WASHINGTON – If a myriad of attacks on her credibility are getting to Kitty Kelley,she isn't showing it.
Appearing before the Washington Independent Writers on Thursday night,the controversial author was calm,focused and jovial. She joked that she should paint a yellow bull's-eye on herself.
She brushed off the White House's calling her new tell-all book about the Bush family “garbage” and laughed that Larry King,who has had her as a guest on his CNN show several times,canceled her appearance,as did several other TV stations.
Kelley is known for her “unauthorized” celebrity biographies laden with gossipy inside-stories that other writers shy from. Her latest,“The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty,” released Tuesday,was listed as the No. 4 top seller Monday on Amazon.com.
The book alleges,among other things,that President Bush used cocaine at Camp David when his father was president. NBC “Today” show anchor Matt Lauer grilled Kelley about her reporting for three days last week. Lauer followed the Kelley interview by talking to her source on the cocaine story,Sharon Bush,the former wife of the president's brother Neil,who denied she giving Kelley the information.
“I'm not really surprised she's backed off because,as you all know,this a very powerful family,” Kelley said,addressing the first of several questions from the group's members. “I'm sure she had a lot of pressure on her.”
For the first time on her rigorous promotion tour for the book,Kelley appeared before an admiring audience that generally accepted her reporting as fact and scoffed at her critics. Kelley,a Washingtonian,is a founding member of the almost 30-year-old group that boasts 1,500 members.
She owes some of her success to the group,she said,particularly because its legal defense fund helped her fight an unsuccessful libel lawsuit filed by Frank Sinatra in the1980s over her biography about him. She donated profits generated by book sales at Thursday's event to the group's legal fund.
“This group was there for me when I was sued by Frank Sinatra,and they understood standing up for a writer. They understood prior restraint and that it should never be used in this country,” she said in an interview.
After signing books for three hours,Kelley,62,and petite,was confident. She was quick to point out that she doesn't see herself as having graduated from the ranks of aspiring writers.
“I'm like they are. I am a freelance writer,an independent writer,” she said. “I've just been lucky.”
Ken Reigner,a former president of the writers' group,said,“The good thing about Kitty is that she hasn't forgotten about us. She wants to help. She knows how rough it is for writers who are just starting out.”
Though critics have dismissed her a gossip queen who seeks the sensational for her books,many who attended the event characterized her as a courageous reporter of the unpopular truth.
“She is,among other things,a strong fighter for the rights of writers,” said Joe Barbato,WIW president.
“I like her fairness,” said Fran Schuweiler,50,of Bluemont,W.Va.,who is the managing editor of a medical journal. “She's honest,she digs into the past and she represents the good and the bad.”
Terrell “T” Campbell,a member of WIW and an Internet comic writer,said he lends credence to Kelley's “unauthorized” biographies because her subjects cannot control what's written about them.
In the case of the Bush book,he said,“I feel like this is more of a textbook,and the ‘authorized' stories are the slanted ones.”
“She has to walk down the street every day and know that there are people who absolutely hate her,” Campbell said. “I think she's very brave.”
Linda Lear,a Bethesda,Md.,resident who has written biographies of Beatrix Potter and Rachel Carson,said,“I write about dead people because I don't have the guts that she has.”
Lear,who has known Kelley for many years,added,“If you're going to go after a dynasty of people and find out what really makes them tick,you have to pay attention to the big news – and the little news.”