Tuesday 28 January 2020

A brief history of the unauthorised biography

Catty biographer Kitty Kelley exploded the myth of Camelot,
telling tales of JFK’s bedhopping. Sinatra had to be dissuaded
from suing Kelley who alleged he had lifelong links to the Mob. Simon Cowell reportedly
spent 200 hours with his
‘unauthorised’biographer
Catty biographer Kitty Kelley exploded the myth of Camelot, telling tales of JFK’s bedhopping. Sinatra had to be dissuaded from suing Kelley who alleged he had lifelong links to the Mob. Simon Cowell reportedly spent 200 hours with his ‘unauthorised’biographer

Ed Power

Ed Power looks at the 'Hollywood Tell All'

Simon Cowell's dirty laundry has been flapping in the wind all week. A new unauthorised biography of reality television's uber-villain paints him as an insatiable -- if cold-hearted -- horndog, bedding (and quickly discarding) 'X Factor' judge Dannii Minogue, then trying it on with Cheryl Cole.

The revelations -- that Cowell has a libido to match his ego -- are scarcely surprising.

However, they unquestionably make for a juicy read. Which is probably why Tom Bower's 'Sweet Revenge: The Intimate Life of Simon Cowell' is the talk of the publishing business ahead of its release this weekend.

The book certainly doesn't stint on steamy tit-bits. Tom, who interviewed the mono-browed magnate along with dozens of friends and associates, reports that Simon had a tempestuous fling with Dannii after persuading her to join 'X Factor' in 2007.

From what the svengali has to say about the affair, we can conclude he wasn't drawn to Dannii by her glittering intellect.

"I had a crush on her," he tells Tom. "It was her hair, the sexy clothes and the ***s. She was foxy. She was a real man's girl. Very feminine."

A chap who self-evidently appreciates the attention of beautiful women, Simon stopped seeing Dannii after "a few bonks", but proceeded to fall hard to Chezza.

"She would come in dressed in her tracksuit and slippers, drop her eyes and play the soulful victim to get around me," 'Sweet Revenge' quotes Simon as stating.

"She played me. When she walked over, I felt I was the mouse with a beautiful cat. I adored her. And as she got her own way, it drove Louis Walsh mad.

"[Louis said,] 'These girls are actresses. They'll get you to do what they want'."

However salacious, Tom's claims will do little to damage Simon's image as the alpha-male blowhard (ditto, the claim that he considered ditching Gary Barlow as a judge because he was "too boring").

Which may explain why, a solitary tweet aside, Scary Simon has kept his counsel and appears unlikely to call in the lawyers ("Just seen the TV ad for the unauthorised book on me. Yikes!" he told his two million followers last Sunday).

Besides, having agreed to speak to Tom, he can't complain too loudly about being the victim of a stitch-up (the author said the two spent around 200 hours together, largely on Simon's yacht and jet).

If there are wider lessons to be taken from what we are probably going to have to refer to as 'Simon Gate', it's that there's nothing like an 'unofficial' biography to get the gossip industry's blood up.

From Frank Sinatra to Diana Spencer via Oprah Winfrey, Madonna and Tom Cruise, some of the world's most powerful celebs have been laid low by tell-all biogs.

Sometimes, admittedly, the celebrity is complicit.

One of the most scandalous 'unauthorised' biogs of the past quarter century was Andrew Morton's 'Diana: Her True Story', which, in 1992, plunged the British monarchy into crisis.

A former royal reporter, Andrew breathlessly recounted the dysfunction of Buckingham Palace, exposing Diana's bulimia, her suicide attempts and Charles's ongoing affair with Camilla.

The day 'Diana' was published was the day her fairytale image was laid bare as a grand lie.

As was to be expected, the monarchy responded with a feral attack on Andrew, dub

bing him a fantasist whose primary sources were unreliable.

What he couldn't say at the time is that the person behind the most eye-popping of the book's revelations was, in fact, Diana herself.

How had Andrew gained her trust? Well, it wasn't personal charm. He sent her written questions through an intermediary (suspected by some to be rugby player Will Carling), she answered on tape.

Why did she do it? Because she felt there was no other way of conveying her unhappiness and disillusionment to the world, Andrew suspects.

"She knew that I sympathised with her," he would remember.

Not everyone is as co-operative. Andrew's 2008 biography of Tom Cruise was never published in Britain or Australia over fears the actor would sue.

Predictably, the book soared to the top of the bestseller charts in the United States, where libel laws are weighted towards the right to free speech.

You can see why Tom might have been inclined to get his lawyers on the case.

Citing unnamed sources, Andrew said that the actor's future bride Katie Holmes was more or less 'auditioned' for the role (along with several other stars).

He also paints Tom as a crusading scientologist.

"When I saw him jumping on Oprah's couch in 2005, I realised the mask had slipped," he said. "Here is this man who, for years, has been in control and controlling. He's been hiding behind the mask.

"I thought, here is a window to get an insight into this man who has come from nowhere to become one of the dominating characters in the film world."

After portraying the actor as a scary control freak, it was perhaps inevitable that the next Hollywood face subjected to the Andrew 'treatment' would be Angelina Jolie.

As a rule of thumb, if you are famous and there are people out there who hold a grudge and are willing to talk, you can assume someone will one day be the subject of an unauthorised biography.

Consider Jerry Oppenheimer's 'Just Desserts', a controversial retelling of the life of All-American homemaking magnate Martha Stewart, which breathlessly details her tantrums and "control freakery" and dubbed her the "PMS poster girl from hell".

Even more salacious was Joe McGinniss's 2011 book about former American vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, which presented details of infidelity, drug taking and a one-night stand with a future NBA all-star.

Naturally, Sarah didn't co-operate with the tell-all, but that didn't prevent Joe getting up close. He went so far as to rent the house adjoining hers in Wasilla, Alaska.

"We're sure do have a doozy to look forward to with this treasure he's penning," Palin wrote when it was announced Joe was now her neighbour.

"Wonder what kind of material he'll gather while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden and the family's swimming hole?"

In celebrity circles, writers such as Andrew Morton, Jerry Oppenheimer and Joe McGinniss are understandably notorious.

However, no celebrity biographer is as feared as American journalist Kitty Kelley, who has single-handedly eviscerated the reputation of such sainted figures as John F Kennedy, Jacqueline Onassis, Ronald Reagan and Oprah Winfrey.

Described as a 'consummate gossip monger' she arrived with a splash. It was her 1978 book about Onassis ('Jackie Oh!') that first laid bare JFK's serial philandering and the quiet stoicism with which Jackie endured his affairs.

In 1986, she trained her sniper rifle on Frank Sinatra, painting him as a sexually rapacious sleaze with mob ties in her book 'His Way'.

Outraged, Sinatra threatened a $2m lawsuit, dropping the action after friends cautioned that he would be pouring gasoline on to what was already a media bonfire.

Kitty would go on to chronicle the salacious misdeeds of the British royal family (the book was so scandalous it never saw print in Britain, asserting, among other things, that the Windsors had obscured their German ancestry) and the Bush dynasty, saying that future president George W Bush had snorted cocaine at the commander in chief's official Camp David residence while his father was in the White House.

Kitty's steepest challenge was writing about Oprah Winfrey, a woman so powerful even people from her distant past are said to be afraid to speak about her.

Kitty persevered and, after interviewing 850 acquaintances and family members, in 2010 published her mammoth 'Oprah: A Biography'.

"I've always thought that Oprah's life was absolutely fascinating, the most amazing journey, and I couldn't understand why there'd never been a comprehensive biography," said Kitty.

"Of course, I now realise why: it's because so many people are terrified of her. Publishers are afraid to publish anything that might prevent their books being on her show.

"Writers are scared to death. She's amazingly wealthy and so powerful, and no one wants to upset her," she adds.

The Oprah who emerges in Kitty's account is a strange, rather unsettling figure -- a prima donna obsessive about secrecy whose strops are almost a force of nature.

Among other charges, Oprah is said to have exaggerated her impoverished upbringing in the American south, conducted secret lesbian affairs while remaining essentially 'asexual', and presided over a reign of terror at her media empire.

"I thought I would be working for the warm and fuzzy person I saw on television," a former employee at Winfrey's Harpo production company is quoted as saying.

"But, God, I was conned. It's a cult at Harpo. So oppressive it's frightening."

"What surprised me, truly, about Oprah Winfrey was the secrets that govern her life," said Kitty. "This used to be the most open woman in the world, yet she is so secretive... She wants to be in the news, but she needs to control it.

"She now sees herself as a brand. She doesn't like her picture taken unless it was staged. And if her picture is taken by a photographer, and she doesn't like it, she will buy up all the copies."

In that sort of company, Simon Cowell's fling with Dannii Minogue and crush on Chezza come off as almost sweet and innocent.

A man who loves to be loathed, you suspect the bombshell that he has an eye for a shapely lady won't cause him too much lost sleep.

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