Winchell, Walter

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WINCHELL, WALTER (1897–1972), U.S. newspaper columnist. Winchell, a New Yorker by birth, began contributing theatrical gossip to the house organ of a theater chain when he was a young vaudeville actor. This led the New York Graphic to give him his own column, "On Broadway," in 1924, and in 1929 he moved to Hearst's Daily Mirror. Over the years he gained a position of unmatched power among newspaper writers. His sources included presidents and kings, industrial tycoons, the leaders of show business, and gangster racketeers. His popularity was due mainly to the sensational disclosures for which he became a byword. In the mid-1950s, at the peak of his career, he had an estimated public of more than 35 million readers as a syndicated columnist in more than 2,000 daily newspapers.

Winchell ruled the airwaves from 1930 to 1957, when he captivated radio audiences with his colorful, fast-paced, delivery of entertainment news, gossip, and innuendo. In 1956 he debuted on television, hosting The Walter Winchell Show, a weekly variety program; and from 1957 to 1958 he hosted The Walter Winchell File, a series about the crime stories he had covered while working with the New York City Police Department. Most memorable to television viewers at the time was Winchell's rapid-fire narration on the popular crime drama series The Untouchables (1959–63), based on the 1930s exploits of real-life fbi special agent Elliot Ness and his team, and mobster Al Capone and his henchmen.

The tv biopic Winchell was made in 1998, directed by Paul Mazursky and starring Stanley Tucci in the title role. Winchell was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2004.

His book Winchell Exclusive: Things That Happened to Meand Me to Them was published in 1975.

As founder of the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund in 1946 in memory of his writer friend, Winchell raised millions of dollars for cancer research and care. By 2005 the foundation had invested more than $170 million in cancer research, supporting some 3,000 scientists in the U.S.


H. Weiner, Let's Go to Press: A Biography of Walter Winchell (1955). add. bibliography: H. Klurfeld, Winchell: His Life and Times (1976); M. Machlin, The Gossip Wars (1981); J. Mosedale, The Men Who Invented Broadway (1981); M. Herr, Walter Winchell (1990); N. Gabler, Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity (1994); L. Stuart, The Secret Life of Walter Winchell (2003).

[Bernard Lewis /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]