Dorothy Kilgallen, the daughter of James Kilgallen, a successful journalist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 3rd July, 1913. Kilgallen studied at New Rochelle College before beginning work as a journalist at The New York Journal, a newspaper owned by William Randolph Hearst.
In September 1936 Kilgallen took part in a "race around the world" against fellow newsmen Bud Ekins of the New York World-Telegram and Leo Kieran of the New York Times. The trip took Kilgallen 24 days and she came second to Ekins (21 days). Afterwards she published her book, Girl Around The World. She also appeared in the film, Sinner Take All, in 1936. The following year she wrote the film script, Fly Away Baby.
Kilgallen abandoned her film career and returned to work at The New York Journal. In November, 1937 she was given her own column, "Hollywood Scene". The following year she began writing a new column, "The Voice of Broadway", for the newspaper.
In 1940 Kilgallen married Richard Kollmar. Over the next couple of years the couple had three children (Jill, Richard and Kerry). In April 1945 the couple began a daily morning radio show, Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick. The programme went out live: Monday to Saturday (8.15 to 8.55 a.m.) and Sunday (11.30 to 12.00). Over the years the programme was gradually commercialized. Companies paid to have their products mentioned over breakfast and theatre producers arranged to have their plays and musicals discussed over breakfast. Films and books were also promoted by the hosts.
By 1941 the column was appearing in 24 other newspapers. Kilgallen was now one of the most important gossip columnist in America. In 1950 it was estimated that she had twenty million readers. Kilgallen achieved this position by developing a very good strategy for gaining secret information about famous people. Kilgallen was swamped with requests by press agents to plug the activities of their clients. Kilgallen always refused these requests. Instead she offered a deal. "Bring me three detrimental stories concerning other stars and I will include a good piece about your client." As these stars were usual rivals of their clients, they were only too willing to do so.
Kilgallen also became a television star and was for 15 years a regular panelist on the television programme, What's My Line? (1950-1965). As well as her gossip column, Kilgallen continued to report on famous criminal case. Her investigative work secured a new trial for Sam Shepard. (His case was later the basis for the popular television series, The Fugitive).
Kilgallen sometimes wrote articles about political issues. According to several of her close friends, Kilgallen received information from the Central Intelligence Agency. A study of her writings suggests she was an important CIA media asset. Kilgallen was extremely well-informed about the situation in Cuba. In 1959 and 1960 Kilgallen included a large number of anti-Castro stories in her column. Some of this information came from Cuban exiles based in Miami.
Sometimes Kilgallen included highly subversive material in her column. For example, on 15th July, 1959, Kilgallen became the first journalist to suggest that the CIA and the Mafia were working together in order to assassinate Fidel Castro. This disclosure upset high-ranking government officials and J. Edgar Hoover began to keep a dossier on Kilgallen's activities.
In September, 1959, Kilgallen reported on the visit of Nikita Khrushchev for the Journal-American. Kilgallen created a storm when she attacked the dress sense of his wife, Nina Khrushchev: "The grisliness of her attire amounts almost to a demonstration of piety... It would be difficult to find clothes comparable to hers in the waiting room of a New York employment agency for domestic help; in this decadent capitalistic republic, applicants for jobs as launderesses, chambermaids, and cooks usually are far more a la mode than Russia's first lady." So many people complained about the article that Kilgallen feared she would have to resign.
Kilgallen was also sued for libel by the journalist Elaine Shepard. In an article published on 22nd December, 1959, it was suggested that a female member of the Washington press group that joined President Dwight Eisenhower on a tour of Europe had had an affair with someone on the White House staff. Although eighty-three reporters who accompanied Eisenhower, Shepard was the only woman. She therefore sued for $750,000 claiming that Kilgallen "had maliciously implied that she was a person of lewd and unchase character". The case was to drag on for the next few years and created a great deal of stress for Kilgallen.
In 1961 Kilgallen covered the murder trial of Bernard Finch and Carole Tregoff. Bennett Cerf of Random House was very impressed with these reports and as a result commissioned her to write a book called Murder One. The book was to contain a series of chapters on famous murder cases she had reported on since the early 1930s.
At the end of the Stephen Ward trial, Newspapers began reporting on the sex parties attended by Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. The Washington Star quoted Rice-Davies as saying "there was a dinner party where a naked man wearing a mask waited on table like a slave." Kilgallen wrote an article for Journal-American where she stated: "The authorities searching the apartment of one of the principals in the case came upon a photograph showing a key figure disporting with a bevy of ladies. All were nude except for the gentleman in the picture who was wearing an apron. And this is a man who has been on extremely friendly terms with the very proper Queen and members of her immediate family!"
The News of the World immediately identified the hostess at the dinner party as being Mariella Novotny. Various rumours began to circulate about the name of the man who wore the mask and apron. This included John Profumo and another member of the government, Ernest Marples. Whereas another minister, Lord Hailsham, the leader of the House of Lords at the time, issued a statement saying it was not him. Novotny refused to comment on her activities and the man in the mask remained unidentified. However, Time Magazine speculated that it was film director, Anthony Asquith, the son of former prime minister, Herbert Asquith.
In March, 1963, Kilgallen was taken to hospital suffering from anemia. Her husband, Richard Kollmar, attempted to carry on with the daily morning radio show, Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick. However, without Dorothy it lost its appeal and in April the show was brought to an end.
Over the years Kilgallen received a great deal of information about the affairs of John F. Kennedy. However, she was a close friend of Kennedy (they had met via his mistress, Florence Pritchett). One day she was gossiping about Kennedy with her friend Allen Stokes. He asked her why she did not write about it in her column. She replied "I couldn't possibly". It would have been a great scoop. But she decided to protect him.
However, Kilgallen broke this rule when on the 3rd August, 1962, she became the first journalist to refer to Kennedy's relationship with Marilyn Monroe. She did not actually name him but left enough clues for the readers to identify Kennedy as the secret man in Monroe's life (later Kilgallen told friends she was actually referring to Robert Kennedy). One can only assume that she came under severe pressure from someone to write this story.
The following day, Monroe was found dead. Kilgallen must have realized that she had been set her up to smear the Kennedy brothers. Rumours soon began circulating that Robert Kennedy had arranged Monroe's death to protect his brother's reputation.
John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on 22nd November, 1963. Kilgallen took a keen interest in the case and soon became convinced that Kennedy had not been killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Kilgallen had a good contact within the Dallas Police Department. He gave her a copy of the original police log that chronicled the minute-by-minute activities of the department on the day of the assassination, as reflected in the radio communications. This enabled her to report that the first reaction of Chief Jesse Curry to the shots in Dealey Plaza was: "Get a man on top of the overpass and see what happened up there". Kilgallen pointed out that he lied when he told reporters the next day that he initially thought the shots were fired from the Texas Book Depository.
Kilgallen also had a source within the Warren Commission. This person gave her an 102 page segment dealing with Jack Ruby before it was published. She published details of this leak and so therefore ensuring that this section appeared in the final version of the report. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the leak and on 30th September, 1964, Kilgallen reported in the New York Journal American that the FBI "might have been more profitably employed in probing the facts of the case rather than how I got them".
In another of her stories, Kilgallen claimed that Marina Oswald knew a great deal about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. If she told the "whole story of her life with President Kennedy's alleged assassin, it would split open the front pages of newspapers all over the world."
Kilgallen's reporting brought her into contact with Mark Lane who had himself received an amazing story from the journalist Thayer Waldo. He had discovered that Jack Ruby, J. D. Tippet and Bernard Weismann had a meeting at the Carousel Club eight days before the assassination. Waldo, who worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, was too scared to publish the story. He had other information about the assassination. However, he believed that if he told Lane or Kilgallen he would be killed. Kilgallen's article on the Tippit, Ruby and Weissman meeting appeared on the front page of the Journal American. Later she was to reveal that the Warren Commission were also tipped off about this gathering. However, their informant added that there was a fourth man at the meeting, an important figure in the Texas oil industry.
Kilgallen published several articles about how important witnesses had been threatened by the Dallas Police or the FBI. On 25th September, 1964, Kilgallen published an interview with Acquilla Clemons, one of the witnesses to the shooting of J. D. Tippet. In the interview Clemons told Kilgallen that she saw two men running from the scene, neither of whom fitted Oswald's description. Clemons added: "I'm not supposed to be talking to anybody, might get killed on the way to work."
Kilgallen was keen to interview Jack Ruby. She went to see Ruby's lawyer Joe Tonahill and claimed she had a message for his client from a mutual friend. It was only after this message was delivered that Ruby agreed to be interviewed by Kilgallen. Tonahill remembers that the mutual friend was from San Francisco and that he was involved in the music industry. Kennedy researcher, Greg Parker, has suggested that the man was Mike Shore, co-founder of Reprise Records.
The interview with Ruby lasted eight minutes. No one else was there. Even the guards agreed to wait outside. Officially, Kilgallen never told anyone about what Ruby said to her during this interview. Nor did she publish any information she obtained from the interview. There is a reason for this. Kilgallen was in financial difficulties in 1964. This was partly due to some poor business decisions made by her husband, Richard Kollmar. The couple had also lost the lucrative contract for their radio show Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick. Kilgallen also was facing an expensive libel case concerning an article she wrote about Elaine Shepard. Her financial situation was so bad she fully expected to lose her beloved house in New York City.
Kilgallen was a staff member of Journal American. Any article about the Jack Ruby interview in her newspaper would not have helped her serious financial situation. Therefore she decided to include what she knew about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Murder One. She fully expected that this book would earn her a fortune. This is why she refused to tell anyone, including Mark Lane, about what Ruby told her in the interview arranged by Tonahill. In October, 1965, told Lane that she had a new important informant in New Orleans.
Kilgallen began to tell friends that she was close to discovering who assassinated Kennedy. According to David Welsh of Ramparts Magazine Kilgallen "vowed she would 'crack this case.' And another New York show biz friend said Dorothy told him in the last days of her life: "In five more days I'm going to bust this case wide open." Aware of what had happened to Bill Hunter and Jim Koethe, Kilgallen handed a draft copy of her chapter on the assassination to her friend, Florence Smith.
On 8th November, 1965, Kilgallen, was found dead in her New York apartment. She was fully dressed and sitting upright in her bed. The police reported that she had died from taking a cocktail of alcohol and barbiturates. The notes for the chapter she was writing on the case had disappeared. Her friend, Florence Smith, died two days later. The copy of Kilgallen's article were never found.
Some of her friends believed Kilgallen had been murdered. Marc Sinclaire was Kilgallen's personal hairdresser. He often woke Kilgallen in the morning. Kilgallen was usually out to the early hours of the morning and like her husband always slept late. When he found her body he immediately concluded she had been murdered.
(1) Kilgallen was not sleeping in her normal bedroom. Instead she was in the master bedroom, a room she had not occupied for several years.
(2) Kilgallen was wearing false eyelashes. According to Sinclaire she always took her eyelashes off before she went to bed.
(3) She was found sitting up with the book, The Honey Badger, by Robert Ruark, on her lap. Sinclaire claims that she had finished reading the book several weeks earlier (she had discussed the book with Sinclaire at the time).
(4) Kilgallen had poor eyesight and could only read with the aid of glasses. Her glasses were not found in the bedroom where she died.
(5) Kilgallen was found wearing a bolero-type blouse over a nightgown. Sinclaire claimed that this was the kind of thing "she would never wear to go to bed".
Mark Lane also believed that Kilgallen had been murdered. He said that "I would bet you a thousand-to-one that the CIA surrounded her (Kilgallen) as soon as she started writing those stories." The only new person who became close to Kilgallen during the last few months was her new secret lover. In her book, Kilgallen, Lee Israel calls him the "Out-of-Towner".
According to Israel she met him in Carrara in June, 1964, during a press junket for journalists working in the film industry. The trip was paid for by Twentieth Century-Fox who used it to publicize three of its films: The Sound of Music, The Agony and the Ecstasy and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Israel claims that the "Out-of-Towner" went up to Kilgallen and asked her if she was Clare Booth Luce. This is in itself an interesting introduction. Kilgallen and Luce did not look like each other. Luce and her husband (Henry Luce) however were to play an important role in the events surrounding the assassination. Luce owned Life Magazine and arranged to buy up the Zapruder Film . Clare Booth Luce had also funded covert operations against Fidel Castro (1961-63).
It has been suggested by John Simkin that Kilgallen suspected that "Out-of-Towner" was a CIA spy. She therefore told her friends this is what he said so that if anything happened to her, a future investigator would realize that he was a CIA agent with links to Clare Booth Luce.
Lee Israel has always refused to identify the "Out-of-Towner". In 1993 the investigative reporter, David Herschel, discovered that his real name was Ron Pataky. In 1965 he had been a journalist working for the Columbus Citizen-Journal. He admitted that he was the "Out-of-Towner" and that he worked on articles about the assassination of John F. Kennedy with Kilgallen. Pataky also confessed to meeting Kilgallen several times in the Regency Hotel. However, he denied Lee Israel's claim that he was with her on the night of her death.
In December, 2005, Lee Israel admitted that the "Out-of-Towner" was Ron Pataky and that "he had something to do with it (the murder of Dorothy Kilgallen)".