Best-selling biographer Kitty Kelley appeared on the NPR program called “On the Media” on Sunday to defend the art of unauthorized biographies. Host Bob Garfield asked her why people she interviews (those close to Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Onassis, and Frank Sinatra, among Kelley’s other subjects) deny afterwards that they ever talked to her. Garfield also asked, “And what happens when you present them with the smoking gun of their participation?”
Kelley answered with a long anecdote about taking photographer Stanley Tretick along on an interview with Frank Sinatra, Jr. He later denied ever having granted the interview to Kelley. “And Stanley produced a photograph,” Kelley told Garfield triumphantly.
But oh, the price of Tretick’s help! He interrupted the interview, ruined everything and changed the course of history, according to Kelley. As she explained to Garfield:
“Everything is going wonderfully well for the first 45 minutes. [Frank Jr. is] talking about what it’s like to be the son of a famous singer, a man connected to organized crime…
“And then he turned to me and he said, you know, hon, I know a lot of people. Do you know what I mean? And I said, you mean mobsters? And he said, yes. I can tell you what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. And right at that point, I thought, oh, the one great unsolved mystery of the 20th century! I thought, maybe I’ll get the Pulitzer Prize. I even thought for, you know, just a second, what’ll I wear when I get the prize?
“And just at that point, there was this clattering noise. The photographer threw down his cameras and said, well, what the hell happened to Jimmy Hoffa? And at that point, Frank Sinatra [Jr.] ran out of the room into the bedroom. And I tried. He said, no, I have said too much, I have said too much. The interview ended.”
Of course, Frank Jr. may know squat about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. And Tretick, who died in 1999, is no longer around to defend himself. But the moral of the story is: When a famous writer hires you to take pictures, don’t interrupt when the subject is about to solve the mystery of the century.