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Dorothy Mae Kilgallen (July 3, 1913—November 8, 1965) was an Americanmarker journalist and television game show panelist known nationally for her coverage of the Sam Sheppard trial, her syndicated newspaper column, The Voice of Broadway, and her role as panelist on the television game show What's My Line?.

Early life and career

Born in Chicagomarker, Kilgallen was the daughter of Hearst newspaperman James Lawrence Kilgallen and his wife Mae Ahern. The family moved from Chicago to Wyomingmarker, Indianamarker and back to Chicago before finally settling in New York Citymarker. After one semester at The College of New Rochelle, Kilgallen left for a job as a reporter for the New York Journal-American.

In 1936, Kilgallen competed with two other New York newspaper reporters in a race around the world using means of transportation only available to the general public. She was the only female contestant and she came in second. She described the event in her book Girl Around The World and penned the screenplay for a 1937 movie, Fly Away Baby, starring Glenda Farrell, as the Kilgallen-inspired character. During a stint living in Hollywood in 1936 and 1937, Kilgallen wrote a daily column that could only be read in New York that nonetheless provoked a libel suit from Constance Bennett, then the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.

Returning to New York in 1938, Kilgallen began writing a daily column, The Voice of Broadway, for Hearst's New York Journal-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 like politics and organized crime. The column was syndicated to 146 papers via King Features Syndicate.

Beginning in 1945, Kilgallen co-hosted a radio talk show, Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick, with her husband Richard Kollmar. The series remained on the air until 1963.

In 1950, Kilgallen became a panelist on the American television game show What's My Line?, which 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's priority on getting a laugh and entertaining the audience, Kilgallen's main interest was guessing the right answers. She would also, according to Cerf, milk her time on camera by asking more questions than necessary, the answers to which she knew to be affirmative.

Cerf described Kilgallen as an outsider among her castmates for two reasons: The first being her political point of view, that of a "Hearst girl," differed from the others', and the second being that information elicited during dressing-room conversations would subsequently appear in Kilgallen's gossip column.

Kilgallen was among the notables on the guest list 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 Broadwaymarker 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 Clevelandmarker suburb of Bay Village. In the 1990s, the case was reopened and an aging convict named Richard Eberling became a person of interest, but hard evidence to convict him was lacking.

Many Clevelanders believed Dr. Sam Sheppard was guilty, including the editors of the 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 the Overseas 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 making up his mind before hearing any testimony or seeing any 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.

Reporting on UFOs

On February 15, 1954, she 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.

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 also unsuccessful.

Kilgallen and the Kennedy assassination

Kilgallen 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 conversation. She obtained a copy of Ruby's testimony to the Warren Commission, although she kept her source of the testimony confidential. This sparked an FBI investigation into how she had obtained it.

Regarding the assassination, Kilgallen wrote, "That story isn't going to die as long as there's a real reporter alive, and there are a lot of them alive." She had a history of government criticism, once suggesting that the CIA recruited members of the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro (which many years later was proven to be the case). FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover kept a file on her activities.

Other controversy

Dorothy Kilgallen was often antagonistic toward Frank Sinatra in her daily column and in the multi-part 1956 feature story "The Frank Sinatra Story". Sinatra was angered by this and referred to her publicly as the "chinless wonder."

When country music performers from Nashvillemarker's Grand Ole Oprymarker appeared in concert at Carnegie Hallmarker 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."

Death

On November 8, 1965, Kilgallen was found dead on the third floor of her five-story townhouse, just 12 hours after she appeared, live, on What's My Line?. Her hairdresser, Marc Sinclaire, found her body when he arrived that morning to style her hair. She had apparently succumbed to a fatal combination of alcohol and Seconal, possibly concurrent with a heart attack. It is not known whether it was suicide or an accidental death, although the amount of barbiturate in her system "could well have been accidental," according to medical examiner James Luke.

Because of her open criticism of the Warren Commission and other US government entities, and her association with Jack Ruby and a 1965 private interview with him, some speculate that she was murdered by members of the same alleged conspiracy against JFK. Her claims that she was under surveillance led to a theory that she might have been murdered. She had 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.

Her autopsy did not suggest evidence of homicide; however, her death certificate cites the cause of death as "undetermined."

After death and legacy

At the time of her death, Dorothy Kilgallen and Richard Kollmar had been married for 25 years and she left behind three children. She is buried in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heavenmarker in Hawthorne, New Yorkmarker. After her 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.

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. The text of Daly's announcement, except for the names of those involved, 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.

The New York Journal-American, which ran Kilgallen's Voice of Broadway column as usual on the day of her death, ceased publication in April 1966. Kilgallen's father, Jimmy Kilgallen, still a highly respected reporter at age 77, was quoted 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.

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

Filmography

  • Sinner Take All (1936)
  • Fly Away Baby (1937)
  • Pajama Party (Uncredited, 1964)


Bibliography

  • Kilgallen, Dorothy and Herb Shapiro. Girl Around the World, David McKay Publishing. 1936.
  • Kilgallen, Dorothy. Murder One, Random House. 1967. ASIN: B0007EFTJ6


References

  1. at p.739.
  2. Kilgallen, Dorothy. "The Voice of Broadway." New York Journal-American. September 3, 1965.
  3. Kilgallen, Dorothy. "The Voice of Broadway." New York Journal American. July 15, 1959.
  4. Carl Oglesby, The Yankee and Cowboy War, Kansas City: Sheed, Andrews & McMeel, 1975, p.143
  5. What's My Line?, dated November 14, 1965.
  6. A week following Kilgallen's death, the Voice of Broadway column was taken over by Jack O'Brian, who continued with it until the end of the Journal-American and through the short life of the New York World Journal Tribune.


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