“Bijan Bayne is a superb writer, but this time around it appears as if he’s about to take us on a mind-numbing journey. Blackout looks fascinating”.- Scott Russell, Author, Joey -An Extraordinary Life & A Dream Fulfilled , and author of the forthcoming novel Prophet’s End.
Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation, interviews me about the 50th anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be inducted:
FROM CHAPTER ONE:
When Jeppsen coordinates his missions, he tries to think like the director of counterintelligence, so his reports will meet with sanction. “The Gray Ghost” is a Yale man, where he had founded the literary publication Furioso, and befriended e.e. Cummings and Ezra Pound. Jeppsen had heard that in the 1950’s, the chief had led missions that were successful removing documents from foreign embassies, so he could see why getting Kilgallen’s notes was so important. The old guys say “The Gray Ghost” was so expert at opening targets’ mail, he called himself “The Postmaster”. He had dirt on some of Washington’s most powerful people, and through the press, those in New York and Hollywood. He was in charge of the company’s work with both the FBI and the Mafia. A few years back, he had lived to brief Dulles about his “fishing expeditions”, news from monitored hotel rooms in Washington, secret photographs, gossip at ritzy dinner parties. Jeppsen knows how to convince the old man he was on the right track.
ALSO FROM CHAPTER ONE:
…Kilgallen was only four years older than JFK, and had known of him for decades before his murder. In the 1940’s, Jack Kennedy worked as correspondent for the Chicago Herald-American, a Hearst newspaper in the same chain as her New York Journal-American, and even wrote for the Journal in 1945 at the end of the war (as Lieutenant John F. Kennedy). She viewed him as not just another politician like, say Harry Truman or FDR, but a man who wrote books and appreciated culture. Dorothy never thought Kennedy was perfect. In 1962, she implied that actress Marilyn Monroe was having an affair with a highly placed government official, meaning JFK. But she didn’t judge men that way.
Dorothy is not alone on the What’s My Line panel in her admiration of Kennedy. Like Dorothy, host John Daly is Irish. Boston-born, he is a product of the Tilton School, an institution similar to the Choate of JFK’s youth.
Arlene Francis is also a Bostonian. Dorothy is envious that Arlene, an actress of Armenian origin married to playwright Martin Gabel, was considered the glamorous panelist. As for humorist Bennet Cerf, head of Random House Books, Kennedy’s quick wit distinguished him from other national leaders. Kennedy had embodied the style, class, and show business aura shared by the stars of What’s My Line. He was one of their own. So was his fashionable, Manhattan raised wife Jackie. With their love of the arts, and their youthful appearances, the Kennedy’s were good for America. That goodness died in Dallas.
Cerf finds Kilgallen’s interest in the assassination more professional than political, because Dorothy had been a Hearst newspaperwoman, which made her a rather conservative Catholic. He feels her adulterous lifestyle in conflict with that. But his only real objection about Dorothy, is that the private dressing room conversation of the panelists found its way into her column. Once, John Daly learned newsman Mike Wallace was scheduled to be the mystery guest. Daly had publicly criticized Wallace when the former interviewed mobster Mickey Cohen, and ABC made Daly retract his comments. Daly threatened to skip hosting that week, but Wallace cancelled. Dorothy wrote about it in The Voice of Broadway. Things like that fostered distrust between her and her co-panelists. So they watched what they said, and even did, in her presence. Daly didn’t speak to Dorothy, except on the stage, for six months after the Wallace incident.
The Kennedy’s were a cottage industry for entertainers and publishers. Their images graced the covers of magazines, record albums, coloring books, the family was satirized in plays and on tv skits, and their faces, and news of them, from their touch football games to their sailing, sold comic books, postcards, movie magazines, toys, games and paintings. Retailers stocked as much First Family paraphernalia as they could order and keep on shelves. Beauty salons were deluged with requests for Jackie hairdos. Women purchased pillbox hats and monochrome suits. Men, following the tousled president’s lead, discarded their custom for wearing hats. For Dorothy, the pursuit of the truth in the Kennedy murder investigation was combination of personal commitment and the scoop of the century. When legal minds such as Mark Lane and Jim Garrison agreed with her the Warren Report seemed like a whitewash, it only spurred her on. It amused Jeppsen that she even enlisted her bumbling, boozing husband Dick Kollmar.
The Kilgallen’s live between Madison and Park, in a building with a first floor façade in Georgian stone, its upper four floors also brick- with three parallel windows facing East 68th. Dorothy works and sleeps in a room on the fifth floor she calls “the Cloop.” It is her sanctuary, and she does not permit anyone else to be around her there. It has chartreuse carpeting, flowered wallpaper, and embroidered organdie curtains tied back with taffeta bows.
From the Lennox Hill command center across the street, Jeppsen and Reid observed that late one night, with the lights on in the brownstone town house at 45 East 68th, Kollmar positioned himself, broomstick in hand, leaning out of one of their fifth-floor corner windows. Kilgallen went outside to East 68th Street…
FROM CHAPTER TWO:
Jeppsen graduated sixth in his class. His first salary was a little over $5,000 a year in 1961. He moved to an apartment at 1500 Arlington Boulevard outside of Washington. A trainee had a couple options after graduation. One could go to Jungle Warfare School in the Panama Canal Zone, or directly to one’s first station, which for most of them, at least stateside, was for the Directorate of Plans, in temporary World War Two buildings on Ohio Drive near the Potomac River. In no hurry to join his colleagues in “covert collections”, writing reports all day at a desk, Jeppsen enrolled in the jungle school. It didn’t matter that most of what he learned there, would be of no use in the field. In his room, as he stared at the covers of his briefing materials, his mind traveled back to being dropped from a plane in the middle of a Panamanian jungle with little more than a knife. The jungle was quite real, this was no “farm”. The object was to find one’s way out. Calling on his sense of direction, his memory of the flight above the terrain, sounds of animals, and eventually, a stream, Jeppsen made it out on a sweltering morning after a night he had tried, without much luck, to sleep as far from water, mosquitoes, and trees (couldn’t see the monkeys and snakes) as possible. Days earlier, he listened to accounts of men who never found their way out, who had to be found. Jeppsen had put those out of his mind as soon as he heard them. They came up again after he was safe, but over cold beers, they sounded more interesting.
In 1961, in those old buildings on Ohio Drive, new agents attended more classes. The work conditions were horrible. On the walls in the back of the classrooms, signs read “Pause For The Planes”, because there was no use talking when the jets to and from nearby National Airport flew by. That wasn’t all. At his desk, Jeppsen could see the ground underneath the floor, which had chafed apart in places. They had all seen the artist’s rendering of the headquarters being built out in Langley, Virginia, secreted in the woods. No one was happier to start working there than Jeppsen, not even the old OSS guys. Since almost all them were veterans, they were used to barracks and spartan surroundings. And they lived in lovely Washington homes, or worked in interesting foreign stations.
But in those meager buildings, Jeppsen and his colleagues had sat riveted, as details of the Bay of Pigs invasion were shared by instructors. A shiver shot up his neck with the memory of their first hearing that troops had landed in Cuba, and the class broke out in applause. Later that week, they heard the worst, and were promised an analytical evaluation of the action by a “Baron”.
My latest for The Shadow League: Dominance Is Good For Sport:
I wrote this piece about March 22, 1967, when Muhammad Ali fought Zora Folley, & for his career 50 years ago:
FROM CHAPTER ONE:
For the termination, the Technical Services Staff of the CIA, run by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, can recommend any number of drugs which could be discreetly and fatally slipped into the food or drink of a target. Jeppsen made a note to himself to acquire a recommendation, complete with pro’s, con’s, time of effect, and suggested means of administering. Though the notes were more important than anything, it is more difficult to stage a suicide than a murder. Because of that, Jeppsen needed a patsy, a probable suspect close to the target. That person would have to be followed, photographed, their routine movements reported, by a radio team alternating shifts. That team would help decide, based on the patsy’s routine, when and how to carry out the operation. Murder and magic shared diversion in common.
Jeppsen could work with a cut-out, a contractor, usually ex-FBI, former CIA or both, who specialized in carrying out the company’s domestic sabotage and liquidations. The most skilled of these highly paid men often gather at the home of the head of a contract company, at his Sleepy Hollow, Virginia home, to watch Notre Dame football games on Saturdays, and enjoy barbecues and clambakes. Jeppsen had heard several of them were Catholics, and old FBI buddies. The company calls their work “extraordinary rendition”. Jeppsen hated to use a cut-out for Operation Blackout, because that clique padded their expenses to support their split-level suburban homes, and their colorful Corvettes or Mustangs. He was just as good as they were. He’d have to think about the disadvantages. One immediately comes to mind. They would tell him how to do his job. Oh, and this is a national security matter. They would know too much.
FROM CHAPTER TWO:
Howard Rothberg picked her up one night in mid-August, after what he understood, from Dorothy, was “some kind of meeting.” She was toting a heavy sheath of papers inside the cover of the LIFE magazine issue that featured Lee Harvey Oswald on the cover, hefting the Mannlicher-Carcano with which he was alleged to have shot the President. Howard relieved her of the package as they left his car and headed toward a restaurant. “What are all these papers?” Howard asked.
She said matter-of-factly: “Oh, it’s just the Warren Commission Report.” That’s Dorothy. For her, the fantastic is routine, and the routine- the shows, the stars, the renown- would be fantastic to most anyone else.
FROM CHAPTER FOUR:
Kennedy inherited that pile of cinders. Initially Kennedy, a former employee of the Office of Naval Intelligence, was enraptured by the CIA, its impressive gadgets, code names and romantic secrecy. Kennedy was a fan of Ian Fleming’s 007 novels, it was his readership that catapulted the thrillers to best seller status in the States. The Bay of Pigs fiasco of 1961, and the faulty intelligence the CIA had provided him regarding its chances of success in overthrowing Castro, soured him on Dulles’ shop. He came to wish he had appointed his brother Bobby to a CIA post rather than as Attorney General, and confided to a staffer he would like to “splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” After The Bay of Pigs debacle, Kennedy fired Dulles, his Deputy Director Richard Bissell, and their cohort Charles Cabell. Air Force General Charles Cabell was a Dallas native, grandson of a Confederate general. His brother Earle was mayor of Dallas.
On June 28, 1961, Kennedy issued National Security Act Memoranda 55 and 57, placing CIA covert military authority back under the auspices of the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs. Finally, he drastically cut the agency’s budgets in both 1962 and 1963. Had he lived to serve out a second term, their funding would have been cut by 20 percent next year. What America did not know, was before Dulles was dismissed, he planned Operation Northwoods, in which innocent citizens would be shot on U.S. streets, planes hijacked, boats carrying Cuban refugees sunk, and bombs exploded from New York City to Miami, all to set pretense for a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union in late 1963. Dulles was gone by late 1963, and Kennedy was dead. The day of his murder, CIA Director John McCone visited Bobby Kennedy in McLean, Va. Bobby asked him if the agency had killed his brother.
John Kennedy had known Allen Dulles since 1954. When the freshman senator was in Palm Beach recovering from back surgery, his neighbors Charles and Jayne Wrightsman were hosting Dulles in their swank Spanish style estate. Wrightsman is an oil man, his wife a former swimsuit model 26 years his junior. Jayne is an art collector, who supervised Jackie Kennedy’s renovation of the White House. But as president, Kennedy came to view Dulles and his brother, the former Secretary of State, as men whom time had passed by, and whose views on U.S policy in Asia and Africa actually fed into Russian hands. Kennedy had first visited Vietnam as a congressman in 1951, had learned from diplomats and other French expatriates how scholarly and well respected former Boston student Ho Chi Minh was, and was told the French would never win there, nor would Minh concede. On the Senate floor in 1954, the year Kennedy first met Dulles, he called President Eisenhower’s support of the French war a poor use of money, “dangerously futile and self-destructive.” In late November of 1961, Dulles was fired, and presented with the National Security Medal by JFK at a ceremony in the company’s glossy new headquarters. Dulles had invited the heads of G.E., Ford, DuPont, Coca-Cola, G.M., Chase Manhattan, U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, IBM, CBS, and Time-Life to the proceedings.
Kennedy asked his confidant Arthur Schlesinger, Jr to put together a report about how to best re-organize the CIA. Schlesinger confirmed to Kennedy he was the man for the job, having worked for the OSS, and consulted the CIA. Schlesinger was still attending the same Washington dinner parties as CIA men Cord Meyer and Richard Helms.
The CIA ran a front known as the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Through generous company funding, this operation helped shape American opinion and taste. Funding went to arts projects, literary and political magazines like Encounter and Paris Review, and other humanities endeavors. It was through this shadow venture that Arthur Schlesinger, George Plimpton, Mark Rothko, Mary McCarthy, Robert Lowell, Isaiah Berlin and others came to influence our culture. Now the president was asking Schlesinger’s advice on dismantling the CIA. The scholar recommended the agency report all plans to a Joint Intelligence Board made up of White House and State Department staff. He also wrote the CIA should be split into two organizations, one covert, the other responsible for collection and analysis. Hearing this, Bobby Kennedy, told his brother they should hold off on such drastic changes until Dulles’ successor could be named.
I wrote about the only thing the world won’t let Serena Williams be: