Walter Winchell, 1897 - 1972

portrait of Walter Winchell
Winchell broadcasting from Pennsylvania Ave. at Washington City during Eisenhower's inaugural parade, 20 January 1953

Born: 7 April 1897, New York, New York
Died: 20 February 1972, Los Angeles, California

As a teenager Winchell took to vaudeville, posting gossip on backstage bulletin boards. He became a journalist in the '20s and, at a time when newspapers didn't mention celebrity personal lives until divorce papers were filed, invented the gossip column. By the '30s he was intimate with New York mobsters but left for Hollywood in fear for his life for "knowing too much". His contracts required the media that carried his work to defend and pay any libel actions, so Winchell was reckless about the accuracy of his work, and he didn't hesitate to use his columns to attack those he differed with. His work brought about major changes in American journalism, perhaps not particularly positive ones, but he was popular: by 1948 his audiences were the largest in radio. He wrote simple declarative sentences, often incomplete ones, delivered at a rapid pace. His show opened with him randomly clicking a telegraph key and saying, "Good evening Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships at sea. Let's go to press.".

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