AT A TIME when anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection might call herself a "gossip columnist," Flo Anthony is the real deal.
A nationally syndicated radio personality and newspaper columnist (published locally in the Philadelphia Sunday Sun), he's also been featured on shows like "The Insider," "Entertainment Tonight" and "Inside Edition," and is a correspondent for TV One's "Life After."
I first noticed Anthony on TV in the early 1990s, dishing about Michael Jackson and the mysterious inner workings of the famous Jackson clan. Yeah, other celebrity journalists covered the Jacksons, but Anthony seemed to know them, and always talked as if she'd just been sipping tea with Katherine, the family matriarch.
Same thing with the rest of black Hollywood, then and now.
Earlier this year, Anthony wrote one of the first items linking recent Oscar winners Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto. A relationship's been denied, but both were spotted at the Miu Miu show last week during Paris Fashion Week. Anthony's convinced that "something is going on."
Girlfriend is dishy.
Long before TMZ, Bossip and Media Takeout, Anthony was doing her snooping-around thing. Now, after more than four decades in the business, Anthony is trying her hand at fiction. She's written a sexy murder mystery called Deadly Stuff Players. Zane, the Maryland-based writer of black erotica, published Anthony's book under Strebor Books International, an imprint of Atria/Simon & Schuster.
The lead character - no surprise - is the nation's top African-American gossip columnist.
"A lot of things that happen to Valerie, the lead character in the book, have actually happened to me," teased Anthony, who will do a book signing Sunday at the Body Sanctuary Day Spa. "I've got LaToya in scenes, and little things about Mike throughout the book."
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Mich., friends called Anthony the black Rona Barrett because "I wrote plays and stories and was in them, and knew everything about the Mouseketeers and other celebs."
The daughter of a first-grade teacher and a junior-high special-ed instructor/football coach, she attended Howard University, where she majored in fine arts.
She then headed to New York City, where she worked as a movie extra and on soap operas before winding up at the New York Post in 1985 as an agate clerk in the sports department. She was lousy at the job and, after less than a year, got transferred to features.
"I went kicking and screaming. I did not go as a happy camper," she recalled. Still, she thrived in the position.
Soon, she was writing features on Tracy Camilla Johns, the seductive female lead in Spike Lee's debut feature film, "She's Gotta Have It," and about a performance that Jermaine Jackson did at the Apollo Theater. While attending the 1988 premiere for Lee's "School Daze," Anthony got her first big story: then-heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson had married actress Robin Givens.
After about a decade at the Post, Anthony left for a job at a short-lived NYC newspaper called Her. Next came a column at the supermarket tabloid the National Examiner. She also worked as a contributor to Star Magazine.
"She used to write about me quite a bit," former Miss America Suzette Charles told me last week. "Sometimes good. Sometimes bad."
In the mid-1990s, there was a rumor linking Charles to Mike Tyson. Anthony didn't pile on. "She knew the truth," Charles said.
Philadelphia Sunday Sun managing editor Teresa Emerson described Anthony as "fair and clean."
"Flo has stood the test of time with her writing," Emerson said. "She cares about the celebrities. You don't see that too much anymore. People are nasty. It's almost like they are trying to bury people."
Anthony has had her share of stumbles, though, including the time Whitney Houston sued the Post after Anthony reported that the singer had OD'd on diet pills.
Anthony and the Post parted ways after that, when she went to Her.
"It's all water under the dam," Anthony said. "I don't like to talk about it. Even though she's dead, we signed a nondisclosure agreement."
Anthony, who once was romantically involved with teen heartthrob Haywood Nelson, from "What's Happening" and the spin-off "What's Happening Now," is divorced these days and lives in East Harlem.
She works out of a radio studio in her kitchen/office, doing multiple live broadcasts weekdays for stations from Beaumont, Texas, to Little Rock, Ark.; Charlotte, N.C., to Rochester, N.Y.
She rises early to scan the gossip websites and blogs, and when she's not broadcasting, follows up on leads to get the latest on Russell Simmons, Lee and other celebs.
"I get along with people," Anthony said. "I call people up and ask what the deal is. Most of the time, people will tell you the truth."