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Kitty Kelley, Out of the Political Arena?

By Richard Leiby
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page C03

More payback? A few months ago Kitty Kelley was kicked off the masthead of Washingtonian magazine because of her highly critical bestseller about the Bush family, and now the author says she has been booted from the cast of an Arena Stage benefit in April because Republican politicians refused to share the stage with her. The annual performance, which supports Arena's outreach program to local youth, features a cast of media celebs and members of Congress.

Kelley, who appeared in the humorous revue last year with actress Margaret Bush, President Bush's sister-in-law, told us she got the news in an e-mail a few days ago from an organizer of the upcoming show, "Capital Crusaders: It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Congress!" The e-mail Kelley received stated that Republican lobbyist Sharon McBride, a co-chair of the benefit, told the Arena staff that "no Republicans would participate if you were in the cast." (Among the GOP senators slated to perform are Ted Stevens, Pat Roberts and Richard Lugar.)

Kitty Kelly with Margaret Bush and Others
Kitty Kelly with Margaret Bush and Others
Kitty Kelley, right, and Margaret Bush starred in Arena Stage's benefit last year. Kelley won't be part of this year's cast. (Scott Suchman)

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McBride, the Washington lobbyist for eBay, would not answer our questions yesterday, saying, "I am not authorized to speak to reporters in any capacity." But Molly Smith, Arena's artistic director, said McBride had no role in choosing the cast, adding, "There wasn't pressure from Sharon" or anyone else to bar Kelley. "That's kind of ridiculous."

Kelley, whose tome on the Bush dynasty was denounced as "garbage" by the White House, has led the cast in past years. So have former Republican congressman Fred Grandy and Clinton administration official Donna Shalala. "We love to have people from different sides of the aisle," Smith told us. "We didn't have a role for a gorgeous blonde this year. We'll have Kitty back another year."

Kelley said yesterday: "I've been told that I can clear a room by entering it, but a whole theater? That's more power than I can deal with."

A Fond Afterword For Thompson

• Hunter S. Thompson, RIP: In its issue out tomorrow, Rolling Stone pays high tribute to the late gonzo journalist with more than 40 first-person tales from acquaintances and admirers, including Johnny Depp, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn and Keith Richards. But his more subdued political pals also pitch in with fond recollections: George McGovern, Pat Buchanan, Pat Caddell and even Jimmy Carter.

"Hunter Thompson was a delightful, unpredictable and unforgettable friend of mine for more than 30 years," writes Carter, who met him while contemplating his campaign in 1975. "He interviewed me for many hours, tape-recording extensive conversations about every conceivable subject, some of which were quite discomforting. Later, I learned, with some relief, that he had lost all the tapes."

Seeking another interview, Thompson "threatened my press secretary, Jody Powell, if he didn't gain immediate access," Carter recalls. "One night he even built a fire in front of Jody's hotel-room door in an attempt to smoke him out."

Caddell, a McGovern strategist on the '72 campaign, tells of a white-knuckle car ride with fellow passenger Warren Beatty and Thompson at the wheel. He nearly drove them off a bridge into the Potomac: "He was jumping the medians and scaring the [expletive] out of everybody."

Buchanan, a top aide to Richard Nixon during the '68 campaign, somehow retained this memory: "Hunter and I were holed up in some hotel in Nashua [New Hampshire] and discovered that we were in possession of either a gallon or a half-gallon of Wild Turkey. I had a lot of stamina in those days, and the two of us stayed up all night arguing fiercely about communism -- it got pretty vicious by dawn." Ahh, good times.

Pedersen: Can't Spell 'Proud' Without PR

Wes Pedersen, flack with honor. (Linda Bartlett)
• Veteran local flack Wes Pedersen, who describes himself as "an unbelievably young 83," will be inducted today into the Washington chapter of the Public Relations Society of America's Hall of Fame -- an event we learned about, naturally, via a release from the honoree himself. The theme of the event, he says, is "I Am Not a Flack," but Pedersen, communications and PR director at the Public Affairs Council, begs to differ.

"I've never cared one damn bit about being called a flack," declares Pedersen, who flacked for his country at the U.S. Information Agency during the Cold War. "Matter of fact, it's a bit of a compliment. Most people in PR are convinced 'flack' was an offshoot of 'flak,' the acronym for Germany's World War II antiaircraft gun. Actually, 'flack' was initially meant in the most favorable sense: Variety started using it in the '20s and '30s as a sort of homage to Gene Flack, who was very, very good at promoting films."

Thanks, Wes, and consider yourself flacked.


Flush we must: Several hundred attendees at the Kaiser Family Foundation's conference yesterday on kids and the media with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton got a surprise earful before she spoke. Drew Altman, the foundation's president and CEO, was making introductory remarks when, suddenly, the unmistakable sound of a toilet flushing could be heard over the loudspeaker system. The culprit: moderator Jeff Greenfield of CNN, who used the facilities while wearing his remote microphone. He e-mailed us yesterday: "After 25 years in the business, you'd think I'd know when to turn a microphone off!"

• The flap over an anti-AARP ad suggesting that the retiree group supports gay love and undermines U.S. troops ended up in federal court here yesterday. The male couple from Portland, Ore., whose wedding photo was used in the USA Next ad sued the conservative group for $25 million, alleging libel and invasion of privacy and seeking an order to block further use of the ad. USA Next head Charlie Jarvis told us through a rep that he was still reviewing the suit and had no comment.

With Anne Schroeder

© 2005 The Washington Post Company