popular culture.” She received the Medal of Merit from the Lotos Club of New York City.[8]

Kelley is on the boards of Washington Independent Review of Books,[25] Reading is Fundamental,[26] and Healthy Women.[27]


  • Jackie Oh!: An Intimate Biography (1978)
  • Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star (1981)
  • His Way: Unauthorised Biography of Frank Sinatra (1986)
  • Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorised Biography (1991)
  • The Royals (1997)
  • The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty (2004)
  • Oprah: A Biography (2010)
  • Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys (2012)


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Crowley, Michael (September 15, 2004). "Kitty Kelley: Colonoscopist to the Stars". Slate. Retrieved 2008-08-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Q&A with Kitty Kelley". Washington Independent Review of Books. Retrieved 2012-04-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Poison Pen by George Carpozi Jr. Pg 26
  4. Poison Pen by George Carpozi jr., pg 38
  5. Poison Pen by George Carpozi Jr. pg 40
  6. Poison Pen by George Carpozi Jr. pg 335-40
  7. Poison Pen by George Carpozi Jr. Pg 45
  8. 8.0 8.1 "The Family by Kitty Kelley: Bio". 1998-03-23. Retrieved 2012-04-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Poison Pen by George Carpozi Jr. pg 140
  10. "Unauthorized, But Not Untrue - Kitty Kelley". The American Scholar. 2008-04-22. Retrieved 2012-04-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. William Safire, "The Truth About Frank," New York Times 9/29/86
  12. "The Dark Side of Camelot,",,20098379,00.html
  13. Bruni, Frank (September 16, 2004). "For the Queen of Exposé, Four Walls That Won't Talk". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Goldberg, Bernard (2005). 100 People Who Are Screwing up America (paperback ed.). New York: Harper Collins. p. 99. ISBN 0-06-076129-6. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Oprah gets 'vicious' biographer". BBC News. December 14, 2006. Retrieved March 26, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Collins, Lauren. "Kitty Kelley takes on Oprah Winfrey". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2012-04-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Shea, Danny (April 19, 2010). "Oprah Dismisses Kitty Kelley Book: 'So-Called Biography'". Huffington Post.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Greg Tobin, The Kennedys, New York Times Book Review, December 2, 2012
  19. "Kitty Kelley discusses Oprah bio". The Washington Post. April 28, 2010. Retrieved May 7, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Meeeow! The Saga Of Kitty". Time. April 22, 1991. Retrieved May 7, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Klein, Joe (September 20, 2004). "All You Have To Do Is Believe". Time. Retrieved May 7, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "PEN Oakland Awards". Retrieved 2012-04-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Awards History 20120401/0206E". Retrieved 2012-04-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links