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The Queen of All Access

When Charlie Chaplin won his honorary Oscar in 1972, Pat Kingsley was at his side backstage. When Courtney Love transformed herself from a drug-using punk rocker to a svelte Oscar contender, that was Kingsley’s doing. Ellen DeGeneres’ revelation that, yep, she was gay? Kingsley’s fingerprints were all over that one, too.

In fact, whenever the cream of Hollywood’s A-list--Tom Cruise, Jodie Foster, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere--glides across another red carpet under another barrage of flashbulbs, Kingsley is there, standing a little to one side, pale and towering, blinking in the lights as if rousted from a sound sleep.Kingsley is the founding partner and de facto head of PMK public relations, Hollywood’s most powerful independent publicity firm. Despite the fame of her very famous clients, few have ever heard of her. But in an industry where power is as much about perception as reality, one fact remains: The ones with true clout are those with access to stars who routinely lasso $100 million at the box office. And with that yardstick, Kingsley is not only the most powerful publicist in Hollywood but also one of the most powerful people, period. “Pat,” says producer Lynda Obst, “has the most significant lunches in town."Kingsley’s list of more than 170 clients includes Tom Hanks, Demi Moore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Holly Hunter, Al Pacino, Ralph Fiennes and Emma Thompson. She also handled the late Dodi Fayed. Her New York partners, Lois Smith and Leslee Dart, represent the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Woody Allen and Mike Nichols. And although the influence of other independent publicists--including the legendary Rogers & Cowan, where Kingsley got her start--has never been higher, Kingsley has amassed more A-list actors than anyone. “When you are talking about above-the-title stars, PMK has more than anybody,” says publicist Larry Winokur, a founding partner at Baker-Winokur-Ryder, which represents Brad Pitt, Meg Ryan and Leonardo DiCaprio. “Pat is the standard-bearer.”

Kingsley avoids sweeping generalities about either Hollywood or her place in it. After 40 years in the business, she maintains a practiced don’t-quote-me blandness that masks a fierce self-possession. “We never wanted to be the biggest,” she says in her North Carolina-by-way-of-Georgia drawl, “just the best.”

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To communicate with Kingsley in person is rare. She is frequently found either at a some premiere or here in her scuffed and worn offices, but the telephone is her preferred medium. “It’s Pat Kingsley,"she will say in her singsong accent. In person, she is willfully out of step with Hollywood’s air-brushed, Armani-clad ethic. Her face is barren of makeup, and at 5-foot 10, she moves with an athlete’s rangy grace. Her taste in clothing, mostly drab pantsuits such as the gray silk she wears today, runs to the serviceable. With her signature gray-blond Prince Valiant haircut tumbling into her eyes, she looks like Martha Stewart’s dour older sister or some starchy headmistress you’d cross at your peril.

That no-frills, no nonsense attitude extends to her business. Although framed magazine covers of PMK clients line the hall, the walls could use a coat of paint and the worn carpet is another matter altogether.

“Well, I hate waste,” she says tartly, “of either time or money.”

Her office, minute as any of her junior publicists, appears furnished largely in paper--movie posters on the walls, pink phone messages littering her desk and stacks of scripts that have drifted into the corners like snow. Wimbledon semifinals drone from the postage-stamp-sized television in the corner, and in the distance, several telephones ring. The one exception to her Silas Marner ethic is a cellophane-wrapped basket of expensive bath products on the coffee table. “Oh that,” says Kingsley, her voice now as smooth as syrup, “is from the Cruises, who were nice enough to remember my birthday.”

Coy folksiness aside, Kingsley is regarded as the woman who rewrote the rules governing Hollywood P.R. She was the first to demand cover stories, the first to elevate publicists themselves to the ranks of star. Even those who complain that these changes have damaged both the media and the film industry--certainly editors and studio marketing executives are not Kingsley’s biggest fans despite what they publicly profess--they do not dispute her reach and influence.

“Pat is a pioneer,” says William Morris senior vice president Nicole David. “She was the first one to say ‘No’ [to the media]. “

In the old days, under the studio-contract system, there was little need for independent publicists. Whatever publicity a star needed--or needed squelched--was handled directly by the studios. But as actors began operating as free agents in the ‘70s, the need for personal publicists surged. At the same time, the media underwent its own transformation. The almighty columnists, the fearsome Hedda Hoppers and Louella Parsons, had died off, and even the New Journalists--such as Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, who wrote tough, revealing profiles--were fading. What remained was an increasingly crowded media field--from Time magazine to George, from Vanity Fair to the National Enquirer, from “Dateline NBC” to “Hard Copy"--jockeying for the same five minutes of access to the same handful of A-list stars.

As the relationship between actor and studio changed, the power grid of Hollywood celebrity was rewired, and that is where Kingsley has had a hand in history, helping oversee the growing clout held by celebrities as they went from buyers to sellers--in a seller’s market. Whether keeping Tom Cruise virtually beyond the reach of the press, or negotiating with Vanity Fair for a cover story on newcomer Matthew McConaughey, or running interference for former client Roseanne, Kingsley changed the terms of publicity. When Time Warner launched “Extra” three years ago, she, along with other publicists, was invited to pre-screen some of the segments, a questionable stretch of broadcast ethics. As one entertainment editor notes, “Everyone understands they need Pat.”

Says Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios, whose friendship with Kingsley predates his days as a partner at Creative Artists Agency: “Pat is unique; in many ways she has operated like a manager, not a publicist.”

Her influence is exponential. PMK is a flack farm team, sending out dozens of Kingsley-tutored publicists who bring her tough managerial style to Hollywood studio marketing departments, rival companies and their own boutique agencies.

“I don’t even know Pat Kingsley, but she’s had a great influence on how we all do business,” says publicist Eddie Michaels, whose agency, Michaels, Wolfe & Tencer, represents Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Lopez. “It’s not easy to change the style of an industry, but Pat did.”

“Pat is our role model,” adds Bumble Ward, an independent publicist whose clients include directors Quentin Tarantino and David Russell. “She is the one we try to emulate."That sort of praise might be expected, given the long shadow Kingsley casts within Hollywood. She has also earned her share of detractors, who complain she is too protective of her clients, too “cold,” too “cruel” to those outside her ken, too willing to use her temper as the first weapon in her arsenal of defenses. For every star who has taken grateful refuge under Kingsley’s wing, there is an editor, a reporter, a studio executive and even the occasional actor who has felt her wrath. According to sources, Susan Sarandon, for example, frustrated by what she saw as underwhelming publicity for “Lorenzo’s Oil,” fled PMK after a particularly acrimonious phone call with Kingsley. The publicist says that the departure was a mutual decision.

Kingsley and her partners are famous for their fabled “blacklist” of journalists, which has extended to the Washington Post style section, and PMK’s penchant for muscling publications and some TV journalists into signing contracts governing when and in what context stories about their clients can run. “You can’t f- - - with Hollywood,” she has screamed to at least one editor when things did not go to her liking.

Kingsley’s control of her clients extends to studio executives themselves. In the early 1990s, when she virtually cut off the print media from top stars such as Cruise and Richard Gere, studio marketing executives--most notably at Universal, Disney and Columbia--were stymied in routine requests for “reasonable publicity” for a film’s opening.

Even her colleagues admit she can be intimidating. “The first time I met with Pat,” recalls Neil Koenigsberg, a founding partner of PMK and now a personal manager, “I remember I was kind of scared of her.”

Those she represents, however--including Candice Bergen, Lily Tomlin and Jodie Foster--are friends as well as clients and speak of her in gushing, almost bathetic terms. “With Pat, a sort of safeness came over me I’d never felt before,” remains an oft-cited quote from Sally Field. But for others, including many of her own colleagues, Kingsley is maddeningly elusive. “I’ve known Pat for more than 20 years, but I don’t feel as if I really know her,” confesses partner Leslee Dart. “She’s a tough Southern woman, and she’s got great defense mechanisms.”

Kingsley is also something of an anomaly; the most powerful woman in the female-dominated PR industry, she defies most of the stereotypes. She is not a fixture on the Hollywood social scene--"Pat is terrible at ‘How are the wife and kids?’ schmoozing,” says one former colleague. Nor is she instinctively motherly, a description that fits many a personal publicist. She shows no evidence of the classic publicists curse: low-self-esteem-fueled fawning.

Unlike Guy McElwaine, Martin Davis and Sid Ganis, all of whom started in publicity and moved up the Hollywood ladder, Kingsley has stuck with publicity when she could have easily become an agent, a producer, a manager--something where the upside was millions, rather than the $300,000 to $400,000 salary that independent publicists typically earn. It has given her an odd moral superiority; even her politics has a touch of the hair shirt. She is most closely linked with ex-presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis and Helen Caldicott, a leader in the anti-nuclear movement, for whom Kingsley went so far as to get herself arrested after she and Teri Garr protested at a Nevada nuclear-weapons site.

“Pat is tough in the best sense,” says a former colleague, “but I can’t think of anyone who really knows her."Kingsley was born Patricia Ratchford in Gastonia, N.C., in 1932. She is divorced, the mother of a 28-year-old daughter, Janis, and lives a life of almost Shaker-like simplicity in a comfortable but modest house in the Pacific Palisades that she’s owned since 1973. She drives an 8-year-old Acura Legend. Her vacations consist of a few weekends a year at Canyon Ranch in Tucson. She hates to shop, loves sports and is savvy enough to share the ownership of a piece of pricey Santa Monica real estate on Montana Avenue. A nice evening means being at home alone with her dog or with C-SPAN or ESPN on TV, eating a dinner prepared by her housekeeper of 24 years.

“Pretty private,” she says with typical taciturnity, “I don’t throw parties every Thursday night. I’m either at the office, the gym or a premiere.”

That Kingsley agreed to this profile (with the one stipulation that none of her clients be questioned) raises its own set of speculations. She turned 65 this year, and there is a sense in the industry that Kingsley is not invulnerable to the generational changes now reshaping Hollywood. That a younger generation seeks to emulate Kingsley as much as it challenges her does not change certain facts. “The business is going through a transition,” says one studio head. “Agents are no longer old men, and it’s the same with PR. Pat has become a member of the senior generation.”

And PMK is experiencing some shifts of its own. Susan Culley, a former PMK agent who for seven years had her own boutique agency, has just returned to the fold, bringing more than two dozen clients, including Liam Neeson, Kelly Lynch and director Michael Bay. In New York, Leslee Dart just had her first child, and Lois Smith, 70, underwent heart surgery two years ago. In certain corners of Hollywood, there is talk that Kingsley and company are, if not actually seeking, not opposed to considering offers of a merger or outright acquisition that would allow one or two of the partners to retire.

“There are rumors that they’re looking for a buyer,” says one studio publicist."I never know why I agree to a particular story. Mostly I just say no,” Kingsley says, nimbly sidestepping the issue of her own future. “I don’t know why I agreed to this interview; I guess I just felt in the mood,” she says, using the voice some have mistaken for Joanne Woodward, a former client. “That maybe it would be OK.”

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The instinctive feel for when a situation is OK has put Kingsley at the center of several Hollywood watershed moments--the rise of the superstar, like client Tom Cruise; the growing clout of women, like that of Jodie Foster, and changing attitudes toward sexuality, as evidenced by DeGeneres’ groundbreaking coming-out. But none of these has held Kingsley’s attention so much as the shifting nature of celebrity itself, that elusive nexus of desire and distance that powers Hollywood. How else to explain her willingness to trot out her charges year after year, fling open car doors like some valet and escort her clients, most young enough to be her children, to yet another premiere or party or awards ceremony. On the night of the premiere of “Contact,” Kingsley cuts short her day, heads home to feed her dog and then rushes back to Westwood to shepherd co-stars Foster and McConaughey past another bank of reporters and photographers, who will scream as they always scream, “Pat! Pat!” in an attempt to get Kingsley to turn her coveted clients their way.

“We’re going to get it,” she says, turning this way and that as she works the crowd, part stage director, part traffic cop, now smiling, now scowling with impatience as she rolls her finger in a circular motion, her signal to wind up an interview, as the screams come again, “Pat! Pat!”

“In L.A., they call me ‘Pat,’ ” she says later with a laugh, “but in New York, it’s ‘Miss Kingsley.’ Look, it’s not the best part of the job,” she admits, “but it is part of the job.” That job, as Kingsley sees it, is, in its simplest terms, the ability to divine the mood of the public relative to her clients. “For years it was ‘bigger was better’ ” she says, “and now, less is much better, because the attention span of the public is not so great.”

Kingsley makes a marked distinction between the public, which she views as fickle but largely hapless, and the press, which she see as anything but. “Publicists have become more necessary because of a change in the press,” she says. “They have more of a tabloid mentality today. They are nastier in that they want to write controversial or spicy things. A lot of the time the public doesn’t know the difference between a rumor and a fact. That freaks [stars] out,” she says. “Control is too harsh a word, but they want things to be monitored better; they want some kind of protection.”

It’s not that she doesn’t want her clients covered; she just wants to delineate the terms. And she’s not above playing hardball, holding magazines virtually hostage. She has had the agency withhold clients from publications when she didn’t like the writers assigned. She has waged boycotts against several magazines, including Rolling Stone and People, when they bumped PMK clients off their covers. She has demanded written guarantees of covers before providing access to a client. Most recently, PMK clashed with Allure when that magazine published unauthorized computer-altered photos of PMK client Mira Sorvino.

Not that Kingsley is alone in her reputation as a demanding, even difficult, publicist. Peggy Siegel, Andrea Jaffe, Nancy Seltzer and Susan Geller are just a few of the more powerful Hollywood flacks who have engaged in Kingsley-like skirmishes with the media. In fact, Kingsley’s bullying and cajoling of editors and producers, her demands for covers and her carping about access and writers have become standard industry practices. There isn’t a major publication that lays a glove on any star nowadays, let alone PMK’s cosseted clients.

“Well, cover stories don’t tend to be negative,” she says, when asked to name a single publication other than the tabloids that deviates from her standards and practices. “But they can go that way,” she adds, “and even the women’s magazines can write unflattering things; and if they do it once to an actor, we make sure they won’t have an opportunity to do it again.”

What has made Kingsley a great publicist, rather than merely an aggressive one, is her understanding of the opposition. “We always have a game plan,” she says, “but we also know the needs of the media.”

That attitude seems increasingly out of favor with several of the younger publicists, who take what is seen as an indiscriminately hard-line attitude with both studios and the media. “Most of these kids are high-priced baby-sitters looking for ways to justify their existence,” snaps one Hollywood marketing executive. “Pat is different; she’s so secure she knows she doesn’t have to insert herself into a situation inappropriately.”

Adds partner Lois Smith: “We are fiercely protective of our clients, but we are also realistic, and Pat is very good at negotiating with editors.” And editors return the favor."Pat is tough, but she is also smart,” says Entertainment Weekly’s L.A. Bureau chief, Cable Neuhaus. “She has never held one of her clients hostage to another. She knows she can’t rattle the saber all the time, and she knows when to let bygones be bygones.”

If the relationship between stars and the press has always been symbiotic, it has only become more so as the cost of doing business in Hollywood has skyrocketed. “When movies cost $60 million, you can’t just do one or two pieces,” Kingsley says. “And you really need the cover, because people are reading less and less. You go to a newsstand and think someone’s really hot because they’re on the cover. But it’s harder and harder for us and the studios to create stars these days because it is a much more cynical world. The public can get tired of you really quickly.”

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Certainly Kingsley is in a position to know. Her first job was in the publicity department of Miami’s legendary Fontainebleau Hotel in the mid-1950s. “The hotel had just opened and a lot of shows were broadcast there,” she recalls. “ ‘The Colgate Comedy Hour’ with [Dean] Martin and [Jerry] Lewis was broadcast live and we had [Frank] Sinatra and Edith Piaf. I used to take care of the actors and stars when they came in.”

Right from the jump, Kingsley could talk to celebrities with a rare command: at the Fontainebleau, at NBC Matinee Theater in New York City, as a secretary at Rogers & Cowan and eventually with her own public relations company, Pickwick, which Kingsley formed with Lois Smith and another partner in 1971.

“Pat is just brilliant with stars,” says Koenigsberg, whose rival agency, Maslansky-Koenigsberg, merged with Kingsley in 1980 to form PMK. “They need to be able to look in someone’s eyes and read ‘Trust me,’ and that is what Pat does so well.”

That Kingsley managed to acquire that presence from an otherwise unremarkable upbringing as the oldest daughter of a civilian member of the Army quartermaster corps is a mystery only if you overlook two facts: that she dropped out of college because she loathed the solitude necessary to become a good student, and that she used sports as a way to connect to her father.

“My father was a civilian employee, a G-9 or something like that,” Kingsley recalls. “He had a fixed income and it was hard. We moved every three months during the war. Sometimes I did three schools in a year, but I was very successful in basketball, and I always played softball. I was offered a contract to play [in a women’s softball league] when I was in high school--$100 a week, which was a lot of money then.”

She graduated with honors and enrolled in Winthrop College in South Carolina, but she dropped out after two years. “I never learned to study, and it caught up with me my second year,” she says. “So I said I’ll just get a job and meet Mr. Right."In fact, Kingsley was 34 and working in Los Angeles for Rogers & Cowan when she married Walter Kingsley, a New York TV executive nine years her senior. “It was desperation time,” she says with a laugh. “The whole Southern ethic was that you were supposed to marry young.”

She moved back to New York to get married, gave birth to her daughter, and within two years had begun practicing her distinctive brand of publicity at Pickwick.

“Pat stood up for clients in a way that a lot of press agents hadn’t,” recalls publicist Harry Clein, one of the first Pickwick employees. “Pat was willing to be disliked, and that was very unusual in those days. But, somehow, people responded.”

*

If Kingsley was breaking new ground, she was not the first to recognize it. “It was always just a job,” she recalls. “I was married, I had a child, and it wasn’t until my marriage started to come apart that I said, I can’t afford to have a job. I need a career.”

In 1980, Kingsley was divorced, living back in Los Angeles and partnered with the rival Maslansky Koenigsberg in PMK. By 1987, Michael Maslansky had retired after a stroke, and Koenigsberg had become a personal manager. The agency was able to capitalize on certain industry-wide changes--the onset of small studios such as Orion and the arrival in Hollywood of a new generation of New York stage-trained actors--Meryl Streep, John Lithgow and Glenn Close. ‘We were always looking out for new ones,” Kingsley says. “We took chances on young talent, and they developed into big stars.”

By 1991, the agency’s power was such that the William Morris Agency offered to buy PMK and turn all the publicists into agents, an offer Kingsley and her partners refused. Today, PMK is a $5-million-a-year business--with 38 employees, including 19 full-time publicists--of which Kingsley owns half. Unlike agents or lawyers who receive a percentage-based compensation, publicists are paid a fee, which has remained largely flat while Hollywood salaries have soared. Individual clients pay monthly retainers averaging $3,500. Studios can pay up to $10,000 a month for help with a film’s release.

The agency is not the biggest. Rogers & Cowan is larger, and comparably sized companies such as Baker-Winokur-Ryder derive more income from their corporate clients. Nonetheless, PMK’s size has become something of an issue.

“Pat is a great publicist,” observes one Hollywood agent. “But if an actor is not going to get Pat’s direct attention, if they’re going to get passed down to a junior publicist, I would rather send them to a smaller agency where they will get more hands-on care.”

“Matthew McConaughey can sit in Pat’s office because he is seen as the next Paul Newman, but that is not true for all new actors,” publicist Eddie Michaels adds.

Kingsley tends to discount the criticism and the competition. “There are a lot of boutiques today, but then they’re always have been,” she says. “You just never used to hear about them.” Even as speculation grows that Kingsley is looking for a graceful exit after so many years in the trenches, she is quick to insist how “happy” she is, how much more “mellow.”

“Losing my temper is the last resort, where it used to be right off the bat,” she says, asking quickly, “Do others think I’ve mellowed?”

Others apparently do. Although she still takes knocks for being a famously tightfisted boss who prefers to overwork her modestly paid staff rather than hire additional publicists--a PMK publicist typically juggles about two dozen clients--others see light on the horizon. “Pat has changed a lot,” observes one colleague. “I think it has to do with her daughter’s wedding, that she’s finally got Janis settled.”

Her daughter is one of the few topics that cause Kingsley to drop her professional mien. “Oh, I spent so much money getting her a master’s degree in social work, and then she found it too tough, too depressing,” she says. “Now she’s having a great time working as a costumer at Warner Bros. on ‘Friends’ and this new Kirstie Alley show, and she’s marrying a great guy [Christopher Scott]--I just love him. I don’t know,” she adds with sudden feeling, “I wish I could have had more just like her, but it was too late. She didn’t come along until I was 36.”

Not that Kingsley is prone to regrets. “Oh, I joke that after all these years, I’m still opening limo doors, but I am happy,” she says.

So she will not retire, despite opinions to the contrary, and go into politics. “There was a time, when Dukakis ran, I was prepared to go to Washington,” she says. “But I don’t do politics that much anymore.” Nor will she become an agent or, God forbid, a manager. She tried that once a few years back, “but it was all that extra stuff, dealing with the hair and makeup and the leaky trailer, and I just wanted to think about the work.” Ditto for becoming a producer. “Fifteen to 20 years ago, it might have been an avenue, but it’s not something I feel young enough to tackle now.”

She will stay where she is, ruling over her offices, as cramped and buzzing as one might expect a Hollywood nerve center to be. Whatever she has sacrificed in terms of a personal life or financial gain, she has retained the rarest of Hollywood luxuries: the ability to say no.Only when prodded about the future of the agency, all those high-powered-but-needy stars, does Kingsley relent. “I’m not not open to anything,” she says when asked about a buyout or a merger. “I wouldn’t want to close the door to anything. But it would have to be a very strong thing for me to subjugate myself and the company in any way.”

Even when Kingsley phones a few days later, ostensibly to talk about the “Contact” premiere--the $20-million opening weekend has left Foster and McConaughey “giddy,” she says, sounding pretty giddy herself--she reiterates how happy she is. “The business is fun again, and I don’t think I can even dissect why.”

You might just take her at her word, until a story that one of her colleagues related comes to mind--about how Kingsley says she walks out of a room backward so no one knows she’s leaving. Whether that moment is now or still to come is known only to Kingsley. But one thing is certain: “I miss old Hollywood,” laments a former PMK publicist. “Pat is the only one left.’


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