Kitty Bradley, a twice divorced Hollywood screen writer, was an unlikely candidate for the wife of a five-star general. She was 29 years her husband's junior, wore a Mia Farrow haircut, sported a large, five-star diamond pin on her bathing suit and managed to alienate Bradley family members and military wives who resented her overbearing manner and taste for the limelight.
"I think I was a bit of a shock," Kitty Bradley now says, from her California home. "I think they thought he'd marry an Army widow. There was one who was after him, but she passed on."
Omar Bradley's first wife, Mary, described by one friend as "the Bess Truman type," died in December 1965. Nine months later--at the age of 73--Omar Bradley wed his companion and collaborator of 16 years, 44-year- old Esther Dora "Kitty" Buhler. It was a controversial marriage from the start. Bradley's only child, Elizabeth Dorsey of Washington, still does not speak to her stepmother, saying, "She did a lot of mean things to a lot of people."
Natalie Bunker, wife of former Martin Marietta president George Bunker who lived next door to the Bradleys for years, says, "Kitty wasn't the Army type. She was completely different. And the marriage was kind of quick."
Kitty Bradley has heard all that before. "It was our turn," she says. "We waited until a respectable period had passed to marry. We didn't want to hurt anyone." As to the speculation that Kitty Buhler and Omar Bradley had a love affair before their marriage, she says, "I can only tell you we went out of our way to hurt nobody. I can't help what people say. There was never any thought of divorcing Mary. How could he? He was a national figure. You would be correct in saying we were friends for many years. Anything other than that would be distasteful, don't you think?"
Now 60, her skin still taut with the aid of two face lifts, Kitty Bradley is writing an autobiography of her life with Omar Bradley. "It's going to be called Horses Make Strange Bedfellows. We spent so much of our time at racetracks. My husband loved the races," she said. "He treated every race like it was another war."
They met in 1950 on the island of Okinawa. "And the fact is, we were never really apart, physically or spiritually" after that, she says.
It was Feb. 6, at 10:06 a.m. to be exact. Kitty Bradley knows the exact time because it was written in her husband's logbook, among the papers she has collected for The Bradley Library at West Point.
"I was hauled out of bed at 4:30 in the morning and told to go meet the general's plane," she recalls. Kitty Buhler was then a 28-year-old journalist, working as a "stringer" for United Press and doing a free-lance gossip column for Stars & Stripes.
"I went down there with no hose on," she says, laughing. "I remember wearing torn sandals, and the maids at that point had washed my suede jacket so it was very stiff. And that's how I met him."
Kitty Bradley says she knew then that she loved him. "I remember he was very tall and he had his uniform on and there were a lot of people around him. I thought he was attractive. He was quiet and lanky and cragged face. I kind of thought I might see him again, and I did. I saw him that afternoon at one o'clock."
And Bradley's impression of the young journalist? "Afterward, he said he thought I was gorgeous."
At the end of the interview, Kitty recalls, Bradley said,"'Is there anything else I can do for you young lady?' I said, 'Not right now, sir. But hold my place, general. I'll be back.'"
And she was. When Mary and Omar Bradley moved to California several years later, Kitty Buhler secured the rights to the general's life story and began meeting with Bradley. She eventually wrote a screen treatment on Bradley for MGM, which she says was blended into the film "Patton." She also wrote episodes for television series such as "Dragnet," "The Untouchables," and "My Three Sons" and a John Wayne Film, "China Doll."
Meanwhile, her friendship with Omar Bradley was deepening, she says.
After Mary's death and Kitty and Omar's marriage in San Diego, they moved back to Bradley's home in Washington.
"Kitty had to have been the most unpopular woman to hit Washington," one military wife recalls. "She came breezing in with that short hair cut, bossing people around. She moved in and treated those old ladies like dirt."
But Kitty Bradley says if there was any hostility toward her, it didn't show.
Elizabeth Dorsey, Bradley's only daughter, says she --as well as others--were suddenly cut off by Bradley's new bride. "She just left us out of any parties or gatherings. Most of the old friends were out of the picture."
Kitty Bradley denies excluding family members from any functions. She says her stepdaughter may have resented her, may have wanted her father to remain unmarried. "She (Elizabeth) didn't want to share the limelight with me."
Stories of Kitty Bradley's difficulties with her staff also began to circulate. Elizabeth Dorsey says, "A lot of the aides who were planning to make the Army their career left after their contact with her."
Kitty Bradley agrees that she is a strong, savvy, "very frank" woman who was obsessed with making the last years of her husband's life as pleasant as possible. "If anything hurt my husband, I was very hard to deal with," she says. "And if anybody left the Army because of me, then they couldn't have handled the Germans or the Russians."
Natalie Bunker recalls, "She moved into the home and made a lot of changes. She's a very efficient person, with a great deal of energy."
She put in an indoor heated swimming pool, hung gold wallpaper and dug out every citation Omar Bradley had ever received, hanging them on one wall of the den with spotlights. "She once said to me, 'Isn't it a shame. They've been in trunks all these years,'" Natalie Bunker recalls. "Mary never would have put those up. And General Bradley certainly wasn't the type of person who cared about that sort of thing."
But Kitty Bradley apparently cared deeply. Omar Bradley had spent his illustrious career as a humble, unassuming man. His new bride began making up for lost time. "She had a lot of five stars around," Natalie Bunker says. "She loved that five stars. She put it wherever she could. Plaques on the wall, her diamond pin. And she made such a fuss over him. I imagine he liked that. He looked happy."
The Bradleys traveled extensively and worked side by side at their desks, handicapping the horses. "We were partners," Kitty Bradley says, describing her husband as an easygoing man who loved Ellery Queen novels, rum and cokes, vanilla ice cream and the color blue.
"He was strong-willed where matters of the country were concerned," she says. "And once in a while he'd stick his jaw out if he really wanted vanilla ice cream and didn't get it." But all in all, she says, as a husband, "He was well trained."
Two years after they arrived in Washington, they put their Spring Valley house up for sale and moved to Beverly Hills.
"I heard the story that Mary (Bradley) was haunting half of Washington, and that's why we left," Kitty Bradley says. "It was really because of his allergies."
In 1973, one month after resigning as chairman of the Bulova Watch Company, Bradley suffered the first of a series of illnesses, a massive blood clot in his lungs. "I kept yelling at him, 'If you die Buddy, I'll kill you,'" Kitty Bradley says. "He was afraid to die. he was sure I'd kill him."
Two years later, he was hospitalized again after hitting his head while debarking an airplane. A month later, he developed a blood clot on the brain, which left him confined to a wheelchair. That didn't stop Kitty Bradley from keeping her husband's life as active as possible, taking him to ball games, the races, presidential inaugurations and other trips.
"She pushed him a bit," Natalie Bunker recalls. "But maybe pushing kept him alive longer."
But if she pushed him, she did so out of love. At least that's what was apparent to friends, who--even in their criticism of the new Mrs. Bradley--found her devotion to him admirable.
"Frankly, I liked her," says Natalie Bunker. "One time when my husband and General Bradley were both flying home together, she called me to come over. She said, 'Aren't you worried?' It was a foggy night. We got down on our knees and prayed. She was honestly very worried."
Toward the end, Kitty Bradley became more protective of her husband than ever, friends say, steering him away from people at parties and functions, keeping a certain distance from those who had known and loved him. "Nobody got near him, if she didn't want them to," says one Army wife.
In 1977, the Bradleys moved to the Fort Bliss Army base in El Paso, Texas where the general received physical therapy, gave speeches and mingled with the soldiers.
April 8, 1981, found the Bradleys on their last trip, this time to New York's "21" restaurant where the general received a medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences.
"We were with 100 people in the Winchester Room," Kitty Bradley recalls. "We were scheduled to go on to the theater. The last thing he said to me was, 'Don't you think darling we ought to go?' So we wheeled him to the elevator, and I was stepping on when he gave this huge sigh. His left arm dropped off the chair. Before we could say anything, he gave another sigh and his right arm dropped off the chair. He never said another word."
Kitty Bradley was the sole beneficiary of Omar Bradley's estate. "I got nothing," Elizabeth Dorsey says. Kitty Bradley maintains that her late husband set up trust funds for his five grandchildren and that Elizabeth Dorsey, his daughter, received money from Mary Bradley's estate. "It was a very small amount," Elizabeth Dorsey says.
There's no question that Kitty Bradley was a difficult woman to many people. Perhaps she wanted--more so than her husband--the attention and adulation that goes with being the last remaining five-star general in America. And she was selfish with the man she loved. After all, she had waited 16 years for him.
"I think I get through really tough times envisioning him being in the very next room waiting for me," she says now. "I know he's patient. He's in no hurry. But I have the feeling he's waiting for me."