Dorothy Kilgallen was one of the most outspoken journalists of mid-20th-century America.
Born 100 years ago today, Dorothy Kilgallen was one of the most outspoken journalists of mid-20th-century America. In New York society and across the U.S., she was known to have an opinion on everything – and a pithy way of stating it.
We’re remembering Kilgallen today with a few of her most quotable quotes.
“Things said to a reporter in confidence should be kept in confidence.”
Kilgallen wrote her column, The Voice of Broadway, for the New York Journal American from 1938 until her 1965 death. The column’s topics ranged all over, from gossip about town, to politics, to organized crime. Throughout her career, no matter how juicy or controversial a story, Kilgallen was staunch about refusing to reveal the identities of her sources.
“The New York of those days was a place in which external events were few and unexciting, and little girls were mostly to be happy at home.”
…This, clearly, in contrast to the New York of Kilgallen’s day, when there was much for a gossip columnist to report on. And Kilgallen didn’t just pass along the celebrity news – she was part of it, too. More than just a reporter, she was also a radio show host, a published author, a Pulitzer Prize nominee – and she was often ‘seen on the scene.’ She attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, co-produced a Broadway musical, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I’m tired of being the smartest person on the entire panel.”
Kilgallen was a regular panelist on popular and award-winning TV game show What’s My Line?, where she was known to milk her screen time for all it was worth…
“I don’t know anything about money. You’ll have to talk to my husband about that.”
That husband was actor Richard Kollmar, with whom she often worked, from the radio to Broadway to a memorable episode of What’s My Line?…
“I get most of my stuff during the day. People seem to know the days I’m writing a news column and call me with items.”
Kilgallen often took on controversial items, like the trial of Dr. Sam Sheppard for the murder of his wife. She also wrote on more than one occasion about, as she called them, “flying saucers” – believing that they were real and deserving of national attention. And there was one particularly prominent and controversial story Kilgallen tackled…
“At any rate, the whole thing smells a bit fishy.”
That was the story of President John F. Kennedy’s murder. Though she never revealed its contents, Kilgallen claimed to have conducted an interview with Jack Ruby while he was on trial for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Shortly after, she published Ruby’s testimony to the Warren Commission – long before it was officially made public. Kilgallen’s columns made it clear that she smelled a rat and didn’t believe that the story being told to the American public was the truth.
“I’m going to break the real story and have the biggest scoop of the century.”
A little over a year later on November 8, 1965, Kilgallen died without having broken any conclusive story about JFK’s assassination. The timing of her demise, combined with the mystery surrounding how she died (the coroner’s official verdict on her cause of death was “circumstances undetermined”), has led some to speculate that her death was part of a vast conspiracy that encompassed JFK’s assassination as well.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever know the truth of what Kilgallen wanted to share with the world, or the real story of her death. But guessing at the truth is tantalizing… as the great gossip columnist certainly knew.