Monday, November 7, 2011

Walter Winchell

NOVEMBER 7, 2011


The news as I see it and the views as I want them.

November 7 is … National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day

“Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea? Let’s go to press.” Who said that to open every broadcast? Answer to follow.

Walter Winchell was replaced at the Miami Herald by Larry King. Damon Runyon was a sports writer, novelist and short story writer. He wrote the short story, “The Lemon Drop Kid” Bob Hope later made it into a movie. The movie introduced the song Silver Bells. Damon Runyon died in 1946 of cancer. Walter Winchell teamed up with Bob Hope, Marlene Dietrich, Milton Berle, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe DiMaggio to establish the Damon Runyon Cancer Memorial Fund, later renamed the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.


Walter Winchell (April 7, 1897 – February 20, 1972) was an American newspaper and radio commentator. Born Walter Winschel in New York City, he left school in the sixth grade and started performing in a vaudeville troupe known as Gus Edwards' "Newsboys Sextet."

His career in journalism was begun by posting notes about his acting troupe on backstage bulletin boards. Joining the Vaudeville News in 1920, Winchell left the paper for the Evening Graphic in 1924, and in turn was hired on June 10, 1929 by the New York Daily Mirror where he finally became a syndicated columnist. He made his radio debut over WABC in New York, a CBS affiliate, on 12 May 1930. (John Dunning, Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, p. 708)

By the 1930s, Winchell was "an intimate friend of Owney Madden, New York's No. 1 gang leader of the prohibition era, but " in 1932 Winchell's intimacy with criminals caused him to fear he would be 'rubbed out' for 'knowing too much.'" He fled to California, "[and] returned weeks later with a new enthusiasm for law, G-men, Uncle Sam, [and] Old Glory." His coverage of the Lindbergh kidnapping and subsequent trial received national attention. Within two years, he befriended J. Edgar Hoover, the No. 2 G-man of the repeal era. He was responsible for turning Louis "Lepke" Buchalter of Murder, Inc. over to Hoover.

His newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, and he was read by 50 million people a day from the 1920s until the early 1960s. His Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people from 1930 to the late 1950s.

Winchell, who was Jewish, was one of the first commentators in America to attack Adolf Hitler and American pro-fascist and pro-Nazi organizations such as the German-American Bund. After World War II, Winchell began to denounce Communism as the main threat facing America.

During World War II, he attacked the National Maritime Union, the labor organization for the civilian United States Merchant Marine, which he said was run by Communists. In 1948 and 1949 he and the influential leftist columnist Drew Pearson "inaccurately and maliciously assaulted Secretary of Defense James Forrestal in columns and radio broadcasts.". Winchell also labeled African-American-French entertainer Josephine Baker as a communist after she took him to task for not questioning the racial-discriminatory policies of the Stork Club in New York. His relentless campaign against Baker prevented her from getting her visa to enter the US renewed.

In 1948 Winchell had the top rated radio show when he surpassed Fred Allen and Jack Benny. During the 1950s Winchell favored Senator Joseph McCarthy, but he became unpopular as the public turned against McCarthy. He also had a weekly radio broadcast which was simulcast on ABC television until he ended that employment because of a dispute with ABC executives in 1955. A dispute with Jack Paar effectively ended Winchell's career, signaling a shift in power from print to television.

During this time, NBC had given him the opportunity to host a variety show, which lasted only thirteen weeks. His readership gradually dropped, and when his home paper, the New York Daily Mirror, where he'd worked for thirty-four years, closed in 1963, he faded from the public eye. He did, however, receive $25,000 an episode to narrate The Untouchables on the ABC television network for five seasons beginning in 1959.

Many other columnists, such as Ed Sullivan in New York and Louella Parsons in Los Angeles, began to write gossip soon after Winchell's initial success. He wrote in a style filled with slang and incomplete sentences. Winchell's casual writing style famously earned him the ire of mobster Dutch Schultz, who confronted Winchell at New York's Cotton Club and publicly lambasted him for using the phrase "pushover" to describe Schultz's penchant for blonde women. Some notable Winchell quotes are: "Nothing recedes like success," and "I usually get my stuff from people who promised somebody else that they would keep it a secret."

Winchell opened his radio broadcasts by pressing randomly on a telegraph key, a sound which created a sense of urgency and importance and the catchphrase "Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea. Let's go to press." He would then read each of his stories with a staccato delivery (up to a rate of 197 words per minute), noticeably faster than the typical pace of American speech. His diction can also be heard in his breathless narration of the Untouchables television series as well as in several Hollywood films.

Winchell feuded with New York radio host Barry Gray, whom he described as "Borey Pink" and a "disk jerk." When Winchell heard that Marlen Edwin Pew of the trade journal Editor & Publisher had criticized him as a bad influence on the American press, he thereafter referred to him as "Marlen Pee-you."

For most of his career his contract with his newspaper and radio employers required them to reimburse him for any damages he had to pay, should he be sued for slander or libel. Whenever friends reproached him for betraying confidences, he responded, "I know — I'm just a son of a bitch."

On August 11, 1919, Winchell married Rita Greene, one of his onstage partners. The couple separated a few years later, and he moved in with June Magee, who had already given birth to their first child, a daughter named Walda. Winchell and Greene eventually divorced in 1928. Winchell and Magee would never marry, although the couple maintained the front of being married for the rest of their lives.

Winchell and Magee successfully kept the secret of their non-marriage, but were struck by tragedy with all three of their children. Their adopted daughter Gloria died of pneumonia at age nine, and Walda spent time in psychiatric hospitals. Walter, Jr., the only son of the journalist, committed suicide in his family's garage on Christmas night, 1968. Having spent the previous two years on welfare, Winchell, Jr. had last been employed as a dishwasher in Santa Ana, California, but listed himself as a freelancer who for a time wrote a column in the Los Angeles Free Press, an alternate newspaper published in the 1960s and 1970s.

Walt just was not what he seemed to be and apparently was not a nice human being. If he had not loved himself so much, no one would have loved him, except may be his mother. He did help establish the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund.

Just a couple of thoughts I had and you should too or at least think about.


DEKALB, IL 60115



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