Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dorothy Kilgallen, Taking It On The Chin

I am rather obsessed with watching the old What's My Line? & I've Got A Secret episodes. The shows' charms lay as much in the panelists themselves as it does with the guests (including "famous" folks I've never heard of) and, of course, the numerous delights that such vintage television provides. I've mentioned my delight in calling panelists names, simply because of what I'm continually discovering about them, but sometimes I'm just darn cruel.

For example, I'm so rigorous in my negative comments about panelist Dorothy Kilgallen's chin, saying things like, "I must Google to see if there's record of the incident with a horse that must have stepped on her face," that hubby was starting to become immune to them.

But now I feel badly about that... And not because hubby rolls his eyes at me with silent judgement for my rudeness or with boredom.

In deciding to investigate Kilgallen's chin, I discovered that Frank Sinatra and I held the same views on it. Performing in Vegas, Old Blue Eyes called her "the chinless wonder", and at the Copa, he said, "everyone in New York is here tonight except for Dorothy Kilgallen... she's out looking for her chin." Just more to love, or hate, about Sinatra, depending your personal views on the man.

But in discovery of such statements, I learned more about Dorothy Kilgallen, history, culture -- and myself -- than I ever could have imagined.

Kilgallen was more deeply entrenched in the romantic, mysterious, fascinating world of the late 50's and 60's that I prefer to live in, at least research wise.

Kilgallen left a small Hollywood career for that of a journalist. She was not only a gossip columnist, but a crime journalist -- which makes her more than the stereotypical female press person you think of, but a woman ahead of her times pursuing a profession deemed unsuitable for females. She also became the first woman to fly around the world.

But more than this, she was a woman. A woman who, lonely in her marriage to a cheating husband, turned to singer Johnnie Ray, a man 14 years younger than she, for what would be not only a passionate love affair, but a long-term one as well. This is where the feud with Sinatra is said to be at least partially rooted:
Sinatra had loathed Johnnie Ray from the moment the young musical upstart hit the scene. Ray's conquest of the pop charts in '51 (the top three spots all at once occupied by the same artist) had come at a time when the once (and soon to be again) successful Sinatra couldn't draw headlines unless it was for indulging in his penchant for punching paparazzi. So in '51, Frank was outraged to see that his place in pop music's upper echelon had been replaced by a skinny, half-deaf, androgynous cry-baby who all the scandal sheets proclaimed as a raging homosexual, and he was further incensed by the fact that the love of his life Ava Gardner had a star-struck obsession with the singer. Frank harbored a lifelong grudge.

Dorothy Kilgallen had been less than flattering to Sinatra in her popular opinion columns, citing his violent behavior and brooding public persona.
All of this melted my cold negative commenting heart a bit, but there is more.

As a gossip columnist in this time period, it would only be natural that Dorothy would know of and write stories about Marilyn Monroe. But I didn't know that she was one of the first to write of Monroe in some rather surprising ways, including her death:
On Aug. 3, 1962, Kilgallen became the first journalist to refer publicly to Marilyn Monroe's relationship with a Kennedy. Within 48 hours, Marilyn was found dead of a drug overdose at her Los Angeles residence. The inquiry into her death was marred by numerous unanswered questions and contradictions in the medical findings.* Dorothy publicly challenged the authorities with tough questions. For instance, she wrote, "If the woman described as Marilyn's 'housekeeper' [Eunice Murray] was really a housekeeper, why was her bedroom such a mess? It was a small house and should have been easy to keep tidy." Kilgallen also wanted to know "why was Marilyn's door locked that night, when she didn't usually lock it? If she were just trying to get to sleep, and took the overdose of pills accidentally, why was the light on? Usually people sleep better in the dark." And she asked, "Why did the first doctor [to arrive on the scene] have to call the second doctor before calling the police? Any doctor, even a psychiatrist, knows a dead person when he sees one, especially when rigor mortis has set in and there are marks of lividity on the surface of the face and body. Why the consultation? Why the big time gap in such a small town? Mrs. Murray gets worried at about 3 a.m., and it's almost 6 a.m. before the police get to the scene."

Kilgallen wrote that "the real story hasn't been told, not by a long shot." Such bold reporting was not common in American journalism at that time.
In a case of what can now surely be called foreshadowing, this is eerily similar to the death of Kilgallen herself, just a few years later.

On November 8, 1965, Dorothy Kilgallen was found dead in her own home. A death with equally strange details, powerful connections, and a poor investigation of its very own.

She was found by her hairstylist, Marc Sinclaire, who after discovering her, told friend Charles Simpson, "When I tell you the bed she was found in, and how I found her, you're going to know she was murdered."

Things amiss include:

Kilgallen not sleeping in that room or bed.

A woman who was normally cold, putting the air conditioning on when it was cold outside.

Kilgallen routinely slept in pajamas and old socks, no make up etc., yet she was found not only wearing a peignoir set, but with hair and makeup in place as if she were going out.

Kilgallen had a book, The Honey Badger, by Robert Ruark, laid out on the bed next to her, but not only was it not in the proper position for her if she was reading it, it was a book she'd already finished reading & discussed with friends -- and while Dorothy needed glasses to read, they weren't found in the room.

There was a drink on the nightstand by the bed, but where Kilgallen sat, it was out of reach.

Oh, and while we're at it, those first at the scene say there was a piece of paper by the door, eluded to by some as a suicide note, but it was never produced and no one claims to have read it.

While there are many other curious things about the way cause of death was noted (and by whom), the story officially touted is that Kilgallen, like Monroe, had over-dosed, either as a suicide or more likely by accident.

As Kilgallen wrote about Monroe, why would a woman seeking to sleep, wear an outfit she never wore, put herself in a room so cold as to be uncomfortable, not remove her eyelashes -- or at least the very uncomfortable to lean upon hair pieces, get a book she's not only already read but then not bring along her glasses, and put a drink (medicated or not) on a table near the bed but then place herself such that she would not be able to reach it easily? And all this in a room she didn't sleep in?

Curiosity only grows when one discovers what Kilgallen had been doing in the years between Monroe's death and Kilgallen's own.

Just months after Monroe's death, on November 22, 1963, JFK was assassinated and Kilgallen was not only upset by the event, but was investigating it. She didn't believe the Oswald story at all, and when Jack Ruby shot Oswald, she arranged to have a private interview with Ruby.

No one is certain what was said in that interview, but Kilgallen often said she had something big, which would crack the JFK investigation wide -- and then some. She continued not only to investigate, but pen columns about it too, and it was said that the Ruby interview and other details would be published in her forthcoming book, Murder One, which was contracted to write for fellow What's My Line? panelist, Bennett Cerf, & Random House -- published without any such chapter(s) after her death. Kilgallen's file of notes on all this, seen by a number of persons, has yet to surface. Both the known and unknown details are fascinating -- and the stuff for conspiracy theorists, such as this article, Who Killed Dorothy Kilgallen? by Robert Morningstar.

As easily drawn into such things as I can be, I'm leaving the threads here for you to follow-up as you choose, while I continue a different path.

What strikes me, shames me too, are other thoughts....

I don't like to reduce people, especially women, to such symbolic status that their humanity is removed, but in this case, Marilyn and Dorothy represent far more than just themselves.



While not complete mirror opposites, it's clear they each offer moments upon which to reflect upon their differences. Marilyn Monroe's wish for the sort of respect and admiration Dorothy Kilgallen had is widely documented. And Dorothy, who loved opulent surroundings and personal glamour, likely wished, at least from time to time, for some of Marilyn's beauty and to be seen and coveted in such terms. Neither was granted their wishes, of course, but such personal and private dreams are larger than just these two women.

If the woman of beauty, a man's plaything, is understood to matter less in this world, her afterlife continues to grow her legend. Monroe's beauty & status as sex icon only gathers more strength, even if she herself is batted about and accepted as a pawn at the whims of men and society.

If a woman's intelligence, however threatening, is supposed to matter more than earthy beauty, why is Kilgallen the less known? Her valor and strength are not reported and commented upon, even upon the anniversaries of her death. She is not revered -- in fact, she's nearly lost to history already.

We may never know what happened to each of these women. Their stories may or may not be tied to such grand crimes and cover-ups as the conspiracy theorists argue. But the really horrific facts are the if, how, and why these women are remembered. Conspiracy cover-ups aside, our collective societal values have been uncovered, and I do not like what I see.

Or what I myself have said and done with comments about Dorothy's chin.

If you can hear me now, Dorothy, you have my most sincere apologies.

For more on Dorothy Kilgallen:

What's My Line?: Daly & Dorothy... The Stalwart & The Tragedy (scroll to mid-page for the start of Kilgallen's story)

One of the most discussed books on Kilgallen's death is Kilgallen: A Biography of Dorothy Kilgallen, by Lee Israel.

The book was rumored to be made into a film, with, according to Johnnie Ray in a 1981 interview, Shirley MacLaine to play Dorothy Kilgallen (and David Bowie to play Johnnie Ray). Here's what Johnnie Ray had to say about the book and the matter of Dorothy's death:



Also of interest, at least to me, is this book: Johnnie Ray and Miss Kilgallen, by Bonnie Hill.

You can watch the first episode of What's My Line? aired after Dorothy's death (Part One, which Daly's comments, Part Two, Part Three, with the panelists' comments on Dorothy's passing as part of their nightly good-byes).

See also, Kilgallen's connections to Dr. Sam Sheppard's trial.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comments:

Blogger jason said...

Completely fascinating!

I'd only ever heard the name, Dorothy Killgallen, I think. Johnny Ray I've always wondered about, since the song Come on Eileen.

6:48 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home