As we have pointed out before, one of the unfortunate lessons death care workers learn is how few people, once they have passed, are remembered. Family members carry memories but seldom beyond one generation. Historical and entertainment figures tend to be revered for longer periods of time, but even their presence is usually forgotten.
But, an ironic event every now and then will bring back strong memories of someone who has expired in the distant past. One such occasion happened recently with the reappearance of Dorothy Kilgallen on the national scene.
Reporter, columnist, and television personality, Kilgallen died under what some have called “mysterious” circumstances on November 8, 1965. Although the death was said to be caused by a mixture of alcohol and drug consumption, the official coroner’s report ruled the cause to be “Circumstances Undetermined.”
Attorney and author, Mark Shaw, recently released a book about Kilgallen’s death called “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much” – based on the information in this book, the District Attorney’s office in New York reopened the Kilgallen case. All was, however, to no avail, as the DA’s office just recently closed the case again, saying there was no evidence of foul play. Shaw continues to crusade for more investigation.
Seeing the publicity about the Kilgallen legal maneuverings brings back some very positive memories about Kilgallen and her association with the very famous television game show, “What’s My Line?”
Panelists Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf, and Arlene Francis, along with moderator John Charles Daly, made this program a national phenomenon: clocking in at an incredible 17 year run, “What’s My Line?” is the longest running primetime game show in television history. 25-30 million viewers tuned in each week. Incredibly since there were no repeat programs in those days, “What’s My Line” was broadcast 52 weeks a year. Only a handful of these programs were taped, so essentially, the panel saw each other virtually every Sunday night at 9:30pm (CST) for a live broadcast.
A large part of the appeal was not just the game itself, but the personalities involved. All were highly successful in independent walks of life.
Moderator Daly is one of the few personalities to appear on all three networks simultaneously – he hosted ABC News broadcast, did “What’s My Line?” on CBS, and occasionally filled in on NBC’s “The Today Show.” On two very important occasions (the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the death of F.D.R.) Daly interrupted network programming, inventing the phrase, “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin.”
Bennett Cerf was the founder of Random House Publishing, which featured such writers as William Faulkner, Truman Capote, and Eugene O’Neill. He also wrote extensively including columns in magazines and humorous collections.
Arlene Francis was a successful actress who appeared in numerous plays and films. Our favorite film role was in Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three,” where she played opposite James Cagney.
Kilgallen basically had a job that hardly exists anymore. She was a columnist and reporter whose work appeared in 146 newspapers, making her one of the most well-read writers of her day. Particularly known to be an outstanding court reporter, she was famous for her coverage of famous murder trails, which are collected in a book titled, “Murder One.” It was her coverage of the Jack Ruby trail in Dallas, Texas that Mark Shaw and others feel led to her death. Kilgallen was very skeptical of the conclusions of the Warren Commission’s report on John Kennedy’s assassination. At the time of her death, Kilgallen was preparing to issue a series of columns which would “blow the lid off” the Kennedy assassination.
In his book, Shaw pulls together a series of circumstantial evidence which does raise a lot of questions about Kilgallen’s demise. Shaw’s conclusions seem a bit far-fetched, but it makes for a compelling read.
If you have an interest in any of this material, there are several books that we would recommend: “Murder One” by Kilgallen; “Kilgallen” by Lee Isreal; “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much” by Mark Shaw; “At Random” by Bennett Cerf; and “What’s My Line?” by Gil Fates.
If you watched this program and were familiar with these personalities, these books will bring back some very pleasant recollections of some of those who have gone before us.