Monday, November 19, 2012


1979, 1980 Dell edition
Lee Israel
Original price $2.95, purchase price unknown
Very worn and falling apart paperback

Israel tells the life of the clever but naive, controversial gossip columnist/crime reporter/What's My Line? panelist.  This is one of the few biographies I own or have even read that seems to spend about an equal amount on every decade of the subject's adulthood, but then it was an eventful life, with 23-year-old "Dolly Mae" in a round-the-world race that started on the Hindenburg, and the 50-year-old getting an exclusive interview with Jack Ruby, as part of her investigation into JFK's assassination.  Kilgallen's death in 1965 is still unresolved, although Israel floated a few theories back in '79.

I've read this book a few times, although it's yet another biography of a celebrity that I didn't know much about before.  (I'd seen a few What's My Line? episodes, as well as her uncredited cameo in 1964's Pajama Party.)  She seems to have been much brighter and open-minded than Hedda and Louella, although definitely still with blind spots.  Israel does a good job in showing Kilgallen in all her complexity, and it's certainly an entertaining and thought-provoking read. 

While Israel is a good writer (although she or her editor let through a typo of "girls" for "curls"), this reading I found myself a bit frustrated with some of the conclusions Israel jumps to without enough evidence, although there are definitely some odd circumstances surrounding Kilgallen's death, including how she was dressed and who first discovered the death.  (She was "found dead" at least twice.)  Kilgallen's whole life was filled with secrecy, from the affairs of herself and her husband, to a judge's abrupt statement that a not-yet-tried defendant was guilty, which Dorothy told no one of publicly until a decade later, unwilling to break a confidence.

Adding to the oddity, when I Googled Lee Israel, I found out that in 1991 she committed forgery of Noel Coward's letters, because "she was jobless, broke and living in a fly-infested apartment with her 21-year-old cat, Jersey."  She fooled many, until the FBI trapped her.  It's the sort of story that Kilgallen herself would've enjoyed reporting.

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