Kitty Kelley (Journalist/Author)
Kitty Kelley (born April 4, 1942) is an American investigative journalist and author of several best-selling unauthorized biographies of celebrities and politicians.
Her subjects have included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, the British Royal Family, the Bush family, and Oprah Winfrey.
Described as a "poison pen" biographer, her profiles frequently contain unflattering personal anecdotes and details, and their accuracy is often questioned. Kelley’s book sales declined precipitously in the 21st century.
While Kelley’s 1997 book (The Royals) entered USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list at first place, her 2004 book (The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty) entered the list in second place, and her 2010 book (Oprah: A biography) entered the list in fifth place.
Kelley's credibility and sources have been called into question multiple times and she has been accused of sloppy reporting, poor fact checking, lying, misusing words badly misquoting, taking material out of context and violating agreements.
Former president Ronald Reagan has described Kelley’s work as containing "flagrant and absurd falsehoods" that "exceed the bounds of decency" and Barbara Walters said books like Kelley’s are all about finding dirt, not the truth.
The New York Times notes that Kelley "just aims for the jugular" and Frank Sinatra claimed Kelley "wrote the kind of lies that sell books and newspapers and magazines".
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." In addition, Kelley has been described by Joe Klein as a "professional sensationalist" and her books have been described as "Kitty litter."
Maureen Dowd, who broke embargo to tout on the front page of the New York Times Kelley's revelations about Nancy Reagan, said "Kelley is a mean and greedy writer, so drunk on sensationalism that she lacks compassion and understanding." Larry King, who nonetheless frequently had Kelley on his show as an expert on the British royals, was quoted as saying "She's very strange. She must have something wrong with her."
Kelley's work has faced legal challenges. Her book “the Royals” was banned in Britain because it contained sensational assertions that Kelley would have reportedly been unable to defend in court, and the British media also found Kelley’s claims too potentially libelous to report on. According to the reporting of George Carpozi, Jr., Kitty Kelley was sued over the content of her book Jackie Oh!, and settled the suit out of court.
Carpozi also reported that under questioning from her publisher, Kelley confessed to having made up an intimate exchange of words between Jacqueline Onassis and columnist Pete Hamill in the manuscript of Jackie Oh!. Carpozi claims that Kelley faced legal consequences over her Elizabeth Taylor biography too, being compelled to delete disputed material and make substantial changes to what she had written when the book emerged in paperback.
Kelley has been called "the consummate gossip monger, a vehicle for all the rumor and innuendo surrounding her illustrious subjects" but maintains that her writing is about "moving an icon out of the moonlight and into the sunlight". Her work has been called "encylopedically vicious" but has also been cited as an antidote to celebrity mythmaking. "Her methods may often be unsound, her facts may sometimes be a bit fictional, but in the end she usually reveals something true about her subjects—which is more than you can say about a lot of celebrity biographers."
When citing sources for her work, Kelley has been known to raise more questions than she does answers. In her biography of Frank Sinatra, Kelley claimed to have an interviewed actor Peter Lawford on several occasions including November 5 and 6 of 1984, even though Lawford lay on his death bed on these dates after part of his stomach was removed. Kelley also claimed to have interviewed Lawford on January 5, 1985, even though the actor had died in December 1984. As of 1991, nearly one hundred people who Kelley claims to have interviewed have come forward on the public record to claim they never at any time spoke with her.
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.
Once in Washington D.C., Kelley became a freelance journalist writing for publications such as The Washington Star. Her first book was The Glamour Spas (Pocket Books, 1975), based on an article she had written about the "fat farm" industry. The book included gossip about the celebrities who attended these spas.