Winchell, Walter, 1897-1972

Alternative names
Birth 1897-04-07
Death 1972-02-20

Biographical notes:

American journalist, newspaper columnist, and radio commentator.

From the description of Walter Winchell miscellaneous papers, 1936-1968. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 123429617

Walter Winchell was an American journalist and radio personality, remembered as the inventor of the celebrity gossip column. Born Walter Winschel in Harlem, New York, he left school in the sixth grade and worked odd jobs in the neighborhood and on local vaudeville stages. After serving in the navy in World War I, he became a journalist by selling short show business related articles to New York periodicals. Soon, his gossip column, commenting on public figures from entertainment to politics, was widely read and hugely influential. During the 1930s he became a radio commentator, and his trademark direct style and breakneck, insistent delivery made him a celebrity in his own right. His reputation and influence waned in the 1950s, partly due to his support of McCarthyism, although he remained familiar to a new generation as the narrator of the television show, The Untouchables. His influence in creating and feeding the American appetite for celebrity gossip is incalculable.

From the description of Walter Winchell letters to Mr. Klopp, 1932-1933. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 173022822

Walter Winchell was born on April 7, 1897 in New York City. In 1910, Winchell launched a career in vaudeville and spent several years as part of the Newsboys Sextet. In 1915, Winchell teamed with Rita Greene in a song and dance act and they toured until he enlisted in the Navy in 1917. Winchell officially started his journalism career in 1922, working for the Vaudeville News. In 1924, he went to work for the Evening Graphic, as dramatic critic and was given a Broadway column. By 1929, he was with the New York Daily Mirror, where he contributed a gossip column to until 1963. He made his radio debut in 1930 on CBS's Saks on Broadway, a 15-minute program devoted to show business news. In 1932, he began hosting The Jergens Journal, a show that mixed entertainment news with matters of national importance. He gained fame as an American journalist and was the subject of frequent analysis, comment, and controversy. Despite this, his entertainment news reports and his weekly radio program brought Winchell a huge audience and great influence from the 1930s to the 1950s. He was frequently censored for expressing his hatred of the Nazi Party in Germany and unfavorable remarks of certain Congressmen. After World War II, he was concerned with the spread of Communism and supported Senator Joseph McCarthy and the "Red Scare" investigations. Winchell also hosted The Walter Winchell Show (ABC, 1952-1960), The Walter Winchell Show (NBC, 1956), and The Walter Winchell File (1957-1958), which featured crime stories that Winchell had covered while working with the New York City Police Department. He was also the unseen narrator of the television drama series The Untouchables. Winchell died in Los Angeles, Calif. on February 20, 1972.

From the description of Papers, ca. 1920-ca. 1960. (University of California, Los Angeles). WorldCat record id: 765533775

Noted American newspaper and radio commentator; invented the gossip column at the New York Evening Graphic; worked for the new York Mirror for 34 years; narrated "The untouchables" television program.

From the description of Walter Winchell letter, 1941 November 27. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 76968841

Walter Winchell (1897-1972) gained acclaim as a journalist and gossip columnist with a career spanning five decades.

He contributed a column to the New York Daily Mirror for over 30 years, as well as hosting radio and television broadcasts (ABC, CBS, and NBC). Winchell's early career was marked by his public criticism of pro-fascists in America and strong condemnation of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. He also expressed support for the Democratic Party and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mixed with political opinion and commentary was Winchell's trademark entertainment news and "gossip," where he gained a reputation as being frank and fiery.

After World War II, Winchell became increasingly concerned with the spread of Communism and voiced support for Senator Joseph McCarthy and the "Red Scare" investigations.

With the passing of the McCarthy era Winchell slowly faded from the public eye.

From the description of Winchell, Walter papers 1928-1993 1930s-1960s (University of Texas Libraries). WorldCat record id: 465234712

Walter Winchell (1897-1972) was a radio broadcaster, stage and film performer, and journalist for the New York Daily Mirror and other publications.

Born to a poor Jewish family on the upper East Side of New York, Walter Winchell began as a song-plugger and performer in vaudeville. In 1920 he began contributing to The Vaudeville News, a trade publication, and this lead to a job writing a daily column of news, gossip, and opinion, first for the New York Evening Graphic starting in 1924, then, five years later, for the New York Daily Mirror, where the column would remain a fixture for over three decades. Walter Winchell's radio career began in 1930. His weekly broadcasts, which would greatly enhance his power and influence, would remain popular into the 1950s, although a move into the new medium of television was unsuccessful. Winchell also wrote and performed in a number of Hollywood films during his heyday, and narrated the TV series THE UNTOUCHABLES.

From the description of Walter Winchell papers, 1920-1967. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 144652275

Biographical/Historical Note

American journalist, newspaper columnist, and radio commentator.

From the guide to the Walter Winchell miscellaneous papers, 1936-1968, (Hoover Institution Archives)

Walter Winchell was born, on April 7, 1897, into a poor Jewish family on the upper East Side of New York City. Between 1909 and 1920, he worked as a song-plugger and performer in vaudeville - one of his early co-performers was George Jessel. In 1920, Winchell began writing a column for The Vaudeville News ; in 1924, he entered the world of tabloid newspapers as a daily columnist for the New York Evening Graphic . On June 10, 1929, he wrote his first daily column for the New York Daily Mirror - a Hearst publication that was syndicated in approximately 1000 newspapers by King Features .

By the end of the 1920's, Walter Winchell was nationally famous. The inventor of the modern gossip column, Winchell intermingled wordplay, obscure facts, philosophical observations, and tidbits about business, finance and the underworld with his core material of intimate news about celebrities. As a master of the "slanguage" spoken by journalists, Broadway showpeople, bootleggers and gamblers, "W.W." fashioned a brisk, brash, racy vernacular style in which each column item was separated by a three-dot punctuation. His flair for inventing or popularizing catchy new words and phrases was one secret of his great reader appeal: married couples were "Lohengrinned" or "sealed," divorced couples were "Reno-vated" or "telling it to a judge," people in love were "Cupiding" or "making whoopie," and the birth of a baby was a "blessed event."

Winchell's radio career began in 1930. In 1932, he introduced a weekly radio program (sponsored by Jergen's Lotion ) in which he successfully translated his dynamic newspaper style into a new medium: he spoke with a machine-gun-burst delivery accompanied by the sound of a telegraph key, and the words which he finally settled on for the opening of each broadcast - "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. North America, and all the ships at sea" - became world-famous. In the 1930's and 1940's, in his dual role as "the Voice of America" and the author of "The Column," Walter Winchell was arguably the most popular and most influential newsman in the world - the "king of media," who reigned from Table 50 at the Stork Club.

The peak of his influence was during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom he greatly admired. With Ernest Cuneo as his private pipeline to the FDR administration, Winchell viewed himself as a populist who championed the underdog; he also was one of the earliest revilers of Adolf Hitler, whom he loathed for his anti-Semitism. Concurrently with his liberal-Democratic connections, Winchell had ties to the underworld and was a close confidante of J. Edgar Hoover. He wrote the screenplay, acted in, or did voiceover for several Hollywood movies and shorts, including Broadway Thru a Keyhole,, Wake Up and Live, and Love and Hisses . He was an indefatigable reporter at the Bruno Hauptmann trial in 1935, and he participated in the capture of the elusive arch-criminal Louis Buchalter in 1939.

Winchell was courted constantly by press agents and publicity-hungry celebrities. If he believed they insulted him or gave him false information ("wrongos"), they would wind up on his dreaded DDL (Drop Dead List). Winchell was also capable of vitriolic feuds with editors, publishers, fellow columnists, et al.: James A. Wechsler, Dorothy Schiff, Westbrook Pegler, Drew Pearson, Leonard Lyons, Ed Sullivan, and the Shubert brothers were among his more notable antagonists.

1951 was a watershed year in Winchell's career - the first major year in a gradual but irreversible process of decline in his power and popularity. Winchell's unpopular point of view was a catalyst in his loss of popularity. His interview with the underworld figure Frank Costello was widely ridiculed. His ardent backing of General MacArthur after MacArthur was fired by Truman alienated Winchell from many of his left-wing admirers. The Josephine Baker affair at the Stork Club made Winchell look like a self-serving hypocrite, if not racist; and his weekly radio show fell out of the top ten for the first time.

Winchell's embrace of the anti-Communist movement - in particular, his close ties to Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn - sealed his doom with the left-wing. His attempt to make the transition from radio to television in the mid-fifties was ill-fated: his rapid-fire, staccato way of speaking and his bouncing, fidgety physical presence did not work well on this "cool" medium. His only real success on TV was as the unseen narrator of the series "The Untouchables" from 1959 to 1963. 1963 was also the year in which the New York Daily Mirror went bankrupt - a crushing blow to its most famous columnist.

In chronic bad health and strained by many tragedies in his family life (including divorces and suicides), Winchell managed for several years to continue writing for other newspapers, and he did end up reconciling with several of his enemies. On February 20, 1972, Walter Winchell died of cancer at the UCLA Medical Center.

From the guide to the Walter Winchell papers, 1920-1967, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)


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