Excerpt From My Upcoming Novel “BLACKOUT”


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.


…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…


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”.

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