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February 20: Walter Winchell

February 20, 2016

135129-004-063CB263Radio and newspaper commentator Walter Winchell died at 74 on this date in 1972. Winchell was the first syndicated gossip columnist with “On-Broadway” in the New York Daily Mirror, which he parleyed into enormous cultural and political influence. He was an early anti-Nazi, a proponent of American intervention in World War II, and a staunch supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. After the war, Winchell channeled his influence into anti-Communist activity and targeted a number of celebrities, including Josephine Baker, for red-baiting. He was soon supporting Senator Joseph McCarthy, and as McCarthy lost the public’s favor, so did he. Winchell’s last hurrah was as the narrative voice of the TV series The Untouchables (an authentic role for him, well acquainted as he was with both mobsters and J. Edgar Hoover). At the peak of his influence, however, Winchell had some 50 million readers in over 2,000 newspapers, and a radio audience of 20 million. He was a household name, but peace in the household was not a mitsve that he fulfilled; Winchell was ruthless, vindictive, egotistical, and petty, and ended his life as a recluse, with only his daughter attending his funeral. To see him in a TV broadcast, look below.

“The best way to get along is never to forgive an enemy or forget a friend.” —Walter Winchell