Walter Winchell Biography
Walter Winchell was the grand daddy of gossip columnists whose insatiable hunger for celebrity sleaze propelled him to the top of the editorial food chain of 1930's tabloid journalism. His Harlem upbringing was more street wise than academic and after leaving school early Walter dreamed of an acting career in Vaudeville but found more success promoting acts on backstage billboards which led to his first journalistic break in 1922 with a job for Vaudeville News.
Winchell climbed the journalistic ladder until in 1929 the New York Daily Mirror gave him his big break with the first syndicated gossip column entitled "On-Broadway". He took to it like a duck to water although many of the stars of the day found themselves in uncharted waters as to their disbelief their private lives were being analysed by the great American public as they read his column every morning whilst enjoying their breakfast coffee.
As Winchell's power built so did his ego, he would hold court at Table 50 at Manhattans upmarket Stork Club where movie stars, sports men, politicians, authors and gangsters would vie to pay his tab such was the influence of his opinion in the press.
From the 1930's through to the 1950's he could literally make or break a career in the upper echelons of stage and screen. Walter dined with presidents, mobsters and even J. Edgar Hoover the head of the FBI who was grateful for Winchell's assistance when the mobster fugitive Louis Buchalter gave himself up to Walter on 24th August 1939 after being on the run from the Feds since 1936.
In 1944 Winchell gave cause for the FBI to investigate Frank Sinatra who he alleged paid $40,000 for a government classification to avoid the WW2 draft. A subsequent investigation by the Feds proved this accusation to be erroneous.
During the 1940's Winchell was in his prime but as the decade merged into the 1950's his ego failed to recognise his dwindling popularity and some unusually bad choices proved disastrous for his career. Walter's misplaced loyalties towards the Stork Clubs unwritten policy of segregated audiences led to a public spat with the French artist Josephine Baker who he lazily accused of Communist tendencies.
The fallout and publicity in liberal New York did not go down well and his steadfast support for McCarthyism was the beginning of his slow isolation to his self made ivory tower. His decline from the pinnacle of his cultivated culture of American gossip was slow and painful for Winchell.
At one point Winchell even tried to loosely implicate Marilyn Monroe, through her association with Arthur Miller (playwright and husband), with Communist tendencies as Walter was quoted as saying:
"America's best-known blonde moving picture star is now the darling of the left-wing intelligentsia".
Walter believed he could change the world but failed to see the world changing before his own eyes until his lonely demise at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. As to be expected from someone whose work coined the phrase "Winchellism", he was good for a one liner, so this is my compilation of 15 of the best Walter Winchell quotes
Quotes About Walter Winchell
The actress Lauren Bacall recalled him thus:
"Winchell was a good newspaperman but a vain man, convinced he could change the course of world events - slightly deluded, but never mind. He also fancied himself a ladies' man"
The author Sam Kashner recognised his journalistic influence when he said:
"At the height of his popularity, in the late 1930s, 50 million people two-thirds of American adults read Winchell's syndicated column and listened to his Sunday-night radio broadcast"
The New York Times journalist Mervyn Rothstein summed up his reputation by saying:
"Hated, feared, and revered, he presided over Table 50 of the Stork Club on East 53d Street in Manhattan, creating and destroying celebrities at the drop of his trademark gray snap-brim fedora"
The author Ernest Hemingway once remarked on Walter's durability calling him the:
"only reporter who could last three rounds with the Zeitgeist"
The actress Ethel Barrymore once commented that:
"It is a sad comment on American manhood that Walter Winchell is allowed to exist"
The author Neal Gabler made this observation:
"For Winchell, the worst of it was that the defeat took nearly two decades—two decades of small humiliations"