Kitty Kelley: Becoming an Independent Writer

In the sixth of a series of blogs offering video snippets from Stephen Hess’ numerous interviews with the prominent journalists featured in Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters, 1978-2012, Kitty Kelley, whose biographies of celebrities like Oprah, the British Royal Family and Elizabeth Taylor became best sellers, talks about her decision to leave journalism and become an author.

Whatever Happened to the Washington Reporters is Hess’ latest book, in which he set out to find the 450 Washington reporters he first surveyed in 1978. He tracks them in France, England, Italy, Australia, and 19 U.S. states in addition to the Washington area, locating 90 percent and interviews 283 of them, producing the first comprehensive study of career patterns in American journalism.


Kitty Kelley’s success came in crafting investigative biographies of high profile subjects: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Nancy Reagan, the Bush family.

Break free of journalism’s dailiness, of irritating editors, of doing irrelevant stories! The dream of becoming an independent writer! When Lynne Olson left journalism, she was 32 and had been a Moscow correspondent for AP and White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. “I remember when I was a really young journalist reading that David Halberstam had quit the New York Times to write books and [I] thought ‘How could he do that! He’s got the best job in the world as a reporter for the New York Times.’ Well, ten years later I knew why he had left the New York Times to do it, and that’s something I really wanted to do too.” Four of Olson’s five critically acclaimed books—all on history—have dealt in some way with London during World War II.