‘When You Step Upon a Star’ Chronicles Former Tabloid Writer’s Run-Ins With Kelsey Grammer, Bruce Willis, the ‘Desperate Housewives’ Stars and Many More

By the time I got to work with William Keck at TV Guide Magazine, his tabloid days were long behind him. Sort of. Always with a twinkle in his eye, Keck still knew a good story when he found one — even if it caused a bit of a stir with celebrities or (more likely) the publicists employed to shield them from dogged reporters like him.

At TV Guide, I got to watch first-hand as Keck dug into the on-set turmoil during the final seasons of “Desperate Housewives” and create some ire with his own eyewitness accounts. And then there was the time that Victoria Principal promised Will an exclusive about why she wouldn’t appear on the “Dallas” revival. There’s no bigger “Dallas” fan than Keck, and it was a hot scoop — which she then gave to a competitor instead. Will didn’t take it well, taking to social media to burn a few bridges. Or as he himself puts it, “I’d lost my fucking mind.”

More from Variety

Keck is fearless, which makes him the best kind of journo. And it’s also why he has more outrageous stories than virtually any other reporter I know — many of which he chronicles in his new memoir, “When You Step Upon a Star: Cringeworthy Confessions of a Tabloid Bad Boy.”

Most of those tales come from his three years at the National Enquirer in the mid-1990s — which coincided with the peak of that publication’s power. At the time, the Enquirer was earning begrudging respect from the mainstream media as it consistently broke exclusive news about the O.J. Simpson case. Keck himself was responsible for one of those earliest scoops: Just days after the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, Keck managed to sneak into the Brown family’s residential compound in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Rather than kick him out, the family opened up to him — and continued to share their news with the Enquirer in the months that followed.

That gambit turned out surprisingly well. But many of Keck’s stories have a bit more of a tawdry twist. He once camped out for several hours on a tree branch overlooking the Westwood Village Memorial cemetery to chronicle the funeral of Dean Martin. He found ways to sneak into hospital rooms to chronicle the “brave final days” of many an aging celeb, crash weddings and more.

Among Keck’s legendary tales is he time he stole Kelsey Grammer’s garbage and brought it back to the Enquirer offices to examine. He didn’t find much, but the trash was laden with maggots — which then buried themselves in the paper’s carpet.

It was Keck’s interactions with Grammer’s fiancée at the time, Tammi Jo Baliszewski, that really offended the “Frasier” star. So much that in his 1995 autobiography, Grammer said Keck accosted Baliszewski and claimed he had proof that Grammer was HIV-positive. (He didn’t, and that was never published.) “I invite this young man to fry in hell,” Grammer wrote in his memoir. “But that’s probably a done deal already.”

But in truth, Keck had regularly been speaking to Baliszewski about her relationship with Grammer. “The majority of what we discussed — including the most shocking events — remained between us and never saw the light of day,” he writes.

Ultimately, Keck says the pressure of doing the Enquirer dirty work weighed on him. He had joined the tabloid because of his love for Hollywood — particularly the old legends that he was eager to meet before they passed on.

Working for the Enquirer, he says, was like “working for the mafia. They encourage you when you do these horrible things, and they pay you more. Every story that ended up on the cover was a bonus. Every big scandal that got the main image on the cover, it was another big bonus. I was making more money than everybody else at my age at that time. I felt like I was a spy, and it was kind of fun playing these different characters. I mean, again, some of this stuff is just horrible. I write in the in the book about how I was able to get Telly Savalas his gravestone by calling Forest Lawn and pretending to be someone from his family.”

Keck also injects a bit of his own origin story to the mix, reflecting on how the death of his father when he was just 5 made him search for a surrogate dad on TV. That role model became Mike Brady (as played by Robert Reed) from “The Brady Bunch.” When it was later revealed that Reed had been a closeted gay man at the time of his death, it hit home for Keck, who had discovered that his own father had also been closeted. And Keck himself hadn’t yet come out during his time at the Enquirer.

“I started out as a closeted kid in my 20s working for the Enquirer snooping around into other people’s private lives and totally keeping my own private life secret, pretending I was straight,” he says, noting the irony.

After three years at the tabloid, Keck got restless. He wanted to do features with on-the-record quotes that didn’t involve hiding in trees or digging through trash. So he left for stints as a staff reporter at USA Today, as columnist and senior editor at TV Guide, and freelance pieces for the Los Angeles Times, People, Entertainment Weekly and Us Weekly. You could take the boy out of the tabloid, but plenty of his wild tales in “When You Step Upon a Star” — such as joining the paparazzi for a high-speed chase of Britney Spears, being threatened by Bruce Willis and landing on Scientology’s “suppressives” list — happened while he was stationed at those more reputable outlets as well.

More recently, Keck worked as a talent producer for Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family,” where he became known for organizing classic TV cast reunions, as well as for NBC and Discovery Channel.

In the back of his mind, Keck says he always wanted to write a book about his experiences from the days when “I stepped over the bounds, and I pissed off the publicists and actors, and I found myself apologizing and getting in too deep.” He had saved every Enquirer notebook, as well as all of his articles from various publications and even all of his tape recorded interviews with celebrities (including many who are now long dead).

“The hope of the book was not to expose any celebrity secrets that was done back in the day, what I want to do is expose my own secrets,” he says.

For the book, Keck also reached out to many celebrities, or others in their orbit, to get their side of the story. That includes Christopher Knight (“The Brady Bunch”), Melissa Gilbert (“Little House on the Prairie”), Cybill Shepherd (“Moonlighting”), “Lost” showrunner Carlton Cuse, “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry and one of its stars, Marcia Cross. Others, like Principal, gave Keck their blessing to tell his run-ins with them but declined to contribute.

“I did get to heal old wounds, which was something I never intended to do initially,” Keck says. “You do learn some interesting things about the celebrities’ own views on the paparazzi and reporters, how they’ve been terrorized by people and what they’ve had to do to make some things go away that we’ve never heard about.”

Keck has retained the audiobook, podcasting and adaptation rights to “When You Step Upon a Star: Cringeworthy Confessions of a Tabloid Bad Boy,” and he hopes to do more with those assets in the coming months. “When You Step Upon a Star” is set to be released on July 11 by Jacobs Brown Media Group.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.