1882 edition of Domestic Manners and Private Life of Sir Walter Scott (1834) by James Hogg, an unauthorized biography

An unauthorized biography sometimes called a kiss-and-tell, or a tell-all, is a biography written without the subject's permission or input.[1] The term is usually restricted to biographies written within the subject's lifetime or shortly after their death; as such, it is not applied to biographies of historical figures written long after their deaths.[2]


Unauthorized biographies may be considered more objective but less reliable than other biographies, because they are not subject to the subject's (subjective) approval (and therefore may contain accurate information that the subject would not have authorized), but are also not privy to information or corrections known only to the subject or the subject's close friends and family.[3]


The subjects of unauthorized biographies are almost always public figures.[4] Rarely do public figures succeed in preventing the release of unauthorized biographies.[5] Unauthorized biographies of people who are not deemed public figures may be considered violations of the right to privacy and subject to legal action.[6] As Ted Schwarz (1992) writes:

Interesting people totally unknown to the general public are usually considered private individuals, even when married to someone famous. Writing about them without their permission may be considered invasion of privacy, a situation that seldom arises with politicians, entertainers, and others who are obvious public figures.[4]

Speaking of U.S. courts, Lloyd Rich (2002) writes:

Courts maintain a strong duty to protect First Amendment speech as they have an overriding concern and fear that placing "prior restraints" on speech could lead to a "chilling effect" on other speech. Because of this deference to the First Amendment and the presumption against prior restraints, a court will usually not permit an injunction that prevents the publication and/or distribution of an unauthorized biography but instead will only permit monetary damages to be awarded to remedy the unlawful acts of the author and publisher.[5]

The legality of unauthorized biographies varies by country. Brazil enacted a short-lived law in 2014 requiring permission from biographies' subjects before publication.[7][8][9]


Unauthorized biographies are not necessarily unwelcomed by their subjects, and in fact some unauthorized biographies have been criticized for displaying overeager admiration for them;[10][11] however, unauthorized biographies have a wider reputation for fueling controversy and painting unflattering portraits of their subjects.[12]

While unauthorized biographies often receive significant news coverage, their writers tend to face "media disdain" due to the perception that their work is gossipy, voyeuristic, and busybodyish.[13]

For a period in the early 1990s, a number of independent publishers — including Revolutionary Comics and Personality Comics[14] — found great success and sales of unauthorized comic book biographies. One publisher claimed that not all its biographies were unauthorized, stating that "DeForest Kelley... and Kim Basinger had sent autographed copies of their biographies, and... Walter Koenig... had edited his."[15] However, a number of these companies later faced legal challenges to their publications,[16][17] which resulted in the unauthorized comic book biography fad dying down.



  1. ^ Reitz 2014; Berger 2016, p. 268; Klems 2009.
  2. ^ Reitz 2014; Hoberman 2001, p. 111.
  3. ^ Reitz 2014; Stall, Harry & Spalding 2004, p. 288; Berger 2016, p. 268; Goodall 2018; Margolis 2010.
  4. ^ a b Schwarz 1992, p. 503.
  5. ^ a b Rich 2002.
  6. ^ Schwarz 1992; Rich 2002.
  7. ^ Marques, Simone (2014). "Brazil's Banned Biographies: When Public Figures Want to Control the Message". X Index. Archived from the original on May 5, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  8. ^ "Brazil Ends Controversial Ban on Unauthorised Biographies". ABC. 2015. Archived from the original on 2019-05-29. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  9. ^ "Brazil Overturns 'Ban' on Unauthorised Biographies". BBC News. 2015. Archived from the original on May 5, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  10. ^ Peck, Gustav (1950). "Review: John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography". The American Political Science Review. 44 (4): 1019–1021. doi:10.2307/1951307. JSTOR 1951307. S2CID 148313318.
  11. ^ Widmer, Kingsley (1979). "Review: Always Merry and Bright: The Life of Henry Miller – An Unauthorized Biography by Jay Martin". Criticism. 21 (3): 279–281. JSTOR 23102638.
  12. ^ Hoberman 2001, p. 111; Stall, Harry & Spalding 2004, p. 288.
  13. ^ Hoberman 2001; Kelley 2010; Vincent 2010; Scott 1996.
  14. ^ Sanford, Jay Allen (April 21, 2008). "Pacific Comics: The Inside Story, plus RIP Rocketeer Creator, Comics & Censorship". San Diego Reader. Archived from the original on February 14, 2023. Retrieved February 14, 2023. Naturally, a slew of cheesy and downright sh-tty 'biographical' comics flooded the market from competitors [of Rock 'N' Roll Comics]. Boneyard, Rock Fantasy, Personality (AKA Friendly, Celebrity and later Pop...), First Amendment Press, and others tried to hop on the bandwagon....
  15. ^ Burby, Liza N. (July 19, 1992). "To Succeed in Publishing, an Idea and a Dream". The New York Times. p. 177. Archived from the original on February 13, 2023. Retrieved February 14, 2023.
  16. ^ "New Kids On The Block Sue Revolutionary". The Comics Journal (Press release). July 1990. p. 17.
  17. ^ "Joe Montana Suit Settled". The Comics Journal. No. 168. May 1994. pp. 38–39.


See also