Karas, Phyllis 1944–
Karas, Phyllis 1944–
PERSONAL: Born April 7, 1944, in Malden, MA; daughter of Maurice (a steel broker) and Belle (Blumenthal) Klasky; married Jacob R. (Jack) Karas (a pulmonary physician), August 15, 1965; children: Adam, Joshua. Education: George Washington University, B.A., 1965; attended Boston University, 1974–76.
ADDRESSES: Home—Marblehead, MA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Steerforth Press, 25 Lebanon St., Hanover, NH 03755.
CAREER: Writer, educator, and public speaker. Takoma Park Junior High School, Silver Spring, MD, teacher of English, 1965–67. Boston University School of Journalism, adjunct professor.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best feature story award from New England Press Association, 1979, for a series on teenage pregnancy; Simon Rockover Award for Excellence in Feature Writing for an article in Moment magazine about kosher slaughter.
A Life Worth Living, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1981.
Cry Baby, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1996.
For Lucky's Sake, Demco Media (Madison, WI), 1997.
Spellbound, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Kiki Feroudi Moutsatsos) The Onassis Women: An Eyewitness Account, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
The Redemption of Eddie Mack: Memoir of a Mob Leg-breaker, William Morrow & Co. (New York, NY), 2001, new edition, with Edward MacKenzie, Jr. and Ross Muscato, published as Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob, Steerforth Press (South Royalton, VT), 2003.
(With Kevin Weeks) Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life inside Whitey Bulger's South Boston Mob, Regan Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to newspapers and magazines, including People and Moment. Former author of column, "Living the Life: Wit, Wisdom, and Woe," Boston Herald.
SIDELIGHTS: Phyllis Karas became a nonfiction writer of biographies after having published several young adult novels. A chance meeting during a trip to Greece while celebrating her thirtieth wedding anniversary significantly changed Karas's career focus, leading her toward memoir and historical biography. In Greece, she met Kiki Feroudi Moutsatsos, the woman who had been Aristotle Onassis's personal secretary during the six years he was married to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The Onassis Women: An Eyewitness Account is Karas's and Moutsatsos's account of the three women who played the most important roles in billionaire shipping magnate Onassis's life: Jackie Kennedy, whom he married; musical diva and singer Maria Callas, whom he loved and with whom he carried on an affair; and his daughter, Christina. Moutsatsos offers a number of trenchant observations and inside information on the lives of Onassis and his women. She tells of how Onassis was terrible at handling money, and once dropped two million dollars in cash on an elevator floor without realizing it. She notes that Onassis loved Callas, but was also very much in love with Jacqueline Kennedy when he married her. She tells of Christina Onassis's tragically short life and of the death of Onassis's son, Alexander, in a plane crash. She relates how Callas reacted poorly to the news that Onassis intended to marry Kennedy, and how she fled and left behind her jewelry, which Onassis subsequently gave to Jackie. Reviewer Stephen Macmillan Moser, writing on the Austin Chronicle Web site, commented: "I get the distinct feeling that Kiki knows a lot more than she reveals, even if she did wait until everyone in the book was dead before she talked about them." Moutsatsos also attempts to put some distance between herself and the family she served, a technique which means that "these mythic figures come off as very one-dimensional in a story dripping with passion and intrigue," Moser remarked. Library Journal reviewer Sally G. Waters called it a "fascinating book."
Karas writes about a quite different subject in Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob, the crime biography of Edward J. Mackenzie, Jr., who worked for and idolized Bulger, the legendary mob boss. In the book, "reluctant reformed criminal Mackenzie delivers a gritty tale of stunted childhood, vicious criminality, and struggle for redemption, all with the Irish flavor of South Boston," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic. Mackenzie grew up hard, forged by a childhood of abuse, neglect, and crime. His "brutally honest account of a childhood branded by absentee parents, foster homes, physical and sexual abuse, and poverty is moving," stated a Publishers Weekly reviewer. He tells of how he became involved in the criminal lifestyle, relates a harrowing litany of crimes committed, and describes the sheer inhuman brutality he visited on those who crossed him. Mackenzie and Karas also provide plenty of inside information on Bulger and his mob, portraying Bulger not as a gloriously misunderstood criminal mastermind but as a murderer, child molester, and a snitch who informed on his own gang before disappearing. Mackenzie also describes how he has worked to reform himself, especially after becoming a father, but also makes it clear how easy it would be to slip back into the easy lifestyle he knew for so long. Mackenzie's account of his life is "almost unspeakably brutal, coldblooded, merciless, callous, cruel—and fascinating," remarked John W. Dean in the New York Times. Library Journal reviewer Deirdre Bray Root called the book a "fascinating and disturbing memoir of a life in crime."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The Hate Crime, p. 620; October 1, 1997, Chris Sherman, review of For Lucky's Sake, p. 329.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of Street Soldier: My Life as an Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob, p. 21.
Library Journal, November 15, 1999, Sally G. waters, audiobook review of The Onassis Women: An Eyewitness Account, p. 115; March 1, 2003, Deirdre Bray Root, review of Street Soldier, p. 105.
New York Times, May 25, 2003, John W. Dean, "Bad Guy," review of Street Soldier, Section 7, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, November 18, 1996, review of Cry Baby, p. 77; March 17, 2003, review of Street Soldier, p. 61.
AEI Speakers Bureau Web site, http://www.aeispeakers.com/ (February 6, 2006), biography of Phyllis Karas.
Austin Chronicle Web site, http://www.austinchronicle.com/ (February 6, 2006), Stephen Macmillan Moser, review of The Onassis Women.