For those who haven't yet seen the film (and we recommend that you do), Can You Every Forgive Me? is a biographical drama based on Lee Israel's 2008 memoir of the same name. It stars Melissa McCarthy as Israel and follows her as she tries to revitalize her failing writing career by forging letters from deceased authors and celebrities, including Brooks. (Louise Brooks receives a shout-out in the film itself, and her portrait can be seen in the film hanging above Israel's desk.)
Dorothy Kilgallen, a popular newspaper columnist, is also mentioned because she (along with actress Talullah Bankhead) were both the subject of earlier bestselling books by Israel. Though not well remembered today, Kilgallen was a major celebrity in her time who was once called “One of the greatest women writers in the world” by Ernest Hemingway. Famed attorney F. Lee Bailey called Kilgallen “A very bright and very good reporter of criminal cases, the best there was,” and as one of the first female media icons, her accomplishments rival modern day legends like Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, and Diane Sawyer. Kilgallen also played a small but significant role in helping keep Louise Brooks' name in the public eye. (More on that below.)
Kilgallen's columns featured mostly show business news and gossip, but ventured into other topics, such as politics and organized crime. She wrote front-page articles on the Sam Sheppard murder trial, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; the latter infuriated President Lyndon Johnson and his administration. (Kilgallen was publicly skeptical of the conclusions of the Warren Commission's report into the assassination of Kennedy and wrote several newspaper articles to that effect.) Kilgallen also feuded with Frank Sinatra, and was one of four witnesses who testified for the defense of comedian Lenny Bruce during his obscenity trial in New York City.
Kilgallen has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard - in fact, she is among the first 500 people who were chosen to receive the first stars on the walk of fame. (The stars were installed on sidewalks in 1960 and 1961, several years before her passing.)
Kilgallen died in 1965, under what some consider mysterious circumstances. A 2016 book on Kilgallen by Mark Shaw, titled The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, looks at her life and death.
But what about Kilgallen and Brooks?
I don't know that the two women ever met, but I wonder if they did.
Here are a few instances over a 23 year period of Brooks' being mentioned in Kilgallen's column. Dates are approximate, as Kilgallen's syndicated columns appeared in various newspapers on various dates. (These dates are drawn from the extensive Louise Brooks Society chronology on the Louise Brooks Society website.)
June 26, 1941
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen writes: "Louise Brooks, the silent screen star, suffered severe burns recently. Had all her hair singed off."
Nov. 11, 1941
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen notes Brook is "stranded in Wichita, Kan. and s-o-s-ing friends for any kind of job."
January 29, 1943
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen writes, "Do you know that Louise Brooks, the black-haired silent cinema star, is in town looking unbelievably young and pretty and in the mood to do a show?"
August 20, 1946
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen writes "Remember Hollywood When - Louise Brooks was a flapper siren with the Rivoli Theater in New York City."
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen notes, "Remember a silent screen actress named Louise Brooks? She is writing an autobiographical novel which is said to be a sizzler. Several Hollywood personalities have begged her to include them out...."
Nov. 28, 1952
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen reports Brooks will marry merchant marine Jimmy Dunn.
August 7, 1957
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen writes "Remember Louise Brooks, the cutie-pie of the early movies? She's living in Gotham now, and has just finished a book about her life in the turbulent twenties. Those who've previewed it say it's hilarious."
August 14, 1959
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen writes "The Museum of Modern Art's recent homage to Marlene Dietrich will be emulated by the 92nd St. YMHA when they inaugurate a similar tribute to Louise Brooks, a star of the silent screen. Miss Brooks, now in Rochester doing research for a book on famous women in cinema history, will come to Gotham for the festivities in October."
December 18, 1964
Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen writes "Louise Brooks, a cinema star of long ago (no living in Rochester N.Y.) is almost finished writing her autobiography, titled Naked on My Goat. It's reported to be 'really wild,' and quite a few Hollywood old-timers are worrying because word is around that she's naming names and pulling no punches."