Dr. Phil McGraw, Susan Lucci and More on Secrets

February 3, 2016

Kitty Kelley

“In writing about the lives of other people, I’ve learned that we all have secrets, and keeping them is what drives a life—it can either darken or illuminate it. I started writing biographies because the lives of people who have influenced our culture fascinate me. Most of those individuals have public images fashioned by major public relations firms, but I wanted to go behind the fairy tale. What are they really like? How have they exerted their power? There’s certainly room on the shelf for both authorized and unauthorized biographies. I’ve written about Frank Sinatra—as a child in Hoboken, he knew great shame because his mother performed abortions—and also the Kennedys and the Reagans. Not every secret leads to dysfunction; some secrets can lead to good once they’re revealed. I truly believe that you are as sick as your secret—and I’d like to make everybody well.”

—Kelley is a journalist and biographer.


Dr. Phil McGraw

“Old sayings get to be old sayings because they’re profound, like ‘The truth will set you free.’ Carrying a secret can be draining, and the most toxic secret of all is the one stemming from shame. I grew up with a seriously alcoholic father. When you’re in an alcoholic home, you learn about secrets early on. Your whole life is a secret. Everyone has a social mask. We all go out of our house with our faces freshly scrubbed and shiny. We don’t go to school and disclose that the utilities were turned off in our house because our father didn’t pay the bill. We don’t say the window was kicked out of our house because he came home in a drunken rage the night before. The isolation that is involved in secret keeping can erode self-esteem and self-worth. It can kill the soul. But you have to have the courage to disclose those kinds of secrets, to cure yourself of that cancer.”

—McGraw is a psychologist and the host of Dr. Phil.


Valerie Plame

“I come from a family where public service was considered noble. My father was an Air Force officer; he fought in World War II. My brother was a Marine wounded in Vietnam. We weren’t flag-waving patriots, but when I was given an opportunity to work for the CIA, I jumped at it. I didn’t find it oppressive to keep secrets, because we had good reason to do so. But it wasn’t until I resigned in 2007, after my covert identity was blown, that I realized how strange it all was. When that secret, so to speak, got out, I felt like I’d been sucker-punched in the gut. I couldn’t believe it. There’s nothing like living through being called a traitor and liar, all as a result of a partisan agenda. It took years to work through it. We moved out of Washington; we live in New Mexico now. We have twins, and they were very young when all this happened. If not for them, I probably wouldn’t have gotten out of bed.”

—Plame is an author and former covert CIA operations officer.


Zack Snyder

“I really believe that comics are our modern mythology. We deal with a lot of our issues through these characters the way the ancients explained volcanoes or earthquakes by inventing gods. The emotional earthquakes and volcanoes of our time are inexplicable, so we use these characters to comfort ourselves. I’ve directed a few films adapted from comics and graphic novels. Secrets and secret identities play a big role. They take on this kind of metaphorical significance and speak to the larger secrets the reader is keeping. Both in real life and in comics, an individual has a picture that they want to present to the world, a picture of who they are. Most of the time that picture is not completely authentic. Bruce Wayne is the mask, not Batman. Even if you dress up in drag, the armor is the real you.”

—Snyder is a director. His film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is out this month.


Susan Lucci

“I remember talking to Agnes Nixon, who created the character Erica Kane on All My Children. I was so lucky to play her for four decades. Agnes said it was important for an audience to be in on the secret before the heroine. It creates a kind of tension. They get invested—they want to know when the secret will be revealed and how the character will respond when it is. And Erica had so many secrets! Drama at its best holds up a mirror to the viewer, and Agnes was a groundbreaker in telling stories that were way ahead of their time. Soaps can get away with it. There was an abortion that Erica wanted to keep secret from her second husband. And then, of course, there was the rape by her father’s best friend—it was the secret that drove her. Sometimes, like Erica, we keep secrets because we’re simply terrified of how others will react.”

—Lucci is an actress who currently stars on Devious Maids, on Lifetime.


Dimitri Dimitrov

“Before I came to Sunset Tower, I was running Diaghilev, a Russian restaurant in West Hollywood, an under-the-radar place where Tom Cruise, Sean Penn and Tom Ford were regulars. At Tower Bar too, all kinds of people come; secrecy is part of what we do. Manners and behavior matter a lot to me—I’m old school. When our clients see me standing out front, they know what to expect. Whenever Johnny Depp is in town, he might come to Sunset Tower to have a meeting with family or his producer, but no one knows he’s there. Gossip magazines have tried to buy me half a dozen times, and each time I tell them never to bother me again. These are important people. It’s their night, and there’s no room for paparazzi. And it’s not only celebrities, it’s doctors, lawyers, agents. It’s not my business whether they’re with a girlfriend, a wife or a mistress. It’s a day-and-night job. Privacy is key.”

—Dimitrov is the maître d’hôtel at Tower Bar and at the Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles.




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