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Walter Winchell

From Academic Kids

Walter Winchell (April 7 1897February 20, 1972) was an American journalist who worked for the New York Daily Mirror for 34 years. In newspaper columns and on the radio, he invented the gossip column at the New York Evening Graphic. He broke the journalistic taboo against exposing the private lives of public figures, permanently altering the shape of journalism and celebrity. He spoke at a rate of 197 words per minute.

Born as Walter Winchel (one l) in New York City, where spent his formative years there. Winchell started performing in vaudeville troupes while still in his teens. He married Rita Greene, one of his onstage partners, on August 11, 1919. They separated a few years later and he moved in with June Magee. She had already given birth to their first child, daughter Walda, by the time he actually divorced Greene in 1928. He and Magee had been pretending to be married for some years by then. They never did marry because he was always afraid that the marriage license would be discovered and reveal to the world that Walda was illegitimate. Winchell and Magee successfully kept the secret of their non-marriage their whole lives.

He was extremely popular and influential in shaping public opinion, notoriously aiding and ruining the careers of many entertainers. He wrote many quips such as "Nothing recedes like success," and "I usually get my stuff from people who promised somebody else that they would keep it a secret." Winchell was also one of the first public commentators in America to attack Adolph Hitler and American pro-Nazi organizations such as the German-American Bund.

He began his radio broadcasts with the catch phrase "Good evening Mr. and Mrs. North America and all the ships at sea. Let's go to press." Creating his own shorthand language, Winchell was responsible for introducing into the American vernacular such now-familiar words and phrases as "scram," "pushover," and "belly laughs."

He hung out at Sherman Billingsley's Stork Club during the 1940s, and always sat at table 50 in the Club Room. There was a Winchellburger on the menu.

In the 1950s he supported Senator Joseph McCarthy, and as McCarthy's "Red Scare" tactics became more extreme and unbelievable, Winchell lost credibility along with McCarthy. His readership gradually dropped, and when his home paper, the New York Daily Mirror, closed in the 1960s, 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. Winchell's highly-recognizable voice lent credibility to the series, and his work as narrator is often better remembered today than his long-out-of-print newspaper columns.

Although his obituary appeared on the front page of The New York Times, he died forgotten and disgraced in Los Angeles, with only his daughter present as a mourner at his funeral.

Stanley Tucci briefly brought Winchell back into the public consciousness in 1998, playing the titular role in the made-for-cable biopic "Winchell" on HBO.

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