Dorthy Kilgallen was 52 years old when she died of an apparent overdose of Seconal and booze on November 8, 1965. Although accounts differ, she was found dead by her maid (or her hairdresser) who came to wake her up for the day and found her dead in a room she never slept in, wearing a nightgown she never wore to bed, wearing her false eyelashes which she always removed before slumber, with a book she had finished reading weeks before, without her reading glasses nearby which she desperately needed.
Dorothy, or Dollie Mae as her family called her, was a writer and journalist for the now defunct New York Journal American, and whose on-the-town ‘bon vivant’ Manhattan social lifestyle was written and peppered extensively with socialite gossip in her column “The Voice Of Broadway”.
The period of time before her demise, she was immersed with the Warren Commission report, staked out a possible conspiracy evidence as to who killed JFK, and got in good with Jack Ruby who granted her exclusive interviews. Dorothy, whose fame soared during her 15 years as a regular panelist on CBS’ “What’s My Line, came home that night, post show, after last being seen at the Regency Hotel – likely with one of her lovers or celebrity pals and died. Some say it was an accidental overdose of pills and booze, others say she was murdered. Conspiracy theories swirled around that she was too close to Ruby and knew too much. Botched coroner reports will continue to make this an open ended mystery. (I think she accidentally took too many pills. She had a weak constitution, never exercised nor walked from one place to another, and suffered many hospital turns due to dire chronic case of enemia. So, I sense her little body couldn’t hold up.)
Her marriage to actor and producer Richard Kollmar was a case of two people living separate lives and their breakfast radio show “Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick” which was broadcast live once a week from their breakfast table after a swinging night on the town while sporting hangovers – was done.
I’m fascinated by Dorothy Kilgallen’s life. Her existence was before my time, and her name isn’t known by those of my generation and after. Yet, despite all this, plus the mystery surrounding her death, she was a lady to be admired. She was a tenacious female journalist in the 30’s and 40’s when you only saw ladies as cub reporters in movies sparring with the likes of Cary Grant.
She took on two older male journalists in a race around the world where she rode the Hindenburg, sailed on ships and flew on rickety airplanes to tick off her national travel (She received her required passport and visas for dozens of different countries within a span of two days – a feat all its own). She lost, but she had a ripping yarn to tell in her book about her travels.
My fascination with her must be a panacea for other things going on in my life. I’ve suddenly become addicted to watching old episodes of “What’s My Line” on YouTube. The regular panel of Arleen Francis, Bennett Cerf and Dorothy (along with host Jon Charles Daly and rotating guest panelists like Tony Randall, Ernie Kovacs, Steve Allen and many others of the day) would sweep in after their introductions by Johnny Olsen. The men would be of “Mad Men” style with their crisp suits, skinny ties, thick framed glasses and slick wet hair, would bow and introduce the panelist who was about to sit next to them. The ladies would swoop in with high fashion evening gowns, hair teased and sprayed, thick eyeliner and false eyelashes, their jewels twinkling in the studio light on the rafters. Everyone looked like they were pleasantly buzzed on green room cocktails and game for a good game. Then, after on-air good nights, would step into waiting limos to head over to ’21’ or ‘Trader Vic’s’ for a nice saucer of scotch and good gossip before heading home in the early hours of the morning.
It seemed to be an elegant time, a moment in history where everyone spoke in practiced theater utterance, with soft “R’s” and rehearsed mild British vowels mixed with old New York accents devised from the accents of 19th century first generation of Italian, Irish and Jewish immigrant family and neighbors. The polite and funny banter and warm, smart repartee hid the antisemitism, racism, underlying rumblings of the red scare of Communism and the ruinous blacklisting that was going on at that time.
I love to watch the superficial stuff on the black and white old tubal kinescope camera, but go back to that time? Not a chance.