NOTE: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills‘ Kim and Kyle Richards often speak of their mother, ‘Big Kathy,’ as their role model. ‘Big Kathy’ died in 2002, and after Kyle spoke of ‘being the most like her mother’, wanted to know how much of ‘Big Kathy’ lives on in Kyle… and if Kim also carries her mother’s traits…
Kim and Kyle on RHOBH reunion, Part II
From the book ‘House of Hilton’, 2006:
“Like any mother, Kathleen Richards wanted the best for her daughter, Kathy. Where she differed from other mothers was in the way she intended to get it. She wanted her child to know all about sex, and to learn how to perform, literally, so she asked a young man to give her teenage daughter ‘sex lessons’ in his van. Kathy learned well, and hit the jackpot at the age of 20 when she married Rick Hilton, a scion of the hotel dynasty. Fifteen months after the wedding, in February 1981, Kathy gave birth to Paris Whitney.
Her maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Dugan, but she was known as ‘Big Kathy’ – and over the years she had four husbands. The first of her unions was essentially a shotgun wedding to a bad boy named Larry Avanzino, an Italian-American who had got the pretty Irish-American Dugan girl pregnant in the back seat of her 1957 black Chevrolet convertible. The unplanned bundle of joy conceived in that car would grow up to be ‘Little Kathy’, Paris’s mother.
Big Kathy’s third husband was Jack Catain, a sinister figure in organised crime whom she is said to have married and divorced twice, impressed by the big diamond he gave her and by his tough-guy persona. But husbands number two and four, Ken Richards and Bob Fenton, were submissives to Big Kathy’s dominatrix. Richards, whom she had stolen from his wife and three children, raised Little Kathy.
He was also the father of her half-sisters Kim and Kyle, who had huge success in TV sitcoms and movies in the Seventies and Eighties. Once Kim was making plenty of money from her screen work, Big Kathy gave Richards the heave-ho. As for Fenton, she boasted that she denied him sex throughout their marriage. Big Kathy was very ambitious and obsessed with accumulating money, diamonds, fancy cars, expensive homes – and husbands to pay for them all.
Marry money and have lots of babies, that was the philosophy she sought to instill in her daughters. Sex, she believed, was one way to a man’s heart.
Hence the lessons in a van for Little Kathy, who also took classes in singing and dancing. As a child, Little Kathy appeared in print advertisements and TV commercials, but her acting career failed to take off. She was asked to pose in Playboy for $30,000. She turned down the offer. She cut a demo record, hoping to become a singing star, but that, too, came to nothing.
She was more concerned about marrying well. And finally she nabbed the rich guy that her mother had taught her to snare. For Little Kathy and her mother it was the ultimate prize. Rick Hilton was a cute 23-year-old with a mop of blond, Shirley Temple curls and a laid-back West-Coast manner. He was the sixth of William Barron Hilton and Marilyn Hilton’s eight children, and grandson of Conrad Hilton, patriarch of the wealthy and powerful hotel dynasty. William Barron, had married Marilyn Hawley in 1947. Their son, Rick, had known Little Kathy since high school in California, and they both ran with a showbusiness crowd that included the sons of Lucille Ball and Dean Martin.
Rick went on to the University of Denver – ‘The Harvard of the West’ – but did little to distinguish himself there, other than playing volleyball, throwing parties and chasing girls. It was while he was about to graduate in 1978 that he and Little Kathy started dating seriously. When Little Kathy told her mother that Rick was a potential husband, big Kathy threw a party that was like a victory celebration. “Big Kathy was beside herself with joy,” remembers one relative. “She had trained her daughter well.”
Around that time veteran Hollywood reporter Barbara Sternig met Little Kathy for lunch. She says: “She talked all about the Hiltons and how daunting it was for her to be marrying into that dynasty, and I thought, she’s a cute little nothing: nothing special, coming from a plain family. “She was a kind of flibberty-jibberty little blonde indistinguishable from many, many other blondes in Hollywood. That’s what struck me as incongruous, and made it interesting to me to see what was in her head, to see why he’d marry her over some other little blonde.
“My take on Rick was that he was enamoured of showbusiness and that’s why he liked her: that she was an arm-piece who would happily hang out with him and do all the rich guy things that he wanted to do. I thought they were not the brightest light bulbs in the chandelier, so it was a match made in Heaven. I never heard anything about Kathy again until Paris became famous.”
Little Kathy married into the Hilton family in November, 1979, at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills – ‘Our Lady of the Cadillacs’ as it was known, because of its wealthy parishioners. “My daughters are married to men who have a total net worth of $13billion,” Big Kathy bragged.
Besides Little Kathy’s matrimonial catch, Kyle and Kim both married twice, and their husbands included the son of a billionaire oilman and Hollywood mogul; a wealthy foreigner and a Beverly Hills estate agent. Little Kathy didn’t wait long before having children and continuing the Hilton dynasty. Paris was born after 15 months, followed by a sister and two brothers. Unfortunately, though, their mother had little time for mothering. She and Rick were cavalier about leaving the children with the hired help or relatives while they went out on the town.
According to Pat Hilton, a Texan beauty who also married into the hotel dynasty: “Kathy Hilton’s very selfish and very spoiled and very self-centred, and that absolutely carries through to Paris.” When Rick and Kathy travelled, and deigned to bring along Paris and sometimes their two dogs, they naturally stayed at Hilton hotels. They demanded special attention, including baby-sitting for their children, sometimes for entire weekends as they partied. One of their targets was the Hilton in Parsippany, New Jersey. One night, after Rick and Kathy had checked out, the manager was called back to deal with a crisis. “I go up to the suite the Hiltons were using and there’s dog s*** all over the place – I mean everywhere.
“They didn’t walk their dogs the whole weekend. That’s where their mindset is. They act like the imperial court.”
Margaret Yakovlev, a former Hilton personal assistant, says:
“Kathy was absolutely pushy, arrogant, condescending and presumptuous, and Paris picked that up from her. The spotlight always had to be on Kathy. It was always, ‘Do you know who we are? Do you know who I am?'”
Unsurprisingly then, Paris was no normal teenager but the kind who kept ferrets in her Prada handbag. They went everywhere with her, including to the Las Vegas Hilton.
“Rick and Kathy didn’t care,” says Yakovlev. “They couldn’t see any further than what their children wanted.” She’s bright about three things – men, money and how to get attention – and those are the only things she really cares about. “I’ve spent an enormous amount of time with her, and after she leaves a meeting I always find myself wondering, where did this creature come from? What are the genetics happening here? Who’s responsible for turning out a persona like Paris? Where’d she get her values and ethics and morals?”
Little Kathy has played her part. By relentlessly pushing her daughter into the spotlight, just as her own mother did to her, she has ensured Paris made the most of her dubious talents. Father Rick has always been on hand to advise on business deals. A family insider says: “They’re proud of everything she has done.”
Like her famous great-grandfather, who turned a fleabag hotel in a dead-end Texas town into an international empire, Paris has proved she can make money. One day, like the fiercely ambitious women before her, perhaps she’ll marry it as well.”