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Walter Winchell (April 7, 1897 – February 20, 1972) was an Americanmarker newspaper and radio commentator. He invented the "gossip column" while at the New York Evening Graphic.

Professional career

Born Walter Winschel in New York Citymarker, he started performing in vaudeville troupes as a teenager.

He began his journalism career by posting notes about his acting troupe on backstage bulletin boards. He became a professional journalist during the 1920s .

By the 1930s, he 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 Californiamarker, "[and] returned weeks later with a new enthusiasm for law, G-men, Uncle Sam, [and] Old Glory." His coverage of the Lindbergh kidnappingmarker 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 about 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 WWII Winchell began to denounce Communism as the main threat facing America.

During War World 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."

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's Red Scare tactics. 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 during 1955.

The dispute with Jack Paar "effectively ended Winchell's career," beginning a shift in power from print to television.Pioneers of Television: "Late Night" episode (2008 PBS mini-series) "Paar's feud with newspaper columnist Walter Winchell marked a major turning point in American media power. No one had ever dared criticize Winchell because a few lines in his column could destroy a career, but when Winchell disparaged Paar in print, Paar fought back and mocked Winchell repeatedly on the air. Paar's criticisms effectively ended Winchell's career. The tables had turned, now TV had the power."

During this time, NBC had given him the opportunity to host a variety show, which lasted only 13 weeks. His readership gradually dropped, and when his home paper, the New York Daily Mirror, for which he worked for 34 years, closed during 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 Angelesmarker, 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 Clubmarker 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 catch phrase "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 at an average rate of 197 words per minute, noticeably faster than the typical pace of American speech.

Winchell often appeared as himself in movies.

Winchell had a feud he had 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."

Personal life

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 Green 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 nonmarriage, 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 mental institutions. 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, Californiamarker, but listed himself as a freelance writer.

Later years

Winchell announced his retirement on February 5, 1969, citing the tragedy of his son's suicide as a major reason, while also noting the delicate health of his wife. Exactly one year later, she died at a Phoenixmarker hospital while undergoing treatment for a heart condition.

Winchell spent his final two years as a recluse at the Ambassador Hotelmarker in Los Angeles, Californiamarker. Larry King, who replaced Winchell at the Miami Herald, observed, "He was so sad. You know what Winchell was doing at the end? Typing out mimeographed sheets with his column, handing them out on the corner. That's how sad he got. When he died, only one person came to his funeral."

(Several of Winchell's former co-workers expressed a willingness to go, but were turned back by his daughter Walda.)


Winchell died of prostate cancer at the age of 74. His obituary appeared on the front page of The New York Times. He is buried in Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery in Phoenixmarker.


Even during Winchell's lifetime, journalists were critical of his effect on the media. In 1940, Time Magazine said St. Clair McKelway, who had written a series of articles about him in New Yorker Magazine, wrote,
Winchell responded to McKelway saying, "Oh stop! You talk like a high-school student of journalism."

Despite the controversy surrounding Winchell, his popularity allowed him to leverage support for causes that he valued. In 1946, following the death from cancer of his close friend and fellow writer Damon Runyon, Winchell appealed to his radio audience for contributions to fight the disease. The response led Winchell to establish the Damon Runyon Cancer Memorial Fund, since renamed the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. He led the charity — with the support of celebrities like Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe DiMaggio — until his own death from cancer in 1972.

Winchell is mentioned in the song "I Wanna be a Producer" in the Mel Brooks musical comedy The Producers. "I wanna put on shows that will enthrall 'em/Read my name in Winchell's column."

Winchellism and Winchellese

The term "Winchellism" is named after him. Though its use is extremely rare and may be considered archaic, the term has two different usages.
  • One definition is a pejorative judgment that an author's works are specifically designed to imply or invoke scandal and may be libelous.
  • The other definition is “any word or phrase compounded brought to the fore by the columnist Walter Winchell” or his imitators. Looking at his writing's effect on the language, an etymologist of his day said “there are plenty of … expressions which he has fathered and which are now current among his readers and imitators and constitute a flash language which has been called Winchellese. Through a newspaper column which has nation-wide circulation, Winchell has achieved the position of dictator of contemporary slang.” Winchell invented his own phrases that were viewed as slightly racy at the time. Some of the expressions for falling in love used by Winchell were: “pashing it”, “sizzle for”, “that way, go for each other”, “garbo-ing it”, “uh-huh”; and in the same category, “new Garbo, trouser-crease-eraser”, and “pash”. Some Winchellisms for marriage are: “middle-aisle it”, “altar it”, “handcuffed”, “Mendelssohn March”, “Lohengrin it”, and “merged”.

See also


  1. "Liberty Ships" 1995 Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary
  2. CBS's Don Hollenbeck: An Honest Reporter in the Age of McCarthyism, Loren Ghiglione, 2008, Chapter 16
  3. Sann, Paul. "Kill the Dutchman!"
  5. Neal Gabler, Winchell : Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity (Vintage: 1995), p. 3

Further reading

  • Brooks, Tim and Marsh, Earle, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows.
  • Neal Gabler, Winchell : Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity (Vintage: 1995).
  • Mosedale, John (1981). The Men Who Invented Broadway: Damon Runyon, Walter Winchell & Their World. New York: Richard Marek Publishers

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