How to read Kitty Kelley.

How to read juicy books.
Sept. 15 2004 7:01 PM

Burning Bushes

A reader's guide to Kitty Kelley's The Family.

Book cover

Want the best (if somewhat dubious) dish from The Family, Kitty Kelley's new treatise on the Bush clan? Follow Slate's reading guide straight to the good parts.

Academic Honors

Page 252: George H.W. Bush comes to the rescue when his sons run afoul of Andover honor codes. Jeb violates the school's alcohol ban, but he's allowed to finish his degree after his father intervenes. Years later, Kelley writes, school officials catch W.'s younger brother Marvin with drugs, but dad talks them out of expulsion and secures for his son an "honorary transfer" to another school.

Page 253: At Andover, George W. Bush writes a morose essay about his sister's death. Searching for a synonym for "tears," he consults a thesaurus and writes, "And the lacerates ran down my cheeks." A teacher labels the paper "disgraceful."

Page 251: The family patriarch, Prescott Bush, questions W.'s seriousness about attending Yale, the Bush clan alma mater. "It's the difference between ham and eggs," he says. "The chicken is involved. The pig is committed."

Page 261-68: George W. at Yale. A witness remembers a "roaring drunk" Bush doing the Alligator at a fraternity kegger. A frat brother says Bush "wasn't an ass man." Another friend concurs: "Poor Georgie. He couldn't even relate to women unless he was loaded. … There were just too many stories of him turning up dead drunk on dates." W. lovingly tends to his frat brothers but derides other Yalies as "liberal pussies."

Page 271: Joke excised from Bush's 2001 Yale commencement speech: "It's great to return to New Haven. My car was followed all the way from the airport by a long line of police cars with slowly rotating lights. It was just like being an undergraduate again."

Page 309: At Harvard Business School, which W. attends from 1973 to 1975, a professor screens The Grapes of Wrath. Bush asks him, "Why are you going to show us that Commie movie?" W.'s take on the film: "Look. People are poor because they are lazy."

Sex and Drugs

Page 49: Prescott Bush frequently shows up drunk at the lavish Hartford Club and never tips the bellboys. "Finally we figured out how to exact revenge," says one bellboy. "Whenever he came in drunk and wanted to go upstairs, we'd take him in the elevator and stop about three inches from his floor. He'd step out and fall flat on his face."

Page 79: In a letter to his mother during World War II, H.W. fulminates against the casual sex he sees at a Naval Air Station: "These girls are not prostitutes, but just girls without any morals at all."

Page 209: In the early 1960s, H.W. has an affair with an Italian woman named Rosemarie and "promise[s] to get a divorce and marry her." Bush ends the affair in 1964; the woman asks the attorney if she can sue Bush for breaking their engagement.

Page 327-30; 341-42; 353: Now ambassador to China, H.W. has a relationship with his aide Jennifer Fitzgerald. Around the same time, Barbara disappears from Peking for three months. "Everyone knew that [Fitzgerald] was George's mistress," says a source.

Page 375-76: James Baker refuses to run Bush's 1980 presidential campaign if Fitzgerald is around; Bush concedes but pays her a salary. After becoming vice president, Bush gets into a traffic accident while riding with his "girlfriend"; he calls Secretary of State Alexander Haig to help him shoo away the Washington, D.C., police. Fitzgerald isn't Bush's only dalliance: A divorcee from North Dakota moves to Washington to be with the veep. Kelley says Nancy Reagan, who reviles the Bushes, delights in the gossip.

Page 266: George W. and cocaine. One anonymous Yalie claims he sold coke to Bush; another classmate says he and Bush snorted the drug together. Sharon Bush, W.'s ex-sister-in-law, tells Kelley that Bush has used cocaine at Camp David "not once, but many times." (Sharon has since denied telling Kelley this.)

Page 304: While working on a 1972 Alabama Senate campaign, Bush, witnesses say, "liked to sneak out back for a joint of marijuana or into the bathroom for a line of cocaine."

Page 575: A friend says Laura Bush was the "go-to girl for dime bags" at Southern Methodist University.

Ibid.: George and Laura visit Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax and his girlfriend Jane Clark in the Caribbean and attended pot parties.

Team Sports

Page 257: At Andover, W. proves a poor athlete. He rides the bench in basketball until a starter falls ill, and he is given the chance to enter the lineup. Bush smacks an opponent's face with the ball and winds up back on the bench.

Ibid.: Bush elects not to tell his friends back in Texas—where all-male Andover is derided as "Bend Over"—that he has become the school's head cheerleader.

Page 258-59: Under the moniker "Tweeds Bush," W. presides as unofficial chairman of Andover's stickball league. He manufactures a series of bogus membership cards that double as fake IDs in Boston bars.

Ibid.: W. introduces the school to the sport of pig ball, which involves throwing a football high in the air and then throttling a random player. As one ex-student puts it, "[T]o me he is the epitome of pig ball."

Page 276: George H.W. challenges Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin to a series of squash games. When Coffin takes four in a row, Bush refuses to quit until he wins. "That time I kicked a little ass and it felt good," Coffin gloats.

Matriarchs

Page 50: George H.W.'s mother, Dotty, forces her son to play sports right-handed, even though he's a natural southpaw.

Page 72-73: Barbara Bush's nickname explained: During World War II gasoline rationing, the Bushes navigate Kennebunkport, Maine, in a horse-drawn carriage. Prescott Bush Jr. notices that the family's horse, Barsil, looks a bit like George's then-girlfriend. He gives them both the nickname "Bar."

Page 191: At Yale, George H.W. asks Bar find a job to pay for her smoking habit.

Page 437: On a 1986 trip to Israel, Barbara visits the Holocaust Museum. "She had worn a blue flowered cotton housedress and open-toed sandals," says the wife of the U.S. consul general. "I couldn't believe it. Here she was the wife of the Vice President of the United States, for God's sakes, and she looked like she was going to a Sears Roebuck picnic."

Page 467: An associate on Barbara: "She can make a clean kill from a thousand yards away. … [W]hen she delivers the life-taking blow, she does it with a thin-lipped smile. … Have you ever seen an asp smile?"

Page 534: After Bush loses the 1992 election, Barbara holds a White House rummage sale and hawks her lightly used ball gowns to staffers.

Page 381-82: Sharon Bush on Barbara: "She can be a tyrant. That's why her boys called her 'The Nutcracker.' "

Page 577; 618: On party invitations, Laura Bush insists on being listed as "Mrs. Laura Bush," not the traditional "Mrs. George W. Bush." An intimate describes her as a "very nice woman who's got a lot of problems and smokes constantly."

Black Sheep

Page 183: Prescott Bush's eldest son, Prescott Jr.—known to the family as "P2"—sabotages his 1982 Senate campaign when he tells a women's club, "I'm sure there are people in Greenwich who are glad [the immigrants] are here, because they wouldn't have someone to help in the house without them."

Page 337-39: Prescott Bush III—"P3"—abandons his wife shortly after their wedding and, according to various accounts, is diagnosed with schizophrenia and moves in with members of the Weather Underground.

Page 186: H.W.'s brother Jonathan, an aspiring actor, announces plans for an off-Broadway minstrel show that Variety says includes "some Negro talent along with the blackface components." The production is quickly scuttled, and Bush settles for a part in Oklahoma! before giving up show business.

Page 491-92: Barbara Bush is upset that her daughter Doro, a divorcee, is getting nowhere with Rep. David Deier after a year of dating. "Never laid a hand on her," Bar says.

Compassionate Conservatism

Page 227: George H.W., who runs hard against civil rights legislation in his 1964 Senate campaign, makes amends by sponsoring a black softball team in Houston called the "George Bush All-Stars." As he puts it, "Organized athletics is a wonderful answer to juvenile delinquency."

Page 247: H.W. campaigns hard to be Nixon's running mate in 1968. Nixon goes with Spiro Agnew, a Greek-American, whom Bush derides as "Zorba, the Veep."

Page 252: George W. hangs a Confederate flag in his dorm room at Andover.

Page 268: W. on Yale's decision to admit women: "That's when Yale really started going downhill."

Page 427: In Midland, W. and his lawyer, Robert Whitt, try to hire the same housekeeper, an illegal alien named Consuela. When Whitt wins, Bush calls his wife and cusses her out.

Page 481: Miss USA visits the Oval Office in 1989 and affirms her commitment to world peace. After she leaves, H.W. tells reporters, "Did ya hear that, fellas? It's all about brains now. I liked it better when it was just bikinis."

Page 591: When Jeb's son Johnny is caught half-naked with a girl in a mall parking lot in 2000, George W. jokes, "It could have been worse. The girl could've been a boy." He adds, "We've might've picked up some gay votes with that one, huh?"

Power Plays

Page 279: George H.W. makes a secret trip to Lyndon Johnson's ranch to ask the ex-president if he should give up his House seat for a 1970 Senate run. Johnson says the "difference between being a member of the Senate and a member of the House is the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit." Bush runs and gets clobbered.

Page 350: As CIA director, H.W. despises Henry Kissinger and instructs his staff to refer to him as "Mister," not "Doctor." "The fucker doesn't perform surgery or make house calls, does he?" Bush says.

Page 454: After a testy interview with Dan Rather in 1988, H.W. remarks, "That guy makes Lesley Stahl look like a pussy."

Page 504: H.W. tells a congressman that he wants Ronald Reagan to go down in history as "the man who preceded George Bush."

Page 598: George W. to McCain during the nasty 2000 South Carolina primary: "John, we've got to start running a better campaign." McCain: "Don't give me that shit. And take your hands off me."

Secrets of the Bushies

Page 22: W. isn't the first Bush with a dubious war record. Prescott writes a gag letter to an Ohio newspaper detailing his mock-heroics in World War I, which the newspaper takes as fact and prints in full on the front page. His mother later apologizes and the paper retracts the story.

Page 95: George H.W. weeps during Skull and Bones initiation when describing his World War II heroics.

Page 213; 347: H.W. as Oliver Stone—hours after the Kennedy assassination, Bush phones the FBI and tells them about a 24-year-old Bircher who he says plotted to kill the president. The man is later cleared. As CIA director, for reasons no one quite understands, Bush demands to see many of the agency's assassination files.

Page 567: A witness recalls that during a CNN interview-turned-family-dinner "the elder Bush was drooling over Paula Zahn's legs, and younger Bush was yammering to get to the dinner table."

Page 578: A retired National Guard officer says he overheard a conversation between a Bush staffer and a guardsman about tidying up W.'s service record.

Page 604: During the 2000 recount controversy, W.'s sister Doro shrouds herself in a scarf and dark glasses and joins GOP protesters outside the Naval Observatory.

Page 566: The Bush family exchanges gleeful e-mails during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. George H.W. sends his sons a missive about Peyronie's disease—an unwelcome curvature of the penis—with the addendum: "And, of course, [Clinton's] Johnson curves to the left."

Page 618: A friend says that during their famous Crawford summit, Bush treated Russia's Vladimir Putin as if he were an unreformed Communist apparatchik: "I told Putin that in this country we own our own homes and because we own them we take great pride in them. … I don't think the son of a bitch knew what the hell I was talking about."

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