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Born Walter Winschel in New York City, he started performing in vaudeville troupes as a teenager and became an American newspaper and radio commentator. He invented the "gossip column" while at the New York Evening Graphic.
He began his journalism career by posting notes about his acting troupe on backstage bulletin boards. He began writing for the Vaudeville News in 1920, leaving the paper for the Evening Graphic in 1924. On June 10th 1929 he was hired by the New York Daily Mirror where he finally became a syndicated columnist.
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 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.
In 1948 Winchell had the top rated radio show when he surpassed Fred Allen and Jack Benny
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 that 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), though in an interview in 1967, claimed a speed of well over 200 wpm. 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."
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".
Walter Winchell 41-05-18 Terms of Surrender for Italian Troops Given
Walter Winchell 41-12-07 Japanese Nationals Are To Be Interned
Walter Winchell 45-05-06 Japanese Attacks The USS Comfort
Walter Winchell 45-07-15 Criticizing Labor Unions
Walter Winchell 46-02-10 Free Speech
Walter Winchell 47-09-05 Russia Requests the Allies To Form An Alliance
Walter Winchell 47-09-12 Russia Loses Fight to Have Warmongers Jailed
Walter Winchell 48-01-11 40,000 More Dollars In 1948
Walter Winchell 48-03-07 Seven Crashed Airmen Rescued
Walter Winchell 48-12-19 Geography Books Are Wrong
Walter Winchell 48-12-26 Final Broadcast For Jergens
Walter Winchell 49-03-27 Bert Parks' Wife Has A Baby
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