Letting the Kitty out of the bag


August 01, 1991|By Randi Henderson

What a dirty little world this is, with mud slung here and mud slung there and mud rising neck-high if you happen to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Standing neck-deep -- as anyone knows who hasn't been in Antarctica for the past six months -- is mudslinger extraordinaire Kitty Kelley, whose unuathorized biographies of Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and most recently Nancy Reagan have earned her a reputation as a person who knows how to dig up the dirt and dish it out.

Now Ms. Kelley is on the receiving end of the mudbath, the subject of "Poison Pen: The Unauthorized Biography of Kitty Kelley" by George Carpozi Jr. You can't miss it in the bookstores, where it arrived this week -- it's the one with the jacket that looks exactly like the cover of Ms. Kelley's "Nancy Reagan: The Unauthorized Biography."

Mr. Carpozi, a 70-year-old journalist who has worked for newspapers (including the New York Post and The Star, a supermarket tabloid) and written more than 70 books, decided to take on Ms. Kelley because "suddenly she had become a very big celebrity in this country and I, as a veteran investigative reporter, determined that she was an outrageous liar."

Speaking on the phone from his home in Long Island, Mr. Carpozi bristled with indignation as he recapped some of Ms. Kelley's alleged journalistic transgressions.

"It was such garbage," he said dismissively of some of the Sinatra bombshells. "I catch her in all kinds of lies," he added about Onassis revelations.

He summarized: "Kitty Kelley's entire world has been one of subterfuge."

Ms. Kelley's reaction to his treatment -- which tears apart her books, point by tedious point -- is so far unknown. Attempts to reach her through her publicist and her agent were unsuccessful. She has put out the word that she is unavailable for comment about the book that paints her as promiscuous, money-grubbing, mendacious and unscrupulous.

Mr. Carpozi even accuses her of being a kleptomaniac. Things have disappeared when she's been around, he points out, citing several examples. Although he admitted that some of the evidence is thin, he said a phone call from one of Ms. Kelley's old sorority sisters detailing dormitory thefts convinced him this was true.

Aren't these techniques -- as well as his liberal borrowing from previously published books and articles -- just the sort of thing he criticizes Ms. Kelley for doing?

"What Kitty Kelley writes is fiction," Mr. Carpozi said emphatically. "What I've written here is the truth."

Others aren't so sure.

"Just as Kitty ignores Mrs. Reagan's good points, he doesn't give Kitty a break," said gossip columnist Liz Smith, a former friend of Ms. Kelley's, who said Mr. Carpozi interviewed her for an hour but used none of the material she provided.

Ms. Smith labels the book "journalistic overkill" and even its publisher concedes that it's hardly literature.

"Carpozi is a mediocre writer," said Lyle Stuart, head of Barricade Books. "So we worked very hard on improving and improving and it isn't bad. It's not Shakespeare, but it's a very readable book."

But "Poison Pen" already is meeting a barrage of refutation similar to that which has greeted each of Ms. Kelley's books.

"It has some factual errors," said Robin Webb, a press assistant for Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley, the Democrat who represents Ms. Kelley's home state of Washington and who has a long association with the Kelley family in Spokane.

Ms. Webb specifically quarreled with Mr. Carpozi's description of the Speaker's swearing-in; the book states that Mr. Foley had only two tickets for spectators, which went to "his two favorite people" -- his wife and Kitty Kelley.

"In fact he was alloted nine tickets," Ms. Webb pointed out, of which one did go to Ms. Kelley. Mr. Carpozi never interviewed Mr. Foley for the book, she added.

Representative Norm Dicks, D-Wash., also disagreed with some of Mr. Carpozi's assertions in "Poison Pen." The book describes an intense and "enduring" relationship between Mr. Dicks and Ms. Kelley that began when they were both students at the University of Washington.

"It's preposterous," said George Behan, Mr. Dicks' press secretary. "Norm had one date with her back in his senior year in college. Carpozi never talked to us. If you're going to write something about a sitting member of Congress, don't you call and say, 'Hey, is this true?' "

Mr. Carpozi said his requests for interviews with the congressmen were denied. And he dismisses the criticisms as immaterial.

"At least Dicks admits to having one date with her," he said. "If he had one date, how do I know he didn't have 20? But once is enough for me."

And, he added, "So what does it mean if Foley had nine tickets? The fact is, Kitty Kelley was there and she sat right next to Heather," Mr. Foley's wife.

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