Kitty Kelley gets no respect. People sniff disdainfully at her books because she does unauthorized biographies of celebrities. The fact is, however, that she’s darn good at what she does. Her books are immaculately and exhaustively researched; then they’re vetted by teams of lawyers to ensure they’re not libelous. And Kelley asks the questions you perhaps have been dying to know but were too embarrassed to ask.
Kelley was in town yesterday to promote her latest book, “Oprah.” She made the tours of the usual media outlets and capped the day at a book signing party. The diminutive Kelley has taken on some of the world’s most powerful people. Oprah, she said, was the hardest to do of all her books. Getting people to talk to her about Frank Sinatra was hard because sources feared ending up dead or beaten up. Getting people to talk to her about the Bushes or about the Reagans was hard because sources feared losing their jobs in government. Getting people to talk to her about Oprah Winfrey was the worst because sources feared losing access to Oprah’s vast circle of contacts.
Barbara Walters, Kelley said, refused to let her come on The View for fear of alienating Oprah. Walters, said Kelley, should know better because she’s a journalist, who owes her career to the First Amendment and open discussion.
Kelley reveals Oprah, warts and all. It’s not just a question of exploring her relationship with her fiancé of nearly two decades or her best girlfriend. Kelley delves into Oprah’s childhood stories of poverty and abuse, her prostitution, her drug abuse, her meteoric rise in television, her expanding business empire, her conversion from a decade of sensationalism to self-help programming, her charitable endeavors, her status as a role model for black women and, indeed, all women, her secrecy and her place in the pantheon of celebrities.
In the end, Kelley says, despite the documented tell-all aspects of the story, she remains in awe of Oprah and her accomplishments. Every larger-than-life figure, even society’s icons, need to be put under the microscope, and Kitty Kelley’s reportorial skills are as good as any at making that happen.
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