How the Kardashians Made $65 Million Last Year
Twitter, endorsements, paid appearances, fragrances: the new issue of the Hollywood Reporter magazine goes in depth with mom and manager Kris Jenner about the inventive – and controversial – ways she’s monetized reality fame for her family.
Kardashian spotted Kris Houghton at a golf tournament in La Costa, Calif., when she was 23 and was immediately smitten — he was a lawyer in his 30s whose family, says Robert’s first cousin Cici Bussey, “was like the Armenian version of the Rockefellers.” His father had the largest meat-packing company in Southern California; they had a mansion, Rolls-Royces, a tennis court. Kris was not a party girl, and in no way a Bohemian, says Bussey; she and Kardashian shared the desire to start a large family. They were married in 1978, and Kourtney was born 9 months and 23 days after the wedding.
“Kris was close to Robert’s mother, Helen, who was the matriarch of the family,” Bussey adds. “In those days, Armenian women were there to run the household, and that’s what the mother did. But she was a very smart woman, and she and Robert’s father were savvy business people, and Kris always listened to them closely. “
But by 1990, she and Kardashian divorced. It was mostly amicable, but the 1994 Nicole Brown Simpson killing and O.J. Simpson’s murder trial the following year caused a rift between the couple: Kris was one of Nicole’s best friends, and Kardashian had famously renewed his lawyer’s license so he could join O.J.’s defense team. (“Robert believed O.J. was innocent … at first,” Bussey says.)
In 1991, Kris married Bruce Jenner, whom she met on a blind date. He was doing a few public appearances, a little motivational speaking and playing a whole lot of golf. Early in her second marriage, Kris — who never attended college — recognized the potential in her husband and began overseeing his speaking engagements and management deals.
"My mother has just always been this ‘Let’s make water into wine’ person," Khloe says. "She knows how to take one small talent or ability and grow it into something huge. That’s what she did with Bruce. He would have been happy to spend the rest of his life golfing, and that’s what she did with us."
By 1994, she and Bruce launched a line of stair-climbing fitness equipment via a self-produced infomercial, “Super Fit With Bruce Jenner,” in which they both appeared. The ad campaign was a success, running 2,000 times a month in 17 countries. “I started doing television and really enjoyed it,” Kris says. “And as my girlfriend Kathie Lee’s dad use to say, ‘Find out what you love to do in your life and then figure out a way to get paid for it.’ That became my motto.” Eventually, the never-camera-shy Kris parlayed her on-air talents into a short-lived correspondent gig for ABC’s daytime talk show Mike & Maty during the mid-’90s.
Longtime business associate Jack Kirby, who produced the couple’s informercial, says Kris had a sharp business sense from the beginning, knowing when to draw the line and walk away from deals. “I lovingly refer to her as the Velvet Hammer,” he says. “A lot of time women in this business are unfairly categorized as bitchy. Kris was a smart woman and recognized that, so she would go on a charm offensive and make you love her.”
While Kris might have discovered her passion for show business, the birth of her two daughters with Bruce — Kendall, in 1995, and Kylie, in 1997 — put her newfound career on hold.
But a decade later, she was ready to get back into the business. "She was divorced from Robert Kardashian, so there was some money," Bussey says. “But she had four children, and Bruce had four and then together they had two more. That’s a lot of people to support — and to support well.”
Now, in Kris’ bedroom —after a tour of the “1940s glam” house that she’s renovating, complete with a staircase seemingly modeled after the one in Gone With the Wind -- she addresses the moment that changed everything.
It was February 2007 when Kris’ second oldest, Kim — then best known as socialite Paris Hilton’s perpetual sidekick — sat her mom down for a confession: She had made a sex tape with her then-boyfriend, musician Ray J. brother of singer Brandy. The kicker? A third party had sold the tape to adult video distributor Vivid Entertainment, and it would be going on sale at the end of the month. The celebrity press soon exploded with every last graphic detail of what the tape contained.
The timing could not have been worse. Inspired by the success of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s family, Kris independently produced a presentation tape of a reality show following her family and had recently begun shopping it to different production companies.
“I thought, ‘Oh well, there goes the reality show,’ ” she say. But you can either be a problem maker or a problem solver. And I’m a problem solver. My job as her mom and manager is to take care of the problem — whatever it is. I had to cry and get upset in the privacy of my own room and then come out and help her, because she’s my daughter. What good is it for me to berate her?”
Claiming to have never seen the tape, Kris hired a crisis communications expert to help navigate the scandal. “I was way out of my league,” she says. “I would never think I knew enough to care for a situation like that. What’s that Kenny Rogers line? ‘You got to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.’ All I knew was that I had to make some lemonade out of these lemons fast. Real fast.”
The fact that Vivid had to pay Kim a figure that’s been reported at $5 million is almost beside the point. The sex tape — one of Vivid’s best-selling DVDs in 10 years — put the Kardashians on the map.
“My job was trying to take my kids’ 15 minutes and turn it into 30,” Kris recalls. Shortly afterward, her entire family would have to get comfortable in front of the camera.
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