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Cathy Griffin: “Storytelling is central to every successful movement in time”

At this nanosecond I’m not a bestselling writer, but get back to me at the end of the day after I’ve checked the NY Times bestseller list or Amazon rankings. Seriously, I can speak to this question with confidence based on a number of notable achievements I have experienced. It’s a simple answer that’s straight […]

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At this nanosecond I’m not a bestselling writer, but get back to me at the end of the day after I’ve checked the NY Times bestseller list or Amazon rankings. Seriously, I can speak to this question with confidence based on a number of notable achievements I have experienced. It’s a simple answer that’s straight from the lips of Kris Jenner, the subject of my current book: “There’s a lot of people that have great ideas and dreams and what not, but unless you’re willing to work really, really hard, and work for what you want, it’s never going to happen.” Kris and her children’s playbooks involve discipline, persistence and perseverance. I find these are non-negotiable habits for consistently achieving my goals, whether it’s behind-the-scenes researching and conducting interviews for bestselling authors or writing my own books.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Author & Journalist Cathy Griffin.

For over three decades expert biographers of literary narrative nonfiction have relied on Cathy’s unique background as a journalist and licensed private detective. She has contributed research, interviews, and storytelling strategies for 24 book titles, 17 of which are national bestsellers, written by internationally acclaimed biographers. They include J. Randy Taraborrelli, whose Jackie, Janet and Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss & Her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis & Lee Radziwill (St. Martin’s Press, January 2018) was an instant New York Times bestseller.

For fifteen years Cathy was legendary syndicated columnist Liz Smith’s west coast editor, as Liz was fond of referring to her as, “Cathy Griffin, my Los Angeles leg woman.”

Cathy was the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for the Australian publication New Idea from 1999–2006. During 2004–2006, she was Editor-at-Large of Bauer Publication’s Life and Style magazine.

She is the author of Dirty Sexy Money: The Unauthorized Biography of Kris Jenner, published in January 2021.

Her book, the memoir of the head hairstylist at MGM during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Sydney Guilaroff,,Crowning Glory, Reflections of Hollywood’s Favorite Confidant led Liz Smith to write in the NY Post and Newsday: “…an elegantly entertaining tome.”

In 1993, Cathy persuaded movie star Elizabeth Taylor to grant unprecedented access to her famous friends for a one-hour documentary for the Arts and Entertainment’s “Biography” series. The documentary depicting the life of the legendary actress, which Cathy wrote and produced, earned the cable network its largest ratings at the time. In 1997, Cathy was hired by Tall Pony Productions as a consultant for the production of Ms.Taylor’s 65th birthday party which aired on the ABC Network.

Her producing credits include segments for Extra, Hard Copy, A Current Affair, Geraldo Rivera’s Now It Can Be Told, ABC’s Prime Time Live and The Montel Williams Show, Griffin has appeared as a celebrity correspondent on Entertainment Tonight, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, FOX, and E! Entertainment.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

My mom and dad were co-owners in a drugstore in Odessa, a small town in West Texas. I’m the middle child of four. We lived in an apartment designed by my father, who was a pharmacist. My glamorous mother’s domain was the cosmetics and jewelry department. Red carpet distinguished this area from the rest of the store’s flooring. It was a full service drug store, complete with a soda fountain, that served food. My mother was a full partner with my dad, so I witnessed an equality between a husband and wife that was not predominant in the 1960s and 70s. Though the apartment was decorated beautifully and very comfortable, we only had an alley as a backyard, so my parents didn’t trust their children to be alone outside. So I would ride my tricycle and later, a bicycle, down the aisles of the store after closing time. I even had a little green and white car that had battery operated front lights, called a’ Kidillac’, a toy version of the adult Cadillacs which my dad drove. I role played as a customer shopping with my parents until I was 11, and could wait on the real customers. Dixie Drug (as it was called because the first location was on Dixie Boulevard. ) also had a newsstand where I read comic books, paperbacks, and movie magazines.Sometimes I read the movie star stories holding a hairbrush as a microphone, pretending I was a news reporter.. My parents wrote ad copy for me to star as the spokesperson promoting the drugstore. I was four-years-old when I did my first commercial. (I’ve been a frustrated actress since). Since I couldn’t read yet they fed me the lines off camera. I was very inquisitive; wanting to know all about my parents’ employees’ personal lives, and I was the store detective, discreetly catching shoplifters for my dad. Who would suspect a child acting as security? I went to private schools, but my real education was socializing around grown ups in the store. My dad was a great raconteur, so in between filling prescriptions he would sit on the red booth benches at the fountain conversing with a diverse group that could range from judges, cops, and an eclectic cast of street characters — — all in the course of a single day. I would sit on my dad’s lap and listen to them. I enjoyed their stories, and learned a lot about assessing individuals for what makes them tick.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story?

Television newscaster and correspondent Jessica Savitch’s autobiography Anchorwoman, published in 1982, was an inspiration for my professional life. I related to her gender challenges in TV journalism during America’s women’s movement. As I began my broadcasting career in West Texas and Austin in the late 70s, first in radio — — and then in television in the early 80s, Jessica was a role model. She was a trailblazer, as the first female news reporter and news anchor in the south at Houston’s KHOU-TV. Similar to Savitch’s experience in Houston where the FCC was requiring stations to hire women in the news department to avoid legal challenges to its broadcast license, I, too, was hired as news director of a local radio station to satisfy the FCC. I was the only woman on the on air staff and it was often a hostile environment. The station manager thought so little of the news department that my office with the Associated Press news wire machine was out in the open, a step away from the hallway. I presented my newscasts from the deejay booth or commercial studio. Later at the CBS affiliate in Odessa I was hired as the second female news reporter and rotating weekend news anchor. While I stayed in small and medium markets I related to Savitch’s NBC news network challenges of being considered a novelty in what was then a male dominated business. Beautiful, engaging, smart, and full of grit, Jessica had a huge influence on my early career in broadcast news. Her story and my own professional experiences have steered me to writing stories about female trendsetters in television. Kris Jenner is certainly a pioneer of the reality television genre — — and I’ve just finished a book proposal about the first female owner of a television news outlet in the south in the 1940s who went onto create a national radio and television empire.

What was the moment or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

A few years ago my writing mentor suggested I write a book about the Kardashians. I almost turned this down because I thought of it as a ‘Kardashian’ book. I said, “NO, no, no!” I had watched a scant few episodes of the show and I found the idea quite daunting, especially with so much written about these people every day. However, I decided to do a little research and during this process I found Kris Jenner fascinating as a strong, formidable, independent woman, which is just the type of woman I love to write about. I could see her story as more than a ‘celebrity’ book. It isn’t — it is a women’s empowerment story, a book for the “Shark Tank” audience and those readers who will be interested in the story of how a woman developed the entrepreneurial skills to build a global empire.

What impact did you hope to make when you wrote this book?

I wanted my readers to identify with some aspects of Kris Jenner, the real person we don’t often see in interviews or the character she plays into on her television show. She has worked hard to get where she is and still works even harder today to maintain and grow her businesses. While some people might not agree with the choices Kris has made, especially when it comes to her children’s lives, and may even see her as a villain, one could argue based on my research, that she’s actually a role model for female and economic empowerment. It’s a story worth reading about how Kris transformed the traditional role of being a trophy socialite wife and mother with no formal education, into acting as both manager and BFF to her daughters and son — -a virtually impossible balancing act. Since their childhoods Kris has really listened to her kids. Kris guides them into making business choices that suit their individual talents, passions and lifestyles. She’s passed along her tremendous work ethic and business savvy. We are seeing as the Kardashian-Jenner women evolve into a state of world consciousness, they are using their celebritydom and gazillions of dollars to fuel change. Their fame and fortunes allows them the freedom to do this. Look at Kim Kardashian-West with her prison reform efforts as the best current example. And Kylie Jenner has donated almost a million dollars from her lip kit products to provide new smiles to children born with clefts. Kris and the Kardashian-Jenner fathers instilled in their children the importance of giving back. You don’t read much about their philanthropic work because to her credit, Kris prefers to fly under the radar with these kinds of stories. I find women who were initially put off at the thought of reading about Kris Jenner find themselves fantasizing about either being her or having a friend like her by the end of the book. That’s the secret sauce, if you will, for any nonfiction narrative.

Did the actual results align with your expectations? Can you explain?

I’m proud of the research and interviews with people who were kind enough to share their memories. I believe readers who gravitate to a larger than life story filled with conflict, towering highs and emotional lows will find Kris Jenner’s life story a fascinating and compelling read.

What is the most moving or fulfilling experience you’ve had as a result of writing this book? Can you share a story?

I really enjoyed getting to know Kris’ only sibling, her sister, Karen Houghton, and Caitlyn Jenner’s mother, Esther Jenner. Both of these women are so genuine and honest. While Kris and Karen were estranged during most of the writing of the book, I’m happy to have recently heard from Karen that the sisters are close again. Karen told me Kris just bought Karen a lakefront property in Southern California. I’m sure this is pleasing to their mom, Mary Jo Campbell, who is getting on in years. It is undoubtedly giving her peace of mind that her daughters are getting along as they did growing up. Like all mothers whose children are at odds with one another, Mary Jo yearned for Kris and Karen to reconcile and become close again. The two sisters have very different personalities, but with Kris, blood ties run deep.

Have you experienced anything negative? Do you feel there are drawbacks to writing a book that starts such colossal conversation and change?

Kris Jenner’s life story was a hard sell to publishers who believed the Kardashians were over exposed by daily, even hourly online reporting on their lives, so nobody would want to read more about them. I remained steadfast and determined to convince a publisher that there was a real tale to be told was passionate in believing that the public had marginalized her accomplishments, focused instead on her TV antics. Kris Jenner wrote her own book, a best seller, in 2011, but it was her version of events, which is what memoirs are supposed to be, but it is still selling in spite of being outdated. I’m grateful to Skyhorse Publishing, especially my editor, Jon Arlan, for believing in this book.

Can you articulate why you think books in particular have the power to create movements, revolutions, and true change?

I agree with Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS and Co-Founder of Madefo who said, “Storytelling is central to every successful movement in time. A good story connects hearts, drives empathy and inspires action. To spark a movement, you must return to the human story.”

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

At this nanosecond I’m not a bestselling writer, but get back to me at the end of the day after I’ve checked the NY Times bestseller list or Amazon rankings. Seriously, I can speak to this question with confidence based on a number of notable achievements I have experienced. It’s a simple answer that’s straight from the lips of Kris Jenner, the subject of my current book: “There’s a lot of people that have great ideas and dreams and what not, but unless you’re willing to work really, really hard, and work for what you want, it’s never going to happen.” Kris and her children’s playbooks involve discipline, persistence and perseverance. I find these are non-negotiable habits for consistently achieving my goals, whether it’s behind-the-scenes researching and conducting interviews for bestselling authors or writing my own books.

What challenge or failure did you learn the most from in your writing career? Can you share the lesson(s) that you learned?

My Kris Jenner biography was originally scheduled for publication in the UK in 2017.

I regret not heeding the suggestions from my agent about delivery of the manuscript. I allowed my fear, perfectionism and exhaustive research to overwhelm me. As a result, I lost that deal. It took some time to lick my wounds over that debacle, but here we are today talking about the book published by Skyhorse in January 2021. I never stopped pushing for my unique insights into Kris Jenner to become a reality, despite a life threatening illness in 2018 which paused my efforts. My persistence and passion for telling Kris’ story attracted the interest of author Dylan Howard who became my partner in polishing the manuscript and Dylan found the publishing home for the unauthorized biography of this amazing woman. I’m very proud to have flipped the script, as they say, and I love the book more today than ever!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: Cathy Griffin, @thecathygriffin

visit my website at www.cathygriffintheauthor.com

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