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, U.S.
Died November 8, 1965(1965-11-08) (aged 52)
New York, New York, U.S.
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 shortly before her 18th birthday as a reporter for the Hearst Corporation's New York Evening Journal after spending two semesters at the College of New Rochelle. In 1938, she began her newspaper column, The Voice of Broadway, which eventually was syndicated to more than 146 papers.[1][2] 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.[3] 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, 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.[1]

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.[2]

During a stint living in Hollywood in 1936 and 1937, Kilgallen wrote a daily column primarily read in New York, which 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."[citation needed]

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.[1][2] She had a radio program, Voice of Broadway, which was broadcast on CBS during World War II.[4]

On April 6, 1940, Kilgallen married Richard Kollmar (1910–1971) who had starred in the musicals Knickerbocker Holiday and Too Many Girls.[5] 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 townhouse at 45 East 68th Street in 1952.[6] The radio program, which like Kilgallen's newspaper column mixed entertainment with serious issues, remained on the air until 1963.[7]

She 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.[citation needed]

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 1950-67. 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 claimed she would extend her time on camera by asking more questions than necessary, the answers to which she knew would be affirmative.[8]

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.[9]

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.[9] 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.[9] 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."[9]

In 1958, Kilgallen and her husband Kollmar, along with Albert W. Selden, co-produced a musical on Broadway entitled, The Body Beautiful.[10] 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.[citation needed]


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.[11] Thereafter Sinatra made derogatory comments about Kilgallen's physical appearance to his audiences at nightclubs in New York and Las Vegas,[11][12][13] though he stopped short of mentioning her name on television or during interviews for magazines and newspapers.[11]

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.[14] The doctor, whose specialty was osteopathic neurosurgery,[15] 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.[16][17][18] 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."[19]

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.[20] 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,[21] the Philadelphia Inquirer,[22] the Seattle Post Intelligencer,[23] 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.[24]


On November 8, 1965, Kilgallen was found dead on the third floor of her five-story townhouse. She had succumbed to a fatal combination of alcohol and barbiturates, possibly concurrent with a heart attack, according to medical examiner James Luke.[25]

At the time of her death, Kilgallen and Kollmar had been married for 25 years, and she left behind three children. On November 11, Dorothy Kilgallen's funeral was held 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.

The footstone of Dorothy Kilgallen in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

On the following Sunday night's What's My Line?, telecast live on November 14, To Tell the Truth regular panelist Kitty Carlisle, who had been a guest panelist on three previous episodes of What's My Line?, filled in for Kilgallen temporarily. She said on camera that although she was occupying Kilgallen's seat, she could never take her place. [26]

Kilgallen has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.[27] The archives of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce list her as one of the 500 people who were chosen to receive the first stars on the walk of fame with ceremonies taking place in 1960, five years before she died.[28]


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



  1. ^ a b c Riley, Sam G. (1995). Biographical Dictionary of American Newspaper Columnists. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 157. ISBN 0-313-29192-6. 
  2. ^ a b c Signorielli, Nancy (1996). Women in Communication: A Biographical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 245. ISBN 0-313-29164-0. 
  3. ^ Gingrich, Arnold (1936). Coronet. David A. Smart. p. 55. 
  4. ^ "Kilgallen Renewed" (PDF). Billboard. March 7, 1942. p. 6. Retrieved February 11, 2015. 
  5. ^ IMDB entry
  6. ^ Kilgallen, Dorothy. "The Voice of Broadway", New York Journal American (May 30, 1952)
  7. ^ Suskin, Steven (2006). Second Act Trouble: Behind the Scenes at Broadway's Big Musical Bombs. Hal Leonard. p. 243. ISBN 1-55783-631-0. 
  8. ^ Cerf, Bennett (session 16) (1968-01-23). Notable New Yorkers. Interview with Robbin Hawkins. Columbia University Libraries Oral History Research Office. New York City. Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ The Body Beautiful at the Internet Broadway Database
  11. ^ a b c Kelley, Kitty (1986). His Way: Frank Sinatra, the Unauthorized Biography. ISBN 978-0-553-05137-7. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben (2006). Becoming Almost Famous: My Back Pages in Music, Writing, and Life. Backbeat Books. p. 153. ISBN 0-87930-880-X. 
  14. ^ Kilgallen, Dorothy (1954-12-22). "Sheppard Guilty; Dorothy Kilgallen Astounded By Verdict". New York Journal American. p. 1. 
  15. ^ legitimate source on Sam Sheppard's career specialty -- a Cleveland historical society
  16. ^ Feagler, Dick (1998-12-09). "1st Officer At Sheppard Murder Holds To View". The Plain Dealer. pp. 2A. 
  17. ^ Dirck, Joe (1998-12-13). "Facts On Sheppard Don't Bother Some". The Plain Dealer. pp. 1B. 
  18. ^ Pollack, Jack Harrison (1972). Dr. Sam: An American Tragedy. H. Regnery Co. p. 205. 
  19. ^ "Sam Sheppard: Some 35-year-old questions". The Plain Dealer. 1989-08-08. pp. 1B. 
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ New York Journal American August 18–20, 1964 front pages
  22. ^ Philadelphia Inquirer August 19–21, 1964 front pages
  23. ^ Seattle Post Intelligencer August 19–21, 1964 front pages
  24. ^ 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"
  25. ^ "Medical Examiner on Dorothy Kilgallen: Barbiturates and Alcohol". New York Herald Tribune. November 16, 1965. p. 25. 
  26. ^ : Scroll down past the heading Gil Hodges & the Senators in all caps and you find a paragraph about Kitty's four appearances as a What's My Line panelist,; accessed December 15, 2015.
  27. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk: A guide to the thousands of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  28. ^ Los Angeles Times source on archive that has evidence of when Dorothy Kilgallen got her star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. The relevance to this article is that she was alive when she received it.

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