Pat Kingsley Finally Talks: Tom Cruise, Scientology and What She's Doing Now
Hollywood's once-most-feared woman opens up for the first time about being fired by Cruise (and the role Scientology played in their split), why she had to fire her longtime business partner Leslee Dart and her "selfish" life following an unprecedented, astonishing career.
Pat Kingsley was born Patricia Ratchford in 1932 in Gastonia, N.C. Her father worked in the Army's Quartermaster Corps, and "we moved every three months," she says. "So I would be in three schools a year, from Georgia to South Carolina to Alabama to New Jersey, all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. It was not an easy thing to pick up and form new friendships, knowing they were going to be gone, and it was not that close-knit a family because we were all so busy trying to get along with our new environment."
Young Pat, the elder of two children, adored her father and inherited his work ethic. "My father was a very strong man," she recalls. "He had a bit of a temper, but he was always in charge and would take care of things. I felt safe" -- precisely the thing her clients said about her -- "but he was very remote, and the only way that I could really communicate with him was through sports."
Her mother, on the other hand, mystified her. "She never met someone who wasn't a friend," says Kingsley, with a hint of horror. "She became friends with the bus drivers, the cab drivers, the mailmen. She would always find something to talk about. I was never a small-talk person, and neither was my dad."
In her late teens, Kingsley left home for the all-girls Winthrop College but dropped out after two years and began to roam around the country with an itch to wander, first moving to Atlanta, where she worked as a secretary for a plywood company; then to Reno, Nev., where she lived with her aunt and uncle; and on to Miami, joining the publicity department of the recently opened Fontainebleau hotel. "No place seemed to hold a fascination for so long," she reflects. "I would get bored, and I would want something new."
At the Fontainebleau, she engaged in a touch of chicanery that appalls her today. When there was space in a daily newsletter she oversaw for the guests, "I put a tagline saying, 'Marlon Brando visits hotel.' I made it up out of thin air!" The next day, she overheard two women in the elevator, regretful that they had missed him. A man at the back tapped one on the shoulder and said, "Would I do?" It was Gary Cooper.
At the Fontainebleau, Kingsley learned how to manage the celebrities who were guests. "I developed a way of looking and sounding confident, no matter if I wasn't at that particular time," she says. "You always had to show you were in control, even if you were on the edge of falling off a cliff."
Although she claims to have had no ambition, there was something special enough about her to impress Joan Crawford, who was staying at the hotel and "had agreed to do a press conference with high school kids," says Kingsley. "So I went to her suite, and she was in the bathroom throwing up because she was nervous. I thought that was kind of touching. And afterward, I took her back, and a week later I get this letter thanking me, and every month or so I'd get this letter from her."
Kingsley didn't follow her new connection to Hollywood but instead left for New York, where she was hired by a syndicated TV company, Ziv Television Programs Inc., which in turn led to connections at PR powerhouse Rogers & Cowan. In 1960, she moved to Los Angeles to work for its chairman, Warren Cowan.
"He used to take me to the Valley and make me read these memos to him, and I would get carsick and be absolutely green," she recalls. "He was very smart, he had wonderful ideas, and they'd come right off the cuff. It was fun to watch. He finally pushed me. He said, 'I want you to be a publicist.' I didn't want to. I was raised in the Southern ethic that you went to work until you married and started having children. But I somehow didn't seem to fit in that well."
Cowan put her in an office with publicist Dick Guttman and gave her Doris Day, Natalie Wood and Samantha Eggar as her first clients. To Kingsley's surprise, she found handling them easy, then built her skills when she returned to New York in 1966. There, "I developed the hardcore relationships with Time and Newsweek and 60 Minutes and everywhere important."
Looking back, she says: "I liked the challenge. I liked the people I was dealing with. They were smart people, these editors. They were fun people to be around; they were challenging. You could talk about life, and the world, and politics, and everything."
In 1971, she returned to Los Angeles as the joint head of her own company, Pickwick Public Relations (along with Lois Smith and Gerri Johnson), with clients including Robert Redford, Candice Bergen, Raquel Welch and Mary Tyler Moore.
By this time, she was married. She had met her husband, Walter Kingsley, at Ziv TV -- he was her boss, and nine years her elder, an Andover and Amherst graduate who taught this self-described "hick" about life. "We went together for 10 years, and then we got married for 10 years," says Kingsley. "I think we had a pretty successful relationship."
But by the time that ended, Kingsley's work had taken over her life. She was a career woman in a man's world, while Walt had retired from entertainment. He wanted to go on cruises; she wanted to stay put. He wished for a more traditional wife; she only thought of her clients.
"Walt had these heart attacks and had to get out of the broadcast business; he just couldn't take that pace," she explains. "I wasn't striving to be successful, but these things just kind of happened. He would refer to me as 'my wife, the executrix.' I had to have a rule that clients could not call me after 10 p.m. and no calls on weekends unless it was an emergency. And the phone would ring, and somebody would say, 'Is Pat Kingsley there?' He didn't like it. He would say, 'Just a minute, is there a Pat Kingsley here?' I would say: 'You know something? These people probably don't even know I'm married. They're not interested in my life. They're just interested in their own. They don't even know who you are.' It was hard."
The couple divorced in 1978. (Walt died in 2010.) After that, Kingsley never had another long-term involvement. "I just threw myself into my work and my kid," she says. "I'm kind of a selfish person. I like my own time. I like to eat when I want to eat, I like to go to bed when I want to go to bed. And I got used to that kind of lifestyle. I don't regret it. For a long time, I had a very good marriage. But I didn't find anybody that was worth sacrificing for. Doing the business I did, it was all-consuming, and I had to make sure I made time for Janis. Those were my two priorities, and they were fulfilling enough for me."