|Riverside Drive over the weekend. Photo: JH.|
|Tuesday, February 1, 2011. Mixed reports of mixed winter weather coming our way. Rain would eliminate a lot of the snow, which would be helpful. Otherwise cold and wet underfoot.
Kitty Kelley is our Guest Diarist today. Today we are re-printing a piece she wrote late last year for The American Scholar, which is the quarterly magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
I have known Kitty since the early 1980s when she was researching her biography of Frank Sinatra. She had sublet an apartment in West Hollywood from a beautiful Viennese woman named Marlene MacDonald (married name) who was a friend of mine. Marlene (Mar-lay-na). Marlene knew that I had social connections to Sinatra’s world (although I didn’t know him).
What was Kitty Kelley like? Well, she was famous by then, and naturally I wanted to meet her. Her reputation was somewhat tabloidal, to put it mildly, but I didn’t care. She came to my house on Doheny Drive one weekday afternoon around 2. She was carrying pads and a big bag with a shoulder strap. There was also the tape recorder (which I quickly forgot). We sat in a room that I used for an office; I at my desk and she at one end of the sofa facing me.
Yes, Gossip. But gossip about famous people, with that added ingredient of “inside.” I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it. And Hollywood is a goldmine of that sort of thing because it’s been a repository of international celebrity for almost a century. All those stars with all that implied eros, passing through the revolving door of fame into history.
Our conversation that afternoon was often punctuated by laughter. Laughter mainly at the human comedy in which we are all players, famous or not, rich or poor, sharp or dull, pretty or not. Hollywood, as we know it is a Mother Lode of this sort of thing.
At that point I’d lived out there long enough to absorb some of the rich socio-cultural life of the film community. It was in process of change, pivotal change which has by now been completed. In the early 80s, many of the very last of the great studio days of the film industry were still around. Ronald Reagan typified them, and not accidentally. There was a real society, albeit beginning to fade, not at all dissimilar in structure to New York at the end of the 19th and the early 20th. These were exponents of Mrs. Astor, next generation, 20th century West Coast Technicolor version, and all that implies.
Frank Sinatra, was enamored with that world as much as anyone. He sought it out and embraced it. It’s easy to understand. The kid from Jersey, now a mature man with a rich and profitable career under his belt, now long since a singer with the band and now a peer of the gentlemen of the community and their wives.
The elite of Hollywood – the stars, studio heads, producers, directors, millionaire playboys, bankers and lawyers – entertained with class. Sinatra liked people with class and power. He was always learning. And they liked him. Janet de Cordova, wife of Freddy, film and Johnny Carson’s producer, once told me that there wasn’t a woman in the world who didn’t get a thrill “when Frank walked into the room and said en passant, ‘hiya doll.’”
|Eleanor Roosevelt enjoying the company of Frank Sinatra.|
|Oprah at the Elie Wiesel Foundation dinner, 2009. Photo: DPC.|
|However, people read biographies to learn about themselves. A good biography is fulfilling. You leave it thinking. That is a gift of life.
Kitty Kelley will definitely leave you thinking if you’ve read one of her books. I do hear people pooh-poohing her stories with their “I don’t believe it ...” or “I know for a fact, blah blah blah ...” One of the reasons why people love and/or are appalled by her stories is because they hit close to home.
There’s a lot of Oprah in this piece because Kitty had a difficult time getting the airtime she was used to in publicizing her new book. She wasn’t “authorized,” as if by unspoken but divine edict. Everyone had some kind of excuse that added up to “we can’t, it’s Oprah.” The sainted. Oprah has arrived at a new plateau in her life. In our time she has become a very famous, very rich, very celebrated and a very influential woman, who also happens to be African-American, which in this country is a big deal.
Therefore as a character of her time, she is going to be written about, and probably often. Unless of course she is forgotten, lost in the miasma of celebrity memory. That will be our loss, not hers.