Pat Kingsley: Hollywood 'Suppress' Agent

She's worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood for the past three decades, including Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Will Smith. As part of our series called The Long View, Renee Montagne interviews legendary publicist Pat Kingsley and learns that the job often means keeping things quiet.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Hers is the name behind the name in light, publicist Pat Kingsley. For half a century, she's worked with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood: Tom Cruise, Robert Redford, Demi Moore, Will Smith. Beginning in the 1970s, Pat Kingsley famously developed a strategy for shaping the careers of her clients, at the heart of which was control access. We're taking the long view this week - our conversations with people of long experience. And this morning, the woman known in Hollywood as Dr. No.

Ms. PAT KINGSLEY (Publicist): Sometimes, the job is a suppress agent.

MONTAGNE: As opposed to a press agent, a suppress agent?

Ms. KINGSLEY: Yeah, trying to keep things quiet.

MONTAGNE: Over her career, press agent Pat Kingsley specialized in keeping things quiet, though she began her career doing quite the opposite: in the early 1960s, planting stories with the press.

Ms. KINGSLEY: Here's a silly kind of example. During the Academy Awards season, I was working with Natalie Wood and in those days, you could take a picture at the airport of them getting on a plane, and you would take that down to the L.A. Times or the Herald Examiner, whatever the paper might be, and the idea would be: Academy Award nominee Natalie Wood is off to Chicago to do whatever it was she was off to do.

MONTAGNE: But probably looking pretty good, too, in those.

Ms. KINGSLEY: Looking great. You had to have the pictures looking great. But you - those things don't work anymore.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, but they did in their day.

Ms. KINGSLEY: They did and very effectively, because they didn't have the paparazzi as we know them.

MONTAGNE: Take us back to just this time that we're speaking of. You started working for a famous publicist here in L.A...

Ms. KINGSLEY: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: ...Warren Cowan. And you were a secretary at first because that's how a woman might start. As I understand it, one of your first jobs was working with Doris Day.

Ms. KINGSLEY: Mm-hmm. Doris Day and Natalie Wood and Samantha Eggar were the three clients that they gave me when they promoted me.

MONTAGNE: So what did that mean for a young woman starting out? I mean, what did you do with Doris Day?

Ms. KINGSLEY: Well, I went to basketball games with her. I went to Dodger games with her. She was not one who wanted to do the press. Her famous line is, it's only a movie.

MONTAGNE: So as a publicist, a young publicist, what was your responsibility, what were you trying to do?

Ms. KINGSLEY: The main job was to keep people at bay with Doris. You didn't want to expose her to situations where she was not in control. My favorite Doris Day story is - see, I was young, and Life magazine was hugely important. And they wanted to do a tribute to Doris Day on her 40th birthday. So I got very excited. I went to Doris and I said, you know, we had this great opportunity. They want to do this tribute to you. And it's just very exciting because it's guaranteed. And she said, no, I don't think so. Why would I do it? I said, well, because you're number one. She said, then what's the point? And I was sort of stumped. And I said, well, would you do it as a favor to me? She said, no.

MONTAGNE: That was pretty audacious.

Ms. KINGSLEY: She said, but let's go see the Lakers tonight. So she didn't do it.

MONTAGNE: How did you get the likes of - well, Jodie Foster, Al Pacino, Goldie Hawn, Demi Moore; these really big stars were your clients by the early '70s.

Ms. KINGSLEY: Well, when the first company that I had was in partnership with two other women and it was called Pickwick, and we only had like, 15 clients, but they were all A clients. There were huge stars.

MONTAGNE: But why did they pick you? I mean, what were you doing for them? Because they presumably could have had - they could have anybody as a publicist. What were you bringing to them that made them choose you?

Ms. KINGSLEY: Most of the publicists in those days were men. And women are exceptional at this business because we're very nurturing; people feel like they can talk to women better than men. We're better at taking care of their personal problems. And I don't mean, you know, their marriages and so forth, I'm talking about their relationships with the studios and relationships with the press. And the press liked dealing with women.

MONTAGNE: Hmm. It might be said that your greatest triumph in shaping an image was your longtime client Tom Cruise. He was a superstar, but all of the details of his life that we know so much about now, very little of that type of thing was known about Tom Cruise. What was known about him was, in a sense, what you and he wanted to be known about him.

Ms. KINGSLEY: You know, you want them to know what you want them to know, and the rest is your private information.

MONTAGNE: But that isn't to say over those years that everyone could have pulled it off. You - I think you enjoyed that you were called Dr. No.

Ms. KINGSLEY: It was cute.

MONTAGNE: And...

Ms. KINGSLEY: I mean, it didn't bother me. You know, if you were...

MONTAGNE: That came from, you told people no. You're not going to...

Ms. KINGSLEY: If you were extraordinarily sensitive, you shouldn't have the kind of job that I had.

MONTAGNE: But this was a difficult moment because he actually walked away from you. He - after many years, what? Fourteen, fifteen years?

Ms. KINGSLEY: Fourteen.

MONTAGNE: And almost immediately, audiences saw him jumping up and down on Oprah's couch. Did you have even just a moment of, I told you so? Or schadenfreude?

Ms. KINGSLEY: I felt bad. You - I never had a bad relationship with Tom Cruise. We - in 14 years, we never had a fight.

MONTAGNE: Although leaving you, at least in the short run, did him some harm in terms of his image.

Ms. KINGSLEY: Well, but he had - he had a right to leave me. It was the first and only time he ever came to my office, when he left me.

MONTAGNE: Where else did you spend time together?

Ms. KINGSLEY: We spent time at his house when we were doing planning sessions, or we spent time at his office, at the studio. But I knew it was going to happen. I mean, I felt - you can't know someone that well without knowing what a meeting at the office is all about.

MONTAGNE: Mm-hmm. What's left these days for a celebrity publicist to do?

Ms. KINGSLEY: I don't think that we know what that is yet. You think that there's nothing left, now that the bloggers have taken over, and everything is known instantaneously around the world. We don't have the controls that we once did. So if you don't have that control, then you can't do that - you can't predict what's going to happen next.

MONTAGNE: And you, of course, I know you still work with some of your clients.

Ms. KINGSLEY: Some, just as a - yes.

MONTAGNE: Is there anything you miss about the moment when your career was most intense, going to the Oscars and you were...

Ms. KINGSLEY: Never liked going to the Oscars.

MONTAGNE: So you don't miss that?

Ms. KINGSLEY: It's work. You know, I never sat in the audience. We were always backstage working, you know, and suffering, and going through all kinds of anxiety attacks, waiting for your category to come up. The red carpet is -unfortunate is a kind word to use for it. It is excruciating. To be on the carpet with an actor - it takes them maybe 45 minutes or so to work the line at a big event like the Oscars. And it's hot. You're trying not to perspire. You're hoping your client is not perspiring, and it is - you can't wait until you get to that door, where there's no more press and you can go inside.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. KINGSLEY: Nice to be here.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Publicist Pat Kingsley. Next week, we take a long view with one of our own, Carl Kasell. This is NPR News.

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