If they gave a prize for the most confused book of the year, Tabloid Prodigy would have to be a top contender. Here’s the hook. By the age of 23, Marlise Kast, a minister’s daughter from a family of god-bothering missionaries, found herself transformed into one of the top reporters at the Globe, a tabloid most commonly found alongside the Starand the National Enquirer at grocery store checkouts. Before responding to the Globe‘s ad for new reporters, Kast was a hard working college student majoring in communications and English who didn’t watch TV or follow Hollywood gossip; in fact, before working at the Globe, she’d actually never heard of many of the celebrities whose ups and downs she was assigned to cover. But since she’s ambitious, and quick to learn, Kast is soon making the most of her youth and beauty by crashing William Shatner’s wedding, bribing Leonardo di Caprio’s bell boy, sneaking into Roseanne’s hotel bedroom, stalking Demi Moore, buying groceries for Rick Rockwell, and cultivating friendships with hookers, bouncers, barmen, maids, and other wage slaves who keep her supplied with celebrity dirt.
Sounds fascinating, you say? Well, it is and it isn’t. The compelling part, at least, for me, was learning what goes on behind the scenes at a low-rent operation like the Globe. It’s interesting to learn, for example, that while Globe reporters make the most of anonymous tipsters and other dubious sources, no big story can be published without the support of three signed, on-the-record witnesses backing up the evidence, who must either have seen the event first hand, or must be somehow connected to the celebrity. Contrary to popular opinion, however scurvy the tabloids might seem, they don’t simply make things up; all their stories are substantiated with evidence that would, if necessary, hold up in court.
Getting the signed witness statements is something else altogether, and this is where the sleaze comes in. Often on her own initiative, Kast chased celebrities in the street, knocked on their doors and asked them intimate questions, trailed them round porn shops, bribed their friends and families, made up phone scams, and ripped off those who didn’t know any better. To Kast, the work seemed glamorous and fast paced, especially when it involved overseas travel—she got a special kick out of riding a camel round the pyramids in search of Matt Lauer. To those of us who are older and more jaded than Kast, however, this kind of thing sounds far from desirable. Jetting round the world in search of celebrities may sound glamorous and exciting, but in truth, like most such jobs, her work is usually tedious, and as undignified as any job in sales.
Marlise Kast tells us that she’d always dreamed of becoming a writer. At the Globe, however, she was required to tone down her educated vocabulary to “target the trailer park readers.” She never mentions finding this difficult or degrading, yet seems surprised when, after two years at the Globe, her editor says to her, “I had no idea you could write.” Kast remarks: “It was sobering to realize that even Globe‘s editors did not regard tabloid reporting as legitimate writing.” Perhaps this book is a way to prove that she can write “legitimately,” but if this is the case, she needs to get rid of her vestigial tabloid mannerisms—her book is written in a simple vocabulary and sentences so basic that I was left wondering if she was still dumbing things down for the kind of audience that wants to learn about celebrities. Either way, the result is confusing. While she writes well about day-to-day details of her job, her attempts at describing wacky office antics or the crazy dynamics of her family fall completely flat.
Kast, a proud Christian, left the Globe after two years because, after being “plagued by doubts” about the ethics of her job, she realizes she’s been “lying about who she really is,” and needs to come “face to face with her conscience.” If this is the case—if she’s really ashamed of how she led her life, of the lies she told and the people she harmed—it’s hard to understand why the book cover is laid out like a tabloid and covered with flashy pictures of the beautiful young author amid celebrity headlines? Most people who feel they’ve made shameful ethical compromises don’t usually write books about how thrilling it all was.
Even more confusing, Kast has dedicated her book to “my heavenly Father, in whom I put my trust.” Even as a “Tabloid Prodigy,” Kast does not give up her faith. She continues to read the Bible and believe in God. She doesn’t drink (at least, not very much), doesn’t smoke, and—although she “flirts with her lips” and dates with five men in the same week—she’s proud of her virginity, or, as she describes it, her “sexual prominence.” She explains: “I danced on Saturdays and prayed on Sundays. As a reader of scripture and a writer of gossip, I was a spiritual contradiction ... I danced in the garden and juggled forbidden apples.” It never seems to cross her mind that premarital sex seems a very minor sin compared to the lies, bribery, deceit, and exploitation that make up her day job.
These days, Marlise Kast is a freelance journalist and an “extreme athlete.” In her bio at the end of Tabloid Prodigy, she claims to be searching “for liquid mountains and untracked terrain, wandering the world with blissful contentment.” Ambitious and full of youthful energy, Kast is clearly the kind of person who’s driven to succeed in everything she undertakes. It’s a shame she seems unable to take a step back and appreciate that, to succeed in some things, you have to fail in others.