by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Personally, I don’t want to know whether Nancy Reagan slept with Frank Sinatra in the White House. For one thing, I have a lot of good Sinatra records that I would have to throw out. Also, I might have children one day, and maybe I’ll want to take them to Washington, D.C., and then what do I say?
“Look, kids, there’s where Abraham Lincoln sat. And there’s where Franklin Roosevelt discussed the war. And there’s where Frank and Nancy did it.”

Alas, such is the age we live in. It was Sinatra who once sang “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . .” That, of course, was before Kitty Kelley. There are never too few for Kelley, the celebrity-crushing author. Like most of today’s trash-biographers, she will gladly take your regrets, make up a few more, and pop them into a best- selling book. And next thing you know, she’s on “Oprah,” talking about you and a car full of coeds.

Kelley has already chopped Sinatra to pieces. She is now making a new fortune from “Nancy Reagan, The Unauthorized Biography,” which claims the first lady once smoked pot, had a lesbian relationship, and had a whale of a time in the White House during the Reagan presidency. Did Nancy really do all the things Kelley suggests? I’ll tell you what: If she did, she never slept. Except maybe with Frank. Who, according to Kelley, once ate breakfast off the chest of a prostitute. Fortunately, he only met Nancy for lunch.

Who knows? Maybe the whole thing is a lie. The crazy thing is, that hardly seems to matter. Kelley’s book has been called “explosive” and “libelous” and even “KITTY LITTER!” the headline in the New York Post (sometimes, that newspaper has such a way with words). Newsweek says it portrays the former first lady as “cruel, cheap, temperamental, vindictive, pushy, phony, insecure and cold.”

It is also the fastest-selling book ever. We got what they paid for What more do you need to know? At the bottom of all this, as usual, is money, and all the parties involved knew this book would make big money. Hey. We live in America, the country that gave you “A Current Affair.” When it comes to fame: If it smells, it sells. Simon and Schuster, who once upon a time only published respectable books, gave Kelley a $3.5-million advance for this project. Do you really think they expected the Nancy Drew mysteries?

Of course, we might feel more sorry for Mrs. Reagan if she hadn’t already written her own book called “My Turn” — which, like Kelley’s, was often mean-spirited and vindictive. Or if her children hadn’t accused her of nastiness. And then there’s that picture that keeps popping up of Nancy dancing with Sinatra at the White House, as Ron (her husband, remember?) tries to break in. Nancy has this look on her face that suggests “Oh, no. Not you again.” Poor guy. You’d think the president would get the first dance.

But then, the presidency isn’t what it used to be. And neither is being famous. You get famous these days, you take your chances. Americans expect their celebrities to come crashing to earth. They seem to feel a good, juicy expose is only fair — a pay-back for sucking in all that money and glamour while we work on the assembly line.

So Kelley is only the richest of fame-trashers, not the most original. Don’t you remember “Mommie Dearest,” in which Joan Crawford’s daughter claimed the actress attacked her with coat hangers? Or “Elvis” by Albert Goldman, in which the King of Rock and Roll was portrayed as a fat, drugged pervert who liked to wrestle with young girls wearing white panties. (They wore the panties, not him. Let’s leave the King with a little dignity, OK?) Spittin’ images So we can’t be surprised by the enormous success of the Kelley book. Which doesn’t make it accurate. Kelley, by all accounts, has scratchy research methods and a loose idea of what a quote is. She likes to pose for photos in front of her “files of research.” Of course, for all we know, those could be her tax returns; $3.5 million buys a lot of deductions.

The funny thing is, in many ways, Kelley and Reagan seem to be quite alike. Both appear selfish, manipulative, money- hungry, gossip-loving, and fashion-conscious. Both have ex- friends who badmouth them. Both are now surrounded by bodyguards. Of course, Kelley hasn’t had the chance to be president, which is what she claimed Nancy was all those years. But give her time.

Meanwhile, we have only ourselves to blame. Who else is buying this book? Personally, I prefer listening to music. And for the time being, I will continue to play my many Sinatra records, and believe him when he sings “I did it myyyyy way.”

I just hope it wasn’t in the Oval Office.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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