Perhaps it is fitting that the Kardashians first came to public attention thanks to one of the most notorious celebrity murder trials ever to be staged.
No one had heard of Kris Jenner, the matriarch and so-called ‘momager’ of the clan, until her close friend, OJ Simpson, stood in the dock accused of killing his wife. Nor had they come across her lawyer husband Robert, who was part of the legal team that defended the disgraced star.
It seems there is almost no publicity – good, bad or frankly atrocious – that the Kardashians cannot turn to their very lucrative advantage. Today Kim alone is said to be worth more than £41 million, with her younger sisters not far behind.
Kardashian Dynasty: The book will unearth the story behind the marriage of Kris Jenner and Caitlyn Jenner, pictured together last November
Kardashian Dynasty: The book will unearth the story behind ‘Brand K’. Pictured, Kourtney, Kim, Caitlyn and Kendall Jenner in February
Yet for all the sunny optimism of their reality TV show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and for all their light-hearted if decidedly downmarket antics – it is not long since the girls were filmed discussing the respective size of their genitalia – there is something troubling about the unstoppable rise of Kim, Kourtney, Khloe and the rest.
Using unrivalled Hollywood contacts, including friendships within the family, I have established that their tawdry soap opera follows a hard-nosed and mercenary script – and at the heart of it lies a cynical refusal to let anything stand in the way of Brand K.
My new book, Kardashian Dynasty, discloses that not only has Kris orchestrated two of her daughter Kim’s three marriages to increase ratings for the show, but confirms what has been rumoured for many years: she also arranged the release of her own daughter’s infamous and degrading sex tape.
It was also she who persuaded a reluctant Kim to pose naked for Playboy.
Yet there is one piece of manipulation that should cause even the most ardent Kardashian fans to pause, and that is the treatment of 66-year-old Bruce Jenner, the Olympic decathlon hero, second husband to Kris and stepfather to Kim, 35, Kourtney, 36, and Khloe, 31, and their brother Rob, 29.
Kim Kardashian alone is said to be worth more than £41 million, with her younger sisters not far behind
Today Bruce goes by the name of Caitlyn and is the most famous transgender woman in the world. He has felt the need to live as a female for years – certainly throughout his 25-year marriage to Kris.
Yet I can reveal that Kris, 60, a fervent evangelical Christian, pushed Jenner into having controversial – some might argue potentially dangerous – Christian therapy to ‘cure’ him of his urges. This, I have been reliably told by family insiders, was because Kris feared Jenner’s wishes might damage the famous brand.
They said her actions delayed the gender re-assignment her ex-husband had craved for many years.
Family and friends believe Jenner was so desperately unhappy he might even have resorted to self-harming.
Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner: Kris says the Kendall, 20, and Kylie, 18 – are the future of Brand K. Their joint Instagram reaches 110 million and they are on the way to becoming supermodels
Kris has previously denied all knowledge of Jenner’s desire to be a woman. The truth, however, is that she knew from the outset because she had caught her ex-husband dressing up in women’s clothing.
A close family member told me Kris believed the only way to ‘bring Bruce right’ was through the church. So, she told him to ‘pray’ for guidance and he would be helped. This sounds suspiciously like conversion therapy, the discredited method used by some religious believers to suppress homosexuality. It is based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder or it can somehow be ‘cured’.
Jenner was hot again and money rolled in
Kris has long been a disciple of evangelical Christianity and used to lead prayer services with controversial preacher and singer Pat Boone. She is also a founder member of the Calvary Community Church in Westlake, where the family regularly worships. Sources close to the Kardashians say that she kept her ex-husband ‘hooked’ on the church like it was a drug.
The family and other sources told me she orchestrated a concerted campaign to keep Jenner as a man. Otherwise, they believe Jenner would have made the ‘transition’ long ago. This extended to ensuring the Kardashians did not mix with the liberal, secular Hollywood crowd as might be expected for such a freewheeling family, because she feared they might encourage Jenner towards self-expression.
Instead their friends were Republicans, though more traditionally conservative than radical Right-wing.
Jenner had been taking hormones for years before they met at a charity golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club, hosted by basketball legend Michael Jordan.
Bruce Jenner as an athlete, poses for a portrait in 1978 (left) and right, Caitlyn Jenner offering a sneak preview of her new documentary
The decathlete turned actor and racing driver was one of the celebrity players. Kris, a divorced mother of four, spotted him coming out of the clubhouse and was instantly smitten. She told friends she was ‘awestruck’ by the all-American smile and long hair of Jenner, a hero of the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
This surprised her because a bitter break from husband, celebrity lawyer Robert Kardashian, (who died in 2003) had left her avoiding relationships to concentrate on being a mother and businesswoman. Jenner also had four children from two failed marriages and wanted to be part of a big family.
He thought Kris was ambitious, outgoing and smart. Despite her two breast augmentations, she reminded him of the kind of wholesome TV wife promoted by television shows such as The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family.
The sexual chemistry was instant and mutual. Their first date was attending a lavish cocktail party in honour of Ronald Reagan.
Jenner told her he liked wearing women’s clothes before they got married. But Kris was not only in love; she saw the possibility to make money from her new husband’s reputation as a sporting legend. Her only real job had been a two-year stint as a flight attendant but it soon became apparent that she had a flair for business. She was determined to revive Jenner’s career and she set about the task in earnest.
Almost immediately, she came up with the idea of a Bruce Jenner clothing line; fitness equipment; vitamin supplements; and a new round of endorsements. Within a short time, Jenner was hot again and the money came rolling in.
A big celebrity name as a new love interest for Kim: Kanye West and Kim Kardashian on their wedding day
When, years later, he told her that he was on hormone therapy, she gave him permission to ‘experiment’ away from home, but not to do it in the house. He would, however, occasionally dress up around the house when he thought no one was home. My sources tell me that if Kris caught him, she would shake her head and coldly tell him to stop.
Family and close friends say it was tearing Jenner apart. He was often depressed and at one point, after he was seen with cuts on his arms, there were rumours of self-harming. His mood swings got progressively worse as time went by, yet Kris never really understood and eventually, absorbed by her astonishing business success, he found she had little time for him.
Her influence on the family cannot be understated. As the executive-producer of the fly-on-the-wall show (in fact it is obviously scripted) for almost a decade, it is no exaggeration to say she controls the lives of those around her – while negotiating endorsement deals and checking on their social media ratings.
She gets ten per cent of everything, including, I understand, the earnings of Jenner, who now has a separate reality show. Naturally.
I’m in no doubt Kris’s priority is the protection and promotion of brand Kardashian, and human relationships and dignity – including her children’s dignity – come second.
Take the scandal she cooked up to boost their fledging reality show when it first aired in 2007. The ‘Kim K: Superstar’ tape, featuring a then-unknown Kim having sex with one-time boyfriend, R&B singer Ray J, propelled her and her family to becoming paparazzi fodder.
For all the denials, family members who have spoken to me say Kris and Kim plotted to release the sex tape in public. It was a deliberate strategy. They had seen the impact of Paris Hilton’s sex tape and knew it was a sure-fire way to achieve fame – however notorious.
No one had heard of Kris Jenner until her close friend, OJ Simpson (right), stood in the dock accused of killing his wife. Nor had they heard of her lawyer husband Robert, part of the legal team that defended the disgraced star
Some say it is Kim who has been the most damaged by her mother’s machinations, but it is also the case that she is the child who most shares her mother’s hunger for notoriety. Kim’s first husband, Damon Thomas, whom she married at 19, said she was ‘obsessed with fame’ and would step on anybody, including her sisters Kourtney and Khloe, to get ahead. ‘She’s jealous and competitive with her sisters. Jealousy is a big thing with her,’ he had said.
When Kris brokered another deal to ‘strengthen the brand’ by pushing her eldest daughter to pose naked for Playboy, even Kim balked at the idea. Indeed, my sources say she vehemently fought against it – before giving in, to lasting regret.
Kim shares her mother’s hunger for notoriety
Yet it worked. Keeping Up With The Kardashians surged in popularity and the family began jostling for their chance to become mega stars.
There was a rare setback in 2011, with Kim’s short-lived marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries. It lasted 72 days and there is no doubt the brand was tarnished by accusations of fraud. Fans of the show suspected – correctly – that it had been a ruse to boost viewing figures.
The response was pure Kardashian. Determined to quash the rumours, Kris called an emergency family meeting and it was decided that the best way to turn things around was… to bring in a big celebrity name as a new love interest for Kim.
Not only was Kanye West hip-hop royalty and a genuine A-lister, he was willing, having lost his mother and manager, Donda, who had died on the operating table during a botched liposuction operation.
‘Losing his mother was devastating,’ one of his friends explained. ‘He never got over it until he met Kim and loved how big a family she had. He was smitten with Kris Jenner.
‘In fact, I don’t think he would have married Kim if Kris Jenner wasn’t on the scene. In Kris he found a new mother figure. She treated him like her own. He was enamoured with how smart, loving and business savvy she was. He had found the perfect family to marry into.’
Kardashian Dynasty: The book will unearth the story behind the marriage of Kris Jenner and Bruce Jenner, pictured together in 1992 (left) and Caitlyn with Kris in February this year (right)
Kanye, now 38, had other reasons for joining the sideshow. He wanted children and had been dogged for years by spurious allegations that he was either gay or bisexual.
The marriage certainly boosted the ratings once again. Not that all is well: sources say the pair now fight like cat and dog and both have been ‘rethinking their position’. It looks as though it is a matter of time before they call it quits. Having worked her magic on Kim, Kris turned to Khloe’s career. True to form, she arranged a televised marriage with NBA player Lamar Odom, after a few months of dating. He had a drug problem, but the relationship launched a spin-off show. And when he did overdose it made great copy.
Kim has an incredible 36.5 million followers on Twitter, but Kris says her daughters with Jenner – Kendall, 20, and Kylie, 18 – are the future of Brand K. Their joint Instagram reaches 110 million and they are on the way to becoming supermodels.
Even Caitlyn continues to gain from being in the family fold. The Jenner and Kardashian families regularly appear in each other’s shows. And despite initial awkwardness, Kris and Caitlyn seem to have established a friendship.
Little wonder presidential hopeful Donald Trump is a fan. He calls the ‘momager’ an astute businesswoman and jokes about asking her to manage his campaign. Given her own track record for turning terrible publicity to remarkable advantage, he could do very much worse.
- Kardashian Dynasty by Ian Halperin is published by Simon & Schuster on April 19. Available on Amazon.