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COVER STORY

The Queen of All Access

Pat Kingsley Holds the Keys to Gates That Shield Some ofHollywood's Biggest Names. And That Makes Her One of the Most Powerful People in Town.

September 14, 1997|Hilary de Vries

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."

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]. "

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