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Dorothy Kilgallen

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Dorothy Kilgallen
Kilgallen c. 1955
Dorothy Mae Kilgallen

(1913-07-03)July 3, 1913
DiedNovember 8, 1965(1965-11-08) (aged 52)
Resting placeGate of Heaven Cemetery
EducationErasmus Hall High School
Alma materThe College of New Rochelle
Occupation(s)Media personality, author, journalist, panelist
(m. 1940)

Dorothy Mae Kilgallen (July 3, 1913 – November 8, 1965) was an American columnist, journalist, and television game show panelist. After spending two semesters at the College of New Rochelle, she started her career shortly before her 18th birthday as a reporter for the Hearst Corporation's New York Evening Journal. In 1938, she began her newspaper column "The Voice of Broadway", which was eventually syndicated to more than 140 papers.[1][2] In 1950, she became a regular panelist on the television game show What's My Line?, continuing in the role until her death.

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 for multiple newspapers on the Sam Sheppard trial[3] and, years later, events related to the John F. Kennedy assassination, such as testimony by Jack Ruby.[4]

Life and career[edit]

Education and early work[edit]

Kilgallen was born in Chicago, the daughter of newspaper reporter James Lawrence Kilgallen (1888–1982)[5] and his wife, Mae Ahern (1888–1985).[6] She was of Irish descent, and was a Catholic.[1][7] Dorothy had a sister, Eleanor (1919–2014), who was six years her junior. The family moved to various regions of the United States until 1920, when the International News Service hired James Kilgallen as a roving correspondent based in New York City.[5] The family settled in Brooklyn, New York. Dorothy Kilgallen was a student at Erasmus Hall High School. After completing two semesters at The College of New Rochelle, she dropped out to take a job as a reporter for the New York Evening Journal. The newspaper was owned and operated by the Hearst Corporation, which also owned International News Service, her father's employer.[5][8]

In 1936, Kilgallen and two other New York newspaper reporters competed 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 came in second. She described the race 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]

In November 1938, Kilgallen began writing a daily column, the "Voice of Broadway," for Hearst's New York Journal-American, after the corporation merged 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 newspapers via King Features Syndicate.[1][2] Its success motivated Kilgallen to move her parents and Eleanor from Brooklyn to Manhattan, where she continued to live with them until she got married.

On April 6, 1940, Kilgallen married Richard Kollmar, a musical comedy actor and singer who had starred in the Broadway show Knickerbocker Holiday and was performing in the Broadway cast of Too Many Girls at the time of their wedding.[9] They had three children: Richard "Dickie" (b. 1941), Jill (b. 1943), and Kerry Kollmar (b. 1954),[10] and remained married until Kilgallen's death.[11]

Early in their marriage, Kilgallen and Kollmar both launched careers in network radio. Kilgallen's program Voice of Broadway was broadcast on CBS during World War II,[12] and Kollmar starred as the titular character in the nationally syndicated crime drama Boston Blackie that ran from 1941 to 1945.

Beginning in April 1945, Kilgallen and Kollmar co-hosted a weekday radio talk show on WOR 710 AM. Breakfast With Dorothy and Dick was broadcast 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.[13] The radio program, like Kilgallen's newspaper column, mixed entertainment news and gossip with serious matters. Kilgallen and Kollmar occasionally had a major league baseball player as a guest on the show.[14] The couple continued doing the show from their home until 1963.[15] Kilgallen's long-time fellow panelist on What's My Line, Arlene Francis, also hosted a weekday talk show on WOR for many years.

Frank Sinatra feud[edit]

Kilgallen and noted singer and actor Frank Sinatra were fairly good friends for several years and were photographed rehearsing in a radio studio for a 1948 broadcast. Eventually, they had a falling out after she wrote a multi-part 1956 front-page feature article titled "The Real Frank Sinatra Story". In addition to the New York Journal-American, Hearst-owned newspapers across the United States ran the feature.[16]

Following this publication, Sinatra made derogatory comments about Kilgallen's physical appearance to his nightclub audiences in New York and Las Vegas.[16][17][18] However, he stopped short of mentioning her name on television or during magazine and newspaper interviews.[16]

Sam Sheppard murder trial[edit]

New York Journal-American front page December 22, 1954

Kilgallen covered the 1954 murder trial of Sam Sheppard.[19] He was a doctor convicted of killing his wife at their home in the Cleveland suburb of Bay Village.

The New York Journal-American carried the banner front-page headline that Kilgallen was "shocked" by the guilty verdict because of what she argued were serious flaws in the prosecution's case.[20] At the time of the Cleveland jury's guilty verdict in December 1954, Kilgallen's sharp criticism of it was controversial and a Cleveland newspaper dropped her column in response.[21][22][23] Her articles and columns in 1954 did not reveal all she had witnessed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

Nine years after the verdict and sentence, and after the judge had died, she claimed at an event held at the Overseas Press Club in New York that the judge had told her before the start of jury selection that Sheppard was "guilty as hell".[24][25]

Attorney F. Lee Bailey, who was working on a habeas corpus petition for his client Sheppard, attended the Overseas Press Club event, heard what Kilgallen told the crowd, and then asked her privately if she would help him.[23][26][27] "Some days later," as Bailey wrote in his memoir The Defense Never Rests,[26] "we obtained a deposition from Dorothy that was inserted into the petition submitted to" Carl Andrew Weinman, judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Bailey also included in the habeas corpus petition a statement from Edward Murray, who had worked in 1954 as a court clerk at the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Similar to Kilgallen's statement, Murray's statement indicated that Edward J. Blythin, the original Sheppard judge, had said that Sheppard was guilty even before the grand jury indicted him on August 17, 1954.[26]

In July 1964, four months after the Overseas Press Club event where Kilgallen broke her silence about the deceased Judge Blythin, Judge Weinman of the federal court granted Bailey's habeas corpus petition, Sam Sheppard was released from prison amid much newspaper publicity, and Sheppard met Kilgallen at a "late-night champagne party" (as described by Bailey in The Defense Never Rests) in Cleveland.[26] After Kilgallen's death, Sheppard was retried and acquitted.[23][26]

Kennedy assassination[edit]

Kilgallen was publicly skeptical of the conclusions of the Warren Commission's report about the assassination of President Kennedy and Jack Ruby's shooting of Lee Oswald, and she wrote several newspaper articles on the subject.[28][29][30] On February 23, 1964, she published an article in the New York Journal-American about a conversation she had with Jack Ruby, when he was at his defense table during a recess in his murder trial.[31]

She also obtained a copy of Ruby's June 7, 1964, testimony to the Warren Commission, which she published in August 1964 in three installments[32] on the front pages of the New York Journal-American,[33] The Philadelphia Inquirer,[34] the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,[35] and other newspapers.

What's My Line?[edit]

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

Kilgallen became a panelist on the American television game show What's My Line?, beginning on its first broadcast, which aired live on February 2, 1950. The series was telecast from New York City on the CBS television network until 1967. She was seen almost every Sunday evening on the show for 15 years (until her death).

Beginning in 1959, the series was not always telecast live.[36] Goodson Todman Productions used videotape, a recent invention.[36] In 1961, producers were able to stockpile enough videotaped episodes so that Kilgallen and fellow panelists Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf, along with host John Charles Daly, could take their summer vacations.[36] In 1965, they returned to do a live telecast on September 12.[36] It was followed by eight consecutive Sunday nights when Kilgallen appeared live, the last of them being November 7.[36]


The footstone of Dorothy Kilgallen in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

On November 8, 1965, Kilgallen was found dead in her Manhattan townhouse located at 45 East 68th Street. Her death was determined to have been caused by a combination of alcohol and barbiturates. The police said there was no indication of violence or suicide. According to New York City medical examiner James Luke, the circumstances of her death were undetermined, but emphasized that "the overdose could well have been accidental".[37]

Her funeral mass took place on November 11 at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan; John Daly, Arlene Francis, What's My Line? producer Mark Goodson,[38] Betty White, Ed Sullivan, Joseph E. Levine, and Bob Considine were among the 2,600 people attending.[11] Coverage of the funeral in the New York Journal-American, where she had worked, included "Mrs. Bennett Cerf" (Phyllis Fraser), among the notable people who attended.[38] She was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, Westchester County, New York.[39]


In 1960, Kilgallen was one of the initial 500 people chosen to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[40] The What's My Line? telecast on November 14, 1965, paid tribute to Kilgallen. Kitty Carlisle filled in for Kilgallen during the episode, and said on camera that although she was occupying Kilgallen's seat, "no one could ever possibly take her place."[41][42]

In a 1996 memoir, Kilgallen's colleague and friend Theo Wilson wrote that her work as a crime reporter was often overlooked during her lifetime and was forgotten after her death:

"Part of being a good reporter is to be anonymous, to stay out of the story so that you can better watch and study and listen to the principals. She couldn't do that, mostly because people wouldn't let her. She'd walk into a trial and the prosecutor would ask for her autograph for his wife or the judge would send out greetings."[43]


  • Sinner Take All (1936) onscreen appearance as a fictitious reporter
  • Fly-Away Baby (1937) identified in the opening credits as the inspiration for the story; her book Girl Around the World, published in 1936, was the source.
  • Pajama Party (1964) uncredited onscreen cameo appearance as herself


In fiction[edit]

Flo Kilgore, a character based on Kilgallen, appears in novels by Max Allan Collins in his series featuring private detective Nathan Heller. In Ask Not (2013), Heller and Kilgore investigate the JFK assassination.[44][45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Riley, Sam G. (November 6, 1995). Biographical Dictionary of American Newspaper Columnists. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 157. ISBN 978-0-31-329192-0.
  2. ^ a b c Signorielli, Nancy (November 4, 1996). Women in Communication: A Biographical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-31-329164-7.
  3. ^ "Speaking up for Marilyn in the 60-year-old Sam Sheppard murder case: Brent Larkin". Cleveland.com. No. 3 July 2014.
  4. ^ "Reporters: 50,000-Word Leak". Time. No. 28 August 1964.
  5. ^ a b c Lynn, Frank (December 23, 1982). "James L. Kilgallen Dies at 94; A Reporter for Over 75 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  6. ^ Gingrich, Arnold (1936). "Article". Coronet. David A. Smart: 55.
  7. ^ "The Irish orator who taught Winston Churchill how to win a crowd". The Irish Times.
  8. ^ Liebenson, Donald (May 4, 2003). "Upi R.i.p." Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 16, 2016.
  9. ^ Arnaz, Desi (1976). A Book. William Morrow, Inc. pp. 86–91. ISBN 978-0-68-800342-5.
  10. ^ Signorielli, Nancy (1996). Signorielli, Nancy (ed.). Women in Communication: A Biographical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 251. ISBN 0-313-29164-0.
  11. ^ a b "Celebrities In Tribute to Dorothy Kilgallen". The Arizona Republic. United Press International. November 12, 1965. p. 18.
  12. ^ "Kilgallen Renewed" (PDF). Billboard. March 7, 1942. p. 6. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
  13. ^ Kilgallen, Dorothy. "The Voice of Broadway", New York Journal-American (May 30, 1952)
  14. ^ Arndt Anderson, Heather (2013). Breakfast: A History. AltaMira Press. ISBN 978-0-759-12165-2.
  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. ^ a b c Kelley, Kitty (1986). His Way: Frank Sinatra, the Unauthorized Biography. Random House Publishing. pp. 256–257. ISBN 978-0-553-05137-7.
  17. ^ McNally, Karen (March 6, 2008). When Frankie Went to Hollywood: Frank Sinatra and American Male Identity. University of Illinois Press. pp. 101, 197. ISBN 978-0-25-207542-1.
  18. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben (May 1, 2006). Becoming Almost Famous: My Back Pages in Music, Writing, and Life. Backbeat Books. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-87-930880-3.
  19. ^ Smith, Victoria (April 18, 2017). "Dr. Sam Sheppard". Cleveland Historical. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  20. ^ Kilgallen, Dorothy (December 22, 1954). "Sheppard Guilty; Dorothy Kilgallen Astounded By Verdict". New York Journal-American. p. 1.
  21. ^ Feagler, Dick (December 9, 1998). "1st Officer At Sheppard Murder Holds To View". The Plain Dealer. Cleveland. p. 2A.
  22. ^ Dirck, Joe (December 13, 1998). "Facts On Sheppard Don't Bother Some". The Plain Dealer. pp. 1B.
  23. ^ a b c Pollack, Jack Harrison (1975). Dr. Sam: An American Tragedy. Avon. pp. 152–157. ISBN 9780380004881.
  24. ^ "Stunned Sam Sentenced to Life In Wife's Murder". The Victoria Advocate. United Press. December 22, 1954. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  25. ^ "Sam Sheppard: Some 35-year-old questions". The Plain Dealer. August 8, 1989. p. 1B.
  26. ^ a b c d e Bailey, F Lee; Aronson, Harvey (1972). The Defense Never Rests. Vol. 80. Signet. pp. 18–20. ISBN 978-0-45-112640-5. PMID 3482358. Retrieved September 28, 2023. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  27. ^ Sheppard v. Maxwell, 346 F.2d 707, 401 (6th Cir. 1965) ("There was put in evidence a statement of a New York columnist, one Dorothy Kilgallen Kollmar, wherein she stated that at the beginning of the trial she was invited into the Chambers of Judge Blythin and there told of the judge's belief that petitioner was "guilty as hell. There is no question about it." [...]Judge Blythin, had been long dead when he was thus accused. The District Judge seemed to believe that with Judge Blythin's voice stilled by, death, this recitation of his statements became "uncontroverted evidence in this case and must be accepted as being true."").
  28. ^ Harrison, Ken (November 10, 2015). "Justice sought for newspaper woman dead since 1965". San Diego Reader. Retrieved December 19, 2016.
  29. ^ Armstrong, John. "Jack Ruby". www.harveyandlee.net. Retrieved March 12, 2018. Journalist Dorothy Kilgallen wrote in the New York Journal American (June 6, 1964): 'It is known that 10 persons have signed sworn depositions to the Warren Commission that they knew Oswald and Ruby to have been acquainted.'
  30. ^ "Editorial: Earl Warren's 'Lost Cause'" (PDF). National Guardian. New York City. August 29, 1964. In the 'Journal American' it filled several pages over three days and was accompanied by revealing commentary by Miss Kilgallen who has reported on the assassination inquiry with a most unusual zeal. Her analysis of the testimony seemed accurate. "It is a fascinating document," she wrote. "fascinating for what it leaves unsaid, as well as for what it says." And, she might have added, fascinating for what was not asked of Ruby by the Chief Justice.
  31. ^ Kilgallen, Dorothy (February 23, 1964). "Nervous Ruby Feels "Breaking Point" Near". New York Journal-American.
  32. ^ "Editorial: Earl Warren's 'Lost Cause'" (PDF). National Guardian. New York City. August 29, 1964. In the 'Journal American' it filled several pages over three days and was accompanied by revealing commentary by Miss Kilgallen who has reported on the assassination inquiry with a most unusual zeal. Her analysis of the testimony seemed accurate. "It is a fascinating document," she wrote. "fascinating for what it leaves unsaid, as well as for what it says." And, she might have added, fascinating for what was not asked of Ruby by the Chief Justice.
  33. ^ New York Journal-American August 18–20, 1964 front pages
  34. ^ The Philadelphia Inquirer August 19–21, 1964 front pages
  35. ^ Seattle Post-Intelligencer August 19–21, 1964 front pages
  36. ^ a b c d e Fates, Gil (1978). What's My Line?: TV's Most Famous Panel Show. Prentice-Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-955146-8.
  37. ^ "Alcohol and a Drug Traced as Causes Of Kilgallen Death". New York Times. November 16, 1965. p. 49. Retrieved June 28, 2022.
  38. ^ a b "Notables at the Funeral". New York Journal-American. November 11, 1965. p. 3.
  39. ^ Golden, Eve (2013). Anna Held and the Birth of Ziegfeld's Broadway. University Press of Kentucky. p. 215. ISBN 978-0-81-314654-6.
  40. ^ "Hollywood Star Walk: Dorothy Kilgallen". Los Angeles Times. November 9, 1965. Retrieved March 12, 2018.
  41. ^ "What's My Line Episode #665: Episode Cast & Crew". TV.com. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 15, 2015.
  42. ^ What's My Line?. November 14, 1965. Event occurs at 29:06. Retrieved December 13, 2022.
  43. ^ Headline Justice: Inside the Courtroom – The Country's Most Controversial Trials. Basic Books. December 10, 1996. ISBN 978-1-56-025108-8. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  44. ^ "Ask Not". kirkusreviews.com. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved June 12, 2022.
  45. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Ask Not by Max Allan Collins". PublishersWeekly.com. August 2, 2013. Retrieved January 27, 2022.

Further reading[edit]

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