Dorothy Kilgallen

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Dorothy Kilgallen
Dorothy kilgallen.jpg
Born Dorothy Mae Kilgallen
(1913-07-03)July 3, 1913
New York, New York
Died November 8, 1965(1965-11-08) (aged 52)
Manhattan, New York
Cause of death Apparent alcohol and drug combination overdose
Resting place Gate of Heaven Cemetery
Hawthorne, New York
Nationality American
Education Erasmus Hall High School
Alma mater The College of New Rochelle
Occupation Media personality, author, journalist, panelist
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Richard Kollmar (m. 1940–65)
Children 3

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.[1] In 1938, she began her newspaper column, The Voice of Broadway, which eventually was syndicated to more than 146 papers.[2][3] 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 and organized crime. She wrote front-page articles on the Sam Sheppard trial and later the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Early life and career[edit]

Kilgallen, born in Chicago, was the daughter of newspaper reporter James Lawrence Kilgallen (1888–1982) and his wife, Mae Ahern.[4] The family moved from Chicago to Laramie, Wyoming,[1][unreliable source?] Indianapolis, Indiana,[5] then back to Chicago. The International News Service, which was owned by the Hearst Corporation, hired James Kilgallen in Chicago circa 1920.[6][unreliable source?] He moved his family to Brooklyn, New York when INS transferred him to Manhattan.[7][unreliable source?] He traveled frequently to report hard news stories.[8][unreliable source?] Dorothy Kilgallen's sister Eleanor, six years her junior, became a casting agent for movies and television shows. After completing 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.[2]

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.[3] During a stint living in Hollywood in 1936 and 1937, Kilgallen wrote a daily column primarily read in New York [9][unreliable source?] that nonetheless provoked a libel suit from Constance Bennett,[10][unreliable source?] "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."[11][unreliable source?]

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 and organized crime. The column eventually was syndicated to 146 papers via King Features Syndicate.[2][3] She also had a radio program, Voice of Broadway, which was broadcast on CBS during World War II.[12]

On April 6, 1940, Kilgallen married Richard Kollmar (1910–1971) who had starred in the musicals Knickerbocker Holiday and Too Many Girls.[13] 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.[14] The radio program, which like Kilgallen's newspaper column mixed entertainment with serious issues, remained on the air until 1963.[15]

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.

What's My Line?[edit]

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.[16]

Cerf said after Kilgallen's death that she had had a politically conservative point of view, that of a "Hearst girl," which differed from the more liberal views of himself and others who worked on their television show.[17] In the same interview, Cerf specified that her opinion of Joseph McCarthy, United States senator from Wisconsin, had contrasted with opinions held by him and their television colleagues.[17] He added that all four What's My Line? panelists had shared a dressing room every Sunday, and Kilgallen published in her column information that her colleagues had revealed in their weekly conversations.[17] 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."[17]

In 1958, Kilgallen and her husband Kollmar, along with Albert W. Selden, co-produced a musical on Broadway entitled, The Body Beautiful.[18] 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.


Sinatra feud[edit]

Though Kilgallen and Frank Sinatra were fairly good friends for several years and were photographed rehearsing in a radio studio for a 1948 broadcast, they had a falling out after she wrote a multi-part 1956 front-page feature story titled "The Frank Sinatra Story". In addition to the New York Journal-American, Hearst-owned newspapers across the United States ran the story.[19] Thereafter Sinatra made derogatory comments about Kilgallen's physical appearance to his audiences at nightclubs in New York and Las Vegas,[19][20][21] though he stopped short of mentioning her name on television or during interviews for magazines and newspapers.[19]

Sam Sheppard murder trial[edit]

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 because of what she argued were serious flaws in the prosecution's case.[22] The doctor, whose specialty was osteopathic neurosurgery,[23] was convicted of bludgeoning his wife to death at their home in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village.

At the time Kilgallen's sharp criticism of the verdict was controversial and a Cleveland newspaper dropped her column in response.[24][25][26] Nine years and some months after the jury returned a guilty verdict for Dr. Sheppard, she revealed publicly, at an event that was held at the Overseas Press Club in New York, that the judge had told her before the start of jury selection that Dr. Sheppard was "guilty as hell."[27]

Kilgallen and the Kennedy assassination[edit]

Kilgallen was publicly skeptical of the conclusions of the Warren Commission's report into the assassination of President Kennedy and wrote a number of articles on the subject.[28] She obtained a copy of Jack Ruby's testimony to the Warren Commission, which she published in August 1964 on the front pages of the Journal American,[29] the Philadelphia Inquirer,[30] the Seattle Post Intelligencer,[31] 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.[32]


On November 8, 1965, Kilgallen was found dead on the third floor of her five-story brownstone. She had succumbed to a fatal combination of alcohol and barbiturates, possibly concurrent with a heart attack, according to medical examiner James Luke.[33] At the time of her death, Kilgallen and Richard Kollmar had been married for 25 years, and she left behind three children. Dorothy Kilgallen's funeral was at her parish church, St. Vincent Ferrer on Lexington Avenue. She was interred in a modest grave at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. She has a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.[34]

The footstone of Dorothy Kilgallen in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

Conspiracy theory about her death[edit]

After her death, noted conspiracy theorist Penn Jones, Jr., claimed that Kilgallen had conducted an interview with Jack Ruby inside the Dallas courthouse where he was tried for the shooting death of Lee Harvey Oswald, without ever revealing the subject of their purported conversation. However, Jones never cited any sources or corroborating evidence in support of his claims. Moreover, Jones' assertion was vehemently denied by a number of persons who would normally have had knowledge of such an interview, including then assistant district attorney of Dallas, Bill Alexander, who characterized Jones' claim of an interview as "bull shit." Then-sheriff Bill Decker and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Hugh Aynesworth also dismissed Jones' claim as fiction.[35]

Jones made the alleged Jack Ruby interview the basis of a claim that Kilgallen was murdered in order to silence her before she could release supposedly explosive information about the Kennedy assassination. However, as with the claimed interview itself, this assertion has been widely dismissed. No evidence of murder has ever been produced. Kilgallen was known as a heavy drinker, according to Aynesworth.[35] The New York City medical examiner's office stated her death was likely a case of mixing barbiturates with a dangerous level of alcohol. The editor of Ramparts Magazine, a far left publication with a history of promoting conspiracy theories, and which gave considerable coverage to the unsourced Jones claims, felt obliged to add the disclaimer on the page it devoted to Kilgallen in the November 1966 edition: "We know of no serious person who really believes that the death of Dorothy Kilgallen was related to the Kennedy assassination."[35]


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



  1. ^ a b Israel, Lee (1979). Kilgallen. Delacorte Press. pp. 5–6. ISBN 0-440-04522-3. 
  2. ^ a b c Riley, Sam G. (1995). Biographical Dictionary of American Newspaper Columnists. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 157. ISBN 0-313-29192-6. 
  3. ^ a b c Signorielli, Nancy (1996). Women in Communication: A Biographical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 245. ISBN 0-313-29164-0. 
  4. ^ Gingrich, Arnold (1936). Coronet. David A. Smart. p. 55. 
  5. ^ Israel, page 6
  6. ^ Israel, page 6
  7. ^ Israel, pages 6-7
  8. ^ Israel, pages 7-9
  9. ^ Israel, page 88
  10. ^ Israel, page 97
  11. ^ Israel, page 94
  12. ^ "Kilgallen Renewed" (PDF). Billboard. March 7, 1942. p. 6. Retrieved 11 February 2015. 
  13. ^ IMDB entry
  14. ^ Kilgallen, Dorothy. "The Voice of Broadway." New York Journal American. May 30, 1952.
  15. ^ Suskin, Steven (2006). Second Act Trouble: Behind the Scenes at Broadway's Big Musical Bombs. Hal Leonard. p. 243. ISBN 1-55783-631-0. 
  16. ^ Cerf, Bennett (session 16) (1968-01-23). Notable New Yorkers. Interview with Robbin Hawkins. Columbia University Libraries Oral History Research Office. New York City, New York. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  17. ^ a b c d Cerf, Bennett (session 16) (1968-01-23). Notable New Yorkers. Interview with Robbin Hawkins. Columbia University Libraries Oral History Research Office. New York City, New York. Retrieved 2008-04-27.  at p.739.
  18. ^ The Body Beautiful at the Internet Broadway Database
  19. ^ a b c Kelley, Kitty (1986). His Way: Frank Sinatra, the Unauthorized Biography. ISBN 978-0-553-05137-7. 
  20. ^ McNally, Karen (2008). When Frankie Went to Hollywood: Frank Sinatra and American Male Identity. University of Illinois Press. p. 197. ISBN 0-252-07542-0. 
  21. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben (2006). Becoming Almost Famous: My Back Pages in Music, Writing, and Life. Backbeat Books. p. 153. ISBN 0-87930-880-X. 
  22. ^ Kilgallen, Dorothy (1954-12-22). "Sheppard Guilty; Dorothy Kilgallen Astounded By Verdict". New York Journal American. p. 1. 
  23. ^ legitimate source on Sam Sheppard's career specialty -- a Cleveland historical society
  24. ^ Feagler, Dick (1998-12-09). "1st Officer At Sheppard Murder Holds To View". The Plain Dealer. pp. 2A. 
  25. ^ Dirck, Joe (1998-12-13). "Facts On Sheppard Don't Bother Some". The Plain Dealer. pp. 1B. 
  26. ^ Pollack, Jack Harrison (1972). Dr. Sam: An American Tragedy. H. Regnery Co. p. 205. 
  27. ^ "Sam Sheppard: Some 35-year-old questions". The Plain Dealer. 1989-08-08. pp. 1B. 
  28. ^ Read this article in its entirety and you learn that Kilgallen did write "a number of articles on the subject" even though a nationally known lecturer says they went nowhere.
  29. ^ New York Journal American August 18–20, 1964 front pages
  30. ^ Philadelphia Inquirer August 19–21, 1964 front pages
  31. ^ Seattle Post Intelligencer August 19–21, 1964 front pages
  32. ^ Rosenbaum, Ron (November 1983). "Pieces of the Puzzle" [a sidebar in an article titled] "Still On the Case". Texas Monthly pg. 156 Texas Monthly piece titled "Pieces of the Puzzle" on page 156 in November 1983 issue – one of many articles with the umbrella title "Oswald's Ghost."
  33. ^ "Medical Examiner on Dorothy Kilgallen: Barbiturates and Alcohol". New York Herald Tribune. November 16, 1965. p. 25. 
  34. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk: A guide to the thousands of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  35. ^ a b c Bugliosi, Vincent (2007). Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 1014–1017. ISBN 0-393-04525-0. 

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