Dorothy Kilgallen? Don’t be surprised if you don’t recognize the famous name. I stumbled over her one late night on a channel that airs only old game shows. She was on the show “What’s My Line?” She had that elegant midcentury modern look, she was dressed up in her finest lipstick, pearls and white gloves. Dorothy was sharp, and guessed the contestants job more than the other celebrities according to host John Daly. I did not think about her again until I was researching the Kennedy Assassination. I am obsessed with the Kennedy assassination, and I have been since they sent me home from the 1st grade, the day he was shot. I watched all day on our 13-inch black and white T.V., well until the grownups shooed me out of the house.
They knew each other, Dorothy, and JFK. When Jazz singer Bobby Short was having a drink with Dorothy, Jack Kennedy came up to the table and spoke with them. He reminded her, “Do remember when we played charades at your house?” (1) Dorothy and her son Kerry also went to the white house for a visit. Kerry was gifted with a pin of the PT109, the ship that JFK was on in WWII. (2) She also knew of his womanizing but chose never to reveal it. Amazing for the hard-hitting reporter Dorothy Kilgallen was syndicated in 200 newspapers. She also wrote for famous trials in the 20th century; The Lindberg Kidnapping, The Sam Shepard Case (later became the TV show and movie “The Fugitive”) Just to name a couple.
After JFK was assassinated Dorothy had questions about who Lee Harvey Oswald was, and why Jack Ruby showed up and killed him before he even went to trial. 2 assassinations in 3 days, she knew something wasn’t right. Though Dorothy worked for Hearst Publishing, and was given big trials to report on from the American Journal, she did not get the assignment for the JFK assassination. So, privately she decided to do her own investigations. She was one of the first journalists to realize there was a conspiracy going on…Many people did not take her seriously and thought of her as gossip columnist, she was far more. Her fame allowed her access to obtain interviews and gain information. She was the only one to interview Jack Ruby privately.
Dorothy was born in 1913 in Chicago. Her father was a reporter for Randolph Hearst Publishing and traveled around the country, Dorothy was the apple of his eye and she knew early she wanted to be exactly like her father. When she was 18 her father got her a job with his connections at The New York Evening Journal. She married an actor/producer named Richard Kollmar in 1940. The couple had 3 children, Jill, Dickie and Kerry. The family was so popular they had a morning radio show in their pajamas from home….
Dorothy’s career was more successful than her marriage. Richard Kollmar’s career failed, and soon he became known as Mr. Kilgallen. He started having affairs and eventually Dorothy had lovers too. Though they never divorced, they basically led separate lives. Dorothy was involved with a young Bi-sexual singer named Johnny Ray. It was said that the two were madly in love. In 1959 he went on trial for the second time in Detroit for soliciting a man for sex. She stood by him the whole time, and he was acquitted by a jury of all women. She was 15 years his senior and helped him with his career.
In 1964, it was revealed she was seeing a man from out of town, another reporter from Ohio. His name Ron Pataky, a critic for the Columbus Citizen-Journal. They met on a press junket for The Sound of Music, The Agony and The Ecstasy, and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. He was 20 years her junior and has insisted their relationship was strictly platonic. (4) He may have been the last person to see her alive.
Dorothy became powerful, both in NYC and Hollywood writing a column, doing a radio show with her husband and as a panelist on “What’s My Line?” She also covered famous trials, and had an invite at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1951. Dorothy was driven by the old journalist creed of uncovering the truth. She made some powerful enemies that way. Frank Sinatra called her “chinless”, and said, “If you happen to run into Dorothy Kilgallen, be sure you are in your car.” (3)
The FBI and CIA had files on her. She uncovered what she thought was a plot to kill Castro, and worked on the McCarthy trials. John Daly said she was different than the rest of the panel on “What’s My Line?” She more conservative and the other members were aware that what they said that night could end up in her column in the morning. So, they were careful around her.
Back to President Kennedy. Kilgallen watched from her New York townhouse as the motorcade slowly made its way down toward Dealey Plaza. She was horrified when her friend President John F. Kennedy was shot to death on November 22, 1963. After recovering from the shock, she began calling contacts and friends she had in Dallas, Texas. It was going to be beginning of an obsession that would last the rest of her life.
- Simkins, John, Dorothy Kilgallen: The Key Witness, the Education Forum, http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?/topic/1615-dorothy-kilgallen-the-key-witness/
- Shaw, Mark, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much; The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen, Post Hill Press, 2016
- Higham, James, Kilgallen, Nourishing Obscurity, http://www.nourishingobscurity.com/2014/11/kilgallen/