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Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Kitty Kelley takes on the Bushes this week

By Hillel Italie
The Associated Press

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NEW YORK — When Kitty Kelley, the famously unauthorized biographer of the famous, sits down for an interview, she likes to get personal. She sets her chair next to yours, leans forward when speaking and occasionally underlines an argument with a tap on the knee.

And call her Kitty, please. Not Ms. Kelley.

Author of gossipy, controversial best sellers about Nancy Reagan and Frank Sinatra, Kelley, 62, has spent the past 3-1/2 years getting as close as she can to the Bush family, talking to those willing to talk, hunting for documents that range from academic records to private memos to tax returns.

Not everybody believes what she writes, but millions still want to read her. Her new book, "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty," comes out this week with more than 700,000 copies in print and an already scandalous reputation for its allegation that George W. Bush used cocaine at Camp David while his father was president.

"The Family" is a fast-paced, 600-plus pages, from the days of Prescott Bush, grandfather of the current president, through the U.S.-led war in Iraq. It is told as both political and personal drama, complete with unhappy marriages, sibling jealousy, drugs, alcohol and the endless pursuit of money and power.

"I was fascinated by the family dynamic of it all," Kelley said yesterday in an interview with The Associated Press. "I started out thinking that it was maybe 'The Donna Reed Show" and maybe I ended up thinking it was 'The Sopranos.' "

Kelley laughs. Although she says the book is "not meant to attack," she sure hits hard when she describes President Bush and first lady Laura Bush as being "more demonstrative to their dogs than to each other," or when she writes of former first lady Barbara Bush: "Behind her grandmotherly facade was a pearl-wearing mugger the equal of Ma Barker."

"Kitty Kelley is a discredited purveyor of trash," Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said yesterday. "She smeared the Reagan family, and now she is peddling garbage about the current first family."

Kelley has written books for nearly 30 years. Her first celebrity biography, on Jackie Onassis, came out in 1978, and was followed three years later by "Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star."
Kelley has been accused frequently of smearing her subjects, most notoriously when she implied that Nancy Reagan had an affair with Sinatra. She has again been attacked for "The Family." A key source, Sharon Bush, former wife of the president's brother Neil, has denied telling Kelley that George W. Bush used cocaine at Camp David. Kelley and Doubleday stand by her reporting.

The challenge for Kelley has always been getting people to talk. Many didn't, or were off the record. Hundreds did, an eclectic lot whose names fill two pages of small print in the back of the book. They include Jane Fonda, who recalls a White House reception at which then-first lady Barbara Bush allegedly refused to shake her hand.

Ron Reagan, the former president's son and a critic of the current administration, is cited.

Kelley often cites liberals. But she says she corresponded by e-mail with Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for President Reagan and the first President Bush and currently a senior adviser with the Republican National Committee. Kelley includes a passage in which Noonan concludes that the first President Bush, in unfavorable contrast to Reagan, "lacked historical imagination."

The current president is depicted in the book as intolerant of dissent and beholden to the "radicalized right."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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