The $65 million she helped her family earn as their manager this year suggests a combination of both. The Kardashian empire started with a sex tape in 2007 and has since mushroomed into cheesecake calendars, bikini-clad endorsement deals and an all-access pass to the private lives of a family of beautiful women, and girls.
As the brains behind the branding of her family, she pulls in 10 percent of that eight figure earning, according toThe Hollywood Reporter's exclusive interview with the most successful 'momager' in entertainment. In addition to the reality series "Keeping up with the Kardashians" and its various spin-offs, her three oldest daughters hawk QuickTrim diet supplement (in fact they had to take it themselves in order to promote it), Carls Jr. fast food, a line of swimwear, tanning products, slot machines and anything else they can lend their bodies too. "We'll take Kim in a bikini and put her on a beach towel," Kris tells the Reporter. "So you would be laying on a Kardashian at the pool."
For a lot more than the price of a towel, people have paid to have someone lay on top of Kim in the flesh. The recent Super Bowl commercial for Sketchers featured Kim rolling around with her trainer in all sorts of positions as if she were having sex. For a smaller figure, you can have a slice of the sisters' private lives: 'Life and Style' paid $300,000 for exclusive news of Kourtney's pregnancy, according to the Reporter. Paparazzi will pay upwards of $7000 for staged photos (in bikinis of course), and E! network doles out six figures to each daughter, each episode for an all-access pass.
As executive producer, Kris has veto power so it's surprising how much sex-and even violence- is kept in for the sake of ratings. The daughters giving each other Brazilian waxes and flirtatious spankings, is clearly in the best interests of their rabid male fan-base. And the ongoing plotline of Kourtney's boyfriend's drinking and rage problems are treated as plot-twists and cliffhangers, as opposed to grave domestic disputes between the parents of a young child.
The truest ring of reality is when daughter Kim complains to her mother she's over-booking her or turning a blind eye to undesired nude photo shoots. With career trumping comfort level, Kris' relationship with her biggest client seems more managerial than maternal.
"She knows how to take one small talent or ability and grow it into something huge," daughter Khloe told the Reporter. While it's been argued that the Kardashians are famous for doing nothing, they're more famous for being sex objects- a very lucrative and real job. But it's not the kind of job her daughters are always comfortable with.
"I feel so taken advantage of. I'm never getting naked again," Kim cries to her mother in one recent episode of "Kim and Kourtney take New York", after a particularly revealing nude shoot for W magazine. Her moms response is essentially, buck up and embrace your nudity-it's your job.
Kris' matter-of-fact approach to Kim's buck-naked gigs verges on the exploitative when you consider how invested she is financially. Kim earned over $5 million last year, making her the most successful reality star on TV, and of course mom got a hefty cut. "That kind of money will rock your foundation, test anything you stood for, and test your integrity," says Dr. Charles Sophy, a psychiatrist and author of Side by Side: A Revolutionary Mother-Daughter Program for Conflict-Free Communication. "If you're having that kind of success with your mom making your decisions, you're more likely to think you work better as a unit then as an individual."
In some ways they do work well as a unit. Kim's leaked sex tape earned her a reported $5 million, thanks to Kris who stepped in and brokered a deal with the company who released it. She also turned that moment of shame into a family empire. But still, brokering your daughter's sex tape deal? She makes obsessed pageant moms seem wholesome by comparison. The only difference is that her prize contenders are fully grown. Most of them, that is. Now she's priming her two teen daughters for the spotlight.
Last year, Kendall Jenner, then 14, posed in a bikini for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit-style photo shoot. Mom was on set overseeing the shoot and dad, Bruce, called the photos "hot shots". And last month, little sister Kylie, 13, had her first modeling shoot. "I'm a very proud big sister," wrote Kim on her blog where the photos were first leaked (likely on Kris' orders). Young Kylie is no stranger to the camera: She made her TV debut at age 9, when she danced on a stripper pole in the first episode of her family's top-rated reality show.
Check out the gallery of merchandise and media that make up Kris and her family's $65 million dollar empire. It's not exactly safe for work.