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Dorothy Kilgallen

Show Count: 3
Series Count: 1
Role: Old Time Radio Star
Old Time Radio
Born: July 3, 1913, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Died: November 8, 1965, New York, USA

Dorothy Mae Kilgallen (July 3, 1913 – November 8, 1965) was an American journalist and television game show panelist. She started her career early as a reporter for the Hearst Corporation's New York Evening Journal after spending two semesters at The College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, New York. In 1936, she began her newspaper column, The Voice of Broadway, which eventually was syndicated to more than 146 papers. She became a regular panelist on the television game show What's My Line?in 1950.

Kilgallen's columns featured mostly show business news and gossip, but also ventured into other topics such as politics andorganized crime. She wrote front-page articles on the Sam Sheppard trial and later the John F. Kennedy assassination and claimed she had interviewed Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald's killer, out of earshot of sheriff's deputies. The circumstances of Kilgallen's death have been the subject of conspiracy theories. As the cause of her death was officially ruled "undetermined," and because she openly criticized U.S. government agencies as early as 1959, some believe that Kilgallen was murdered in order to silence her.

Early life and career

Kilgallen, born in Chicago, was the daughter of the Hearst newspaperman James Lawrence Kilgallen (1888–1982) and his wife, Mae Ahern. The family moved from Chicago to Wyoming, Indiana, and back to Chicago before finally settling in New York City. Dorothy's sister Eleanor, six years her junior, became a casting agent for movies and television shows. After two semesters at The College of New Rochelle, Dorothy Kilgallen dropped out to take a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Journal, which was owned and operated by the Hearst Corporation. She was Roman Catholic.

In 1936, Kilgallen competed with two other New York newspaper reporters in a race around the world using only means of transportation available to the general public. She was the only woman to compete in the contest and she came in second. She described the event in her book Girl Around The World, which is credited as the story idea for the 1937 movie Fly-Away Baby starring Glenda Farrell as a character partly inspired by Kilgallen. During a stint living in Hollywood in 1936 and 1937, Kilgallen wrote a daily column mostly read only in New York that nonetheless provoked a libel suit from Constance Bennett, "who in the early thirties had been the highest paid performer in motion pictures," according to a Kilgallen biography, "but who was [in 1937] experiencing a temporary decline in popular appeal."

Kilgallen article about Elvis Presley, circa 1959.

Back in New York in 1938, Kilgallen began writing a daily column, the Voice of Broadway, for Hearst's New York Journal American, which the corporation created by merging the Evening Journal with the American. The column, which she wrote until her death in 1965, featured mostly New York show business news and gossip, but also ventured into other topics such as politics andorganized crime. The column eventually was syndicated to 146 papers via King Features Syndicate.

In April 1940, Kilgallen married Richard Kollmar (1910-1971) who had starred in the musicals Knickerbocker Holiday and Too Many Girls. Beginning in April 1945, Kilgallen and Kollmar co-hosted a WOR-AM radio talk show, Breakfast With Dorothy and Dick, from their 16-room apartment at 640 Park Avenue. The show followed them when they bought a Neo-Georgian brownstone at 45 East 68th Street in 1952. The radio program, which like Kilgallen's newspaper column mixed entertainment with serious issues, remained on the air until 1963.

The What's My Line? panel in 1952. From left: Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis and Hal Block, with John Daly as the host.

In 1950, Kilgallen became a panelist on the American television game show What's My Line?, which was aired on the CBS television network from 1950 to 1967. She remained on the show for 15 years, until her death. Fellow panelist Bennett Cerf claimed that, unlike the rest of the panel members, whose priority was getting a laugh and entertaining the audience, Kilgallen was interested mainly in guessing the correct answers. Cerf asserted that she also would extend her time on camera by asking more questions than necessary, the answers to which she knew would be affirmative.

Cerf described Kilgallen as an outsider among her castmates for two reasons. The first was her conservative point of view, that of a "Hearst girl," which differed from that of the others. The second was that information Kilgallen elicited during conversations in the dressing room shared by all four panelists would subsequently appear in her newspaper column.Cerf, speaking for his fellow panelists, the panel moderator, and himself in an audio-tape-recorded interview at Columbia University two years and two months after Kilgallen's death, said, "We didn't like that."

Kilgallen was among the notables on the guest list of those who attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. Kilgallen's articles won her a Pulitzer Prize nomination during this era.

In 1958, Kilgallen and her husband Kollmar, along with Albert W. Selden, co-produced a musical on Broadway entitled, The Body Beautiful. Kilgallen and her fellow panelists made mention of the show on various episodes of What's My Line? during this time period. On one episode, a cast member of the ill-fated musical (a well-built young man, billed as a "chorus boy" in the episode) appeared as a contestant and stumped the panel.

Controversial articles

Sam Sheppard murder trial

Kilgallen covered the 1954 murder trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard. The New York Journal American carried the banner front-page headline that she was "astounded" by the guilty verdict due to what she argued were manifest shortcomings in the prosecution's case. The doctor was convicted of bludgeoning his wife to death at their home in the Clevelandsuburb of Bay Village. In the 1990s, the case was reopened and an aging convict named Richard Eberling became a person of interest, but concrete evidence for a conviction was lacking.

Many Clevelanders believed Dr. Sheppard was guilty, including the editors of The Plain Dealer, which carried Kilgallen's syndicated column. Immediately after she wrote that the prosecutors "didn't prove he was guilty any more than they proved there are pin-headed men on Mars," her column was banned from that newspaper. Nine years later, at theOverseas Press Club in New York, she revealed that the judge in the case had told her toward the beginning of the trial that Dr. Sheppard was "guilty as hell". When attorney F. Lee Bailey began the appeal of Sheppard's conviction, resulting in his July 1964 release from prison, he discovered other eyewitness accounts of the judge prejudging the case before hearing testimony or seeing evidence.

Hearst bylines

Arlene Francis, a fellow What's My Line? panelist, said in 1976, "I thought Dorothy was a marvelous journalist when she covered something like the Sheppard trial. As opposed to her gossip column." A 1991 history of the Hearst Corporation co-authored by Bill Hearst and Jack Casserly says the company milked famous bylines for all they were worth, encouraging the star reporters to do as many diverse stories as possible to increase circulation and newsstand sales.

Kilgallen's father, Jim, was still a "Hearst star" in 1955 when at age 67 he traveled to Mississippi to cover the trial of two men charged with the murder of Emmett Till for the Hearst-owned International News Service. He also wrote profiles of movie stars.

Reporting on UFOs

On February 15, 1954, Dorothy Kilgallen commented in her syndicated column, "Flying saucers are regarded as of such vital importance that they will be the subject of a special hush-hush meeting of the world military heads next summer."

In a May 22, 1955, report from London, syndicated by the INS, Kilgallen stated, "British scientists and airmen, after examining the wreckage of one mysterious flying ship, are convinced these strange aerial objects are not optical illusions or Soviet inventions, but are flying saucers which originate on another planet. The source of my information is a British official of Cabinet rank who prefers to remain unidentified. 'We believe, on the basis of our inquiry thus far, that the saucers were staffed by small men—probably under four feet tall. It's frightening, but there is no denying the flying saucers come from another planet.'" This article, which was separate from Kilgallen's column, appeared on the front pages of the New York Journal American, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and other newspapers. The Washington Post ran it on page 8. Gordon Creighton, editor of the magazine,Flying Saucer Review, alleged the information was given to Kilgallen by Lord Mountbatten of Burma at a cocktail party, but attempts to verify this were unsuccessful.

Kilgallen and the Kennedy assassination

Kilgallen claimed she conducted an interview with Jack Ruby inside the Dallas courthouse where he was tried for the shooting death of Lee Harvey Oswald, although she never revealed the subject of their purported conversation. Four or five months later, she obtained a copy of Ruby's testimony to the Warren Commission, which was published on the front pages of the Journal American, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, and other newspapers. Most of that testimony did not become officially available to the public until the commission released its 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits in November 1964, around the time of the first anniversary of the assassination. The first of three installments of the Ruby testimony under Kilgallen's byline appeared in the Journal American on August 18.

Kilgallen had a history of government criticism, suggesting in 1959 that the CIA recruited members of the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro, which many years later was proven to be the case. By the time of the assassination, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had been keeping a file on the "flighty and irresponsible" columnist (his words about her were preserved in his own handwriting) for 25 years.

The FBI tried to determine who had given the columnist a transcript of Jack Ruby's testimony to the Warren Commission. The agency abandoned, in September 1964, all attempts to identify this source. The attempts had included sending two FBI agents to Kilgallen's house, where she told them she would not identify the source under any circumstances.

This is Kilgallen's reaction to the Warren Commission's release of its single book of conclusions approximately two months before it released its 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits to the public. This is how her column looked inBaltimore, Maryland six days after New Yorkers read it.

The Voice of Broadway as it was published in the Journal American on September 30, 1964, included the following about the release of the single book containing the Warren Commission report, which was about two months before the 26 volumes were released:

...from what I have read, I would be inclined to believe that the Federal Bureau of Investigation might have been more profitably employed in probing the facts of the case rather than how I got them – which does seem a waste of time to me.
At any rate, the whole thing smells a bit fishy. It's a mite too simple that a chap kills the President of the United States, escapes from that bother, kills a policeman, eventually is apprehended in a movie theater under circumstances that defy every law of police procedure, and subsequently is murdered under extraordinary circumstances.
The Warren Report made a great effort to note that the FBI and the Secret Service were delinquent in their duty, and that the press media – TV, radio and newspaper – also were responsible for the confusion that made Oswald's murder possible.
Oswald was not killed by a newspaperman. He was killed by a nightclub owner well-known to the police – Jack Ruby.
How can the Warren Commission pretend to forget that?

In 1965, more than a year after her scoop of the Ruby testimony, Kilgallen said, referring to the murders of JFK, police officer J. D. Tippit and Oswald, "That story isn't going to die as long as there's a real reporter alive, and there are a lot of them alive." That was the last sentence in her column item about Marina Oswald Porter's possible knowledge of the possible doctoring of an incriminating snapshot she had taken of Lee holding a rifle and The Militant socialist newspaper that Life featured on its cover in 1964.

Other controversy

Though Kilgallen and Frank Sinatra were fairly good friends for several years and were photographed rehearsing in a radio studio for a 1948 broadcast, she grew antagonistic toward the singer in her daily column, culminating in the multi-part 1956 front-page feature story "The Frank Sinatra Story". Sinatra was angered by this and referred to her publicly as the "chinless wonder," although evidence suggests he did so only during breaks between songs at his concerts in New York and Las Vegas, not on his network television specials of the 1960s or 1970s or on radio shows. In a 1963 Rat Pack performance at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Sinatra closed the show with a joke: "As a parting remark, ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to leave you with one thought. If you happen to run into Dorothy Kilgallen, be sure you're in your car." A recording of the concert became available publicly for the first time in 2001, when Kilgallen and Sinatra were both dead.

When country music performers from Nashville's Grand Ole Opry appeared in concert at Carnegie Hall to benefit New York's Musicians Aid Society in 1961, Kilgallen dismissed them as "hicks from the sticks". In her column she advised that "everyone should leave town. The hillbillies are coming". Patsy Cline, one of the headliners, responded that "Miss Dorothy called us Nashville performers 'the gang from Grand Ole Opry - hicks from the sticks.' And if I have the pleasure of seeing that wicked witch, I'll let her know how proud I am to be a hick from the sticks."

Near the end of her life, Kilgallen was embroiled in yet another controversy. The musical Skyscraper was in previews at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. In October 1965 Kilgallen attended a preview, which was a benefit for charity. There has been a long tradition of not reviewing a show that is still in previews, because the point of previews is to test audience reaction and make changes. That did not stop Kilgallen. She panned the show in one of her columns, calling it a "turkey". There was quite an uproar from the theatrical community. She died very shortly after this final controversy in her life. Skyscraper officially opened five days after her death to mixed reviews, had a moderately successful run of 248 performances, and was nominated for 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Actress in a Musical.


Dorothy Kilgallen's last appearance on What's My Line? on November 7, 1965, within five hours of the live program's end, she was dead

On November 8, 1965, Kilgallen was found dead on the third floor of her five-story brownstone, just 12 hours after she had appeared live on What's My Line?. Her hairdresser, Marc Sinclaire, found her body when he arrived that morning to style her hair. He said decades later that she always slept on the fifth floor, adding that on November 8 he used his key to the brownstone and went directly to the third floor where he always did her hair near her large wardrobe closet. She had apparently succumbed to a fatal combination of alcohol and barbiturates, possibly concurrent with a heart attack. It is not known whether the death was a suicide or an accidental overdose, although the amount of barbiturate in her system "could well have been accidental," said medical examiner James Luke. Dorothy Kilgallen was interred in a modest grave at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

The footstone of Dorothy Kilgallen in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

Kilgallen and Arlene Francis appeared as Joan Crawford impostors on an episode of the daytime version of To Tell The Truth that was videotaped on November 2, 1965, and broadcast six days later while United Press International broke the news about Kilgallen's death. CBS News immediately noticed the report on its UPI machine from the Teletype Corporation. Anchor Douglas Edwards announced it during the five-minute live newscast he regularly did promptly after the closing credits of To Tell The Truth. He clarified for viewers that the preceding broadcast on which they had seen Kilgallen had been "prerecorded." Kilgallen's appearance on this game show episode has been lost because of wiping. The CBS Afternoon News with Douglas Edwards was not preserved, either.

Because of her open criticism of the Warren Commission and other US government entities, and her association with Jack Ruby and a 1964 private interview with him, Ramparts speculated that she was murdered by members of the same alleged conspiracy against JFK. The February 1967 edition of Cosmopolitan, then edited by Helen Gurley Brown, reprinted the Ramparts article. Kilgallen's claims that she was under surveillance led to a theory that she might have been murdered. She reportedly had told a few friends after her Ruby interview that she was "about to blow the JFK case sky high." Throughout her career she consistently refused to identify any of her sources whenever a government agency questioned her, and that might have posed a threat to the alleged JFK conspirators.

Kilgallen's autopsy did not suggest evidence of homicide. On the death certificate, however, medical examiner Luke typed "circumstances undetermined" underneath his notation "acute ethanol and barbiturate intoxication." According to Kilgallen's Washington Post obituary, Luke spent 45 minutes at the death scene. The medical examiner's office documented, however, that he had spent an hour and five minutes there. Another medical examiner named Dominick DiMaio signed the death certificate, typing below his signature that he was doing this "for James Luke." Referring to Kilgallen's death certificate, DiMaio said in a 1995 interview quoted in Midwest Today magazine, "I wasn't stationed in Manhattan [where Kilgallen died]. I was in Brooklyn. Are you sure I signed it? I don't see how the hell I could have signed it in the first place. You got me."

After death and legacy

At the time of her death in November 1965, Dorothy Kilgallen and Richard Kollmar had been married for 25 years, and she left behind three children. A year and a half after Kilgallen's death, Kollmar, then 56, married designer Anne Fogarty, who had created the dress Kilgallen had worn on What's My Line? the last night of her life. Kollmar died at age 60, three years and six and a half months after marrying Fogarty. Newspaper obituaries said Kollmar "died in his sleep" at home. He was not interred with Kilgallen at Gate of Heaven Cemetery. A 1979 Kilgallen biography by Lee Israel said he "took his own life in January 1971, swallowing everything in reach." Although he seemed to have swallowed many more pills than his first wife had five years and two months earlier, the medical examiner did not call it a suicide. Kollmar's death was not a major news item, as Kilgallen's had been, and medical examiner findings about his death were not made public until years later when Israel obtained documents from the M.E.'s office, with help from the youngest child of the Kollmars.

Their youngest child, Kerry Kollmar, was eleven when his mother died. Between 1975 and 1978, he assisted Lee Israel with her work on a biography of his mother. Kollmar helped Israel obtain medical records from his mother's two confinements at NYU Langone Medical Center in March and April 1965. They had something to do with a cast on her leftforearm that she can be seen wearing on the April 25, 1965, live telecast of What's My Line?. The documents contained little more than a notation that Dorothy Kilgallen's overall health was "excellent" and that she had fractured her left shoulder. Kollmar also interviewed two of his mother's personal physicians, who claimed to have examined her as she lay dead in her home. Neither offered an opinion on the cause of death. Although Kerry Kollmar provided this assistance to Lee Israel, he never said whether he thought his mother could have been murdered. If Dorothy Kilgallen learned dangerous secrets, she did not share them with her eleven-year-old son.

One of two known comments Richard Kollmar made after her death about his first wife was later recalled by Bob Bach, who booked the mystery guests for What's My Line?. At Bach's home several hours after her funeral, the television producer asked the widower to discuss his wife's interest in the assassination, and Kollmar replied, "Robert, I'm afraid that will have to go to the grave with me."

Author Mark Lane is the source for Kollmar's other known remark. An essay on John McAdams' website about the JFK assassination claims that Lane told Kilgallen everything she knew about the assassination except for how to obtain the 102-page Warren Commission Ruby transcript, which came to her from an unknown person. This contradicts statements by Lane in the Israel book, in a 1977 issue of the Midnight supermarket tabloid preserved at the National Archives, on talk radio in 1993 and on the Geraldo Rivera TV show Now It Can Be Told in 1992. Lane's side of the story is that a few weeks after the last comment Kilgallen published about the assassination (an item in her September 3, 1965, Voice of Broadway column about Marina Oswald Porter and her incriminating photograph of Lee holding a rifle and socialist literature), Kilgallen told him by telephone that she planned to visit Dallas again. She did not name any of her sources there, and she declined to tell him who she thought might have shot the president. They never communicated again. A month after her death, Lane contacted Kollmar to ask where her notes were. Lane and Kollmar had met in Kilgallen's presence at the Kollmar brownstone more than a year earlier. Kollmar got rid of Lane quickly, asserting that his late wife's discoveries have "done enough damage already" and "too many people have suffered as a result." Lane never learned anything further about Dorothy Kilgallen's opinions or findings about the assassination.

On the What's My Line? broadcast following Kilgallen's death, host John Charles Daly opened the show explaining that, after consulting with "her good husband Dick Kollmar," the show's tribute to her would be to go on as usual. Much of the text of Daly's announcement was identical to the announcement he'd made at the beginning of the broadcast the night after regular panelist Fred Allen died. During their usual "goodnights," each panel member gave a short tribute to her. Bennett Cerf and Steve Allen reminded viewers that her "line" was a print reporter while Arlene Francis and Kitty Carlisle focused on the impact Kilgallen had on the television show.

Although Bennett Cerf was audiotaped on January 23, 1968, reminiscing about Kilgallen, he said nothing about her death or about the book, Murder One, that his company Random House had published in 1967 with the late Dorothy Kilgallen listed as the sole author. Years after his death, his widow Phyllis Fraser admitted to Kilgallen biographer Lee Israel that a writer named Allan Ullman had written it with Richard Kollmar's approval.

Kilgallen's private secretary, Myrtle Verne, who can be seen as one of the contestants on a 1957 episode of What's My Line?, died on January 10, 1975, shortly before Israel began contacting people for her biography.

Despite Richard Kollmar's public silence about his late wife, her father, Jim Kilgallen, still a highly respected reporter at age 77, did speak for publication. The breaking story of her death in the Journal American, where father and daughter both worked, quoted him as saying she "apparently suffered a heart attack, her first." He reminisced fondly about her career and girlish quality for the February 1966 issue of TV Radio Mirror. He said he knew nothing about her prescription medication and declined to discuss the Kennedy assassination. During this period Jack O'Brian took over the Voice of Broadway column, but the Journal American ceased publication in April 1966 with O'Brian and otherJournal American columnists becoming part of the short-lived New York World Journal Tribune. Later in the 1960s and in the 1970s, Jim Kilgallen continued working as a reporter with his articles appearing in the Hearst papers that remained outside New York City, but his Hearst colleagues knew not to ask him about his late daughter, and so did his "friends of longstanding," said biographer Israel. Contacted by Israel, he wrote to her on January 26, 1976, that he would not help her, noting that he was sticking to "a firm policy" he had maintained since his daughter's death "not to grant interviews to anyone concerning her career."

The National Archives has a file from 1978 containing a collage of newspaper clippings dating from that year that Jim Kilgallen sent to Louis Stokes of the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations. One was a "Page Six" item in the New York Post about Israel's forthcoming book noting that employees of the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, the place where Dorothy Kilgallen was last seen alive, were instructed not to talk to Israel. But Jim Kilgallen, who continued reporting for Hearst until age 93, is not known to have commented on this or any other suggestions that his daughter might have been murdered.

For her contribution to the television industry, Dorothy Kilgallen has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6780 Hollywood Boulevard.

In the 2012 comic novel Nick and Jake, by Tad Richards and Jonathan Richards, Kilgallen breaks the news story that paints protagonist Nick Carraway (from The Great Gatsby) as a subversive, thus destroying his career.

Source: Wikipedia

Breakfast With Dorothy And DickBreakfast With Dorothy And Dick
Show Count: 2
Broadcast History: 15 April 1945 to 21 March 1963
Producer: Richard Kollmar
Host: Richard Kollmar, Dorothy Kilgallen
Broadcast: October 15, 1947
Added: May 25 2017