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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Megyn Kelly Has Daydreamed While Driving on the Kennedy, Too

In a new memoir, where the Fox News star also dishes on Donald Trump and Roger Ailes, Kelly recounts her time in Chicago and how she met her first husband at the Hangge-Uppe.

Megyn Kelly worked as a lawyer in Chicago before going into journalism.  Photo: Courtesy of Fox News

Megyn Kelly, host of The Kelly File on Fox News, has just published a bestselling memoir, Settle for More. The book is full of advice for women who strive for success and lose themselves in the process. I’ve read scores of these journalism memoirs over the decades, many by women making it in a man’s world, but this one stands out for me—not because of its moth-eaten “life lessons learned” motif, but because of its timing.

Kelly is currently negotiating a new contract for upwards of $20 million a year. She owes a lot to Chicago, specifically the high-powered lawyer career she had here before choosing broadcast journalism, which she details in the memoir.

The blonde, sexy—a favorite Vanity Fair cover girl—Fox News star whose ratings are eclipsed, and not by much, only by Bill O’Reilly’s, has barreled into the public consciousness because of her public and nasty fight with Donald Trump. Its antecedents predate the first, shockingly unruly 2016 Republican primary debate. Kelly got things going by confronting Trump: “You’ve called women fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” His post-debate response to CNN that Kelly had “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever” set the tone, not only for the rest of the primaries, but for the general election to follow.

Kelly, also—and belatedly—describes in this memoir being sexually harassed by deposed, disgraced Fox News chairman Roger Ailes.

She grew up in suburban Albany (she calls it “Smallbany”) and went to law school there, graduating in the class of 1995. Through pluck and determination, Kelly, who turns 46 today, landed a job at the Chicago office of a Dallas-based law firm, Bickel & Brewer. The firm was accustomed to hiring from schools with a bit more cachet than her alma mater, Albany Law.

She was 25 in 1995 when she landed that associate position at Bickel & Brewer. She’d find herself the only woman lawyer in a firm known for “Rambo litigation” (as in Sylvester Stallone; long before Rahmbo became mayor). She went from living with her mother—her father died when she 15—and suffering sleepless nights over unpaid bills and a mountain of student debt, to an annual salary of $85,000, “more money than either of my parents had ever made in a year.”

She rented a high-rise near Navy Pier, and “instantly” fell in love with Chicago—its museums, bars, parks, Lake Michigan, and adults rollerblading, biking, playing softball in the park.

The law firm hours were numbing—often past midnight, work on Saturday and a reprieve on Sunday—only noon to 6 pm.

She decided she might as well go all the way in the prestige game. In 1997 she landed a job as a corporate litigator job at Jones Day in Manhattan. The offices were sleek and gorgeous and, she writes, there were “Warhols in the conference rooms.”

She did not fall in love with Manhattan. She describes the unfriendliness of New Yorkers on the street and in the Jones Day firm. She also describes the subway which she took to and from work: “It smelled like urine and vomit and there were rats on the tracks.”

Adding to her dissatisfaction with life in Manhattan, was the fact that, as she prepared to move east, she met a Northwestern medical student at a Rush Street bar called Hangge-Uppe.

In 2000, she moved back to Chicago and the Jones Day office here. She married the doctor (they’re now divorced) in 2001.

By the next year, seven years into her career as a lawyer—a top-billing associate en route to a partnership—she took stock of her deep despair. She worked 18-hour days “for weeks on end …sleepless, and sad, and lonely… I was just cranking out work like a machine.” Driving one night in 2002 on the Kennedy Expressway she lapsed into daydreams of breaking a bone so she could take some time off to rest.

That February, she decided to become a journalist—while continuing to work full-time at Jones Day.

A Columbia College professor named Roger Schatz allowed her to audit his broadcasting class. For homework, they went down to the sidewalk outside the South Michigan Avenue school, and did pretend news reporting. Still working full-time at Jones Day, she prayed that a partner didn’t happen by. Next, she shadowed WMAQ-TV reporters in what she calls “an unofficial internship.”

The rest of her story—including marriage to novelist Douglas Brunt and the birth of three children—is set in Manhattan, especially at the Fox News headquarters in Midtown. Smelly subways are no longer an issue; she’s whisked about Manhattan in private cars.

For those still fixated on the election—and who isn’t?—there lots of juicy, appalling stuff on Donald Trump and death threats coming at her and her family from his supporters.

As a frequent viewer of The Kelly File, I’ve watched her toe the Fox News party line, and I’ve watched her do tough interviews with people who, on other Fox News shows, are handled with kid gloves. Kelly was particularly impressive on election night, 2012, when she told Republican strategist (aka W. Bush’s brain) Karl Rove that he was wrong and that Obama had been reelected.

If I had to guess, I’d bet on Kelly dumping Fox News when her contract expires in August and moving to CNN. From there I’d see her anchoring one of the ailing broadcast evening news shows—ABC, NBC, CBS—or becoming an anchor on Good Morning America or Today.

Starting in 2013, I’ve attempted, through Fox News’s PR team, to land an interview with Kelly. After getting a “ no,” I gave up asking in late February 2014. I’ll keep trying.

Carol Felsenthal is a lifelong Chicagoan and self-proclaimed political junkie. She writes occasionally for Politico Magazine and The Hill. Her books include biographies of Bill Clinton, Katharine Graham, and Alice Roosevelt Longworth. Among her many stories for Chicago are memorable profiles of Michelle Obama and Bruce Rauner. Follow her on Twitter at @csfelsenthal.

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