Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity


Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity When I was in my 20s I read Neal Gabler s biography of Walter Winchell And it changed my life I can still remember being completely engrossed in this book.It was the awesome achievement of Winchell s biographer, Neal Gabler, to show how Winchell mattered in history How he invented the modern celebrity,or less single handedly How he used gossip as a weapon 70 years before TMZ Gabler marshalled spellbinding amounts of news clippings, correspondence, interviews, and his own critical take When I was in my 20s I read Neal Gabler s biography of Walter Winchell And it changed my life I can still remember being completely engrossed in this book.It was the awesome achievement of Winchell s biographer, Neal Gabler, to show how Winchell mattered in history How he invented the modern celebrity,or less single handedly How he used gossip as a weapon 70 years before TMZ Gabler marshalled spellbinding amounts of news clippings, correspondence, interviews, and his own critical takes on 20th century American culture to make his case And the kicker was this For such a meaty intellectual biography, it was so readable that I could not put it down until I was done.And when I was done, I wanted to be Neal Gabler.Well, you may have seen old Neal s name in the news recently He s the author of that depressing Atlantic cover piece The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans, in which he confesses to being so broke that he would be unable to cover a 400 emergency After reciting a long list of financial humiliations that he and his wife have suffered hitting up their adult daughters for cash being the worst Gabler writes, You wouldn t know any of that to look at me Nor would you know it to look at my r sum I have had a passably good career as a writer and a small very small but respectable reputation He sells himself short Time magazine named Winchell the best book of 1994, and it remains one of the great biographies of our time His book on the Jews who invented Hollywood is equally celebrated As for me, no, I never came close to becoming the next Neal Gabler But Winchell demonstrated to me that writing about media could be a career option for a serious minded person And I got that career Matt Drudge frequently mentioned Winchell on his radio show, and now I can see why Winchell would mix gossip and news and editorial at random in his work, much the way the Drudge Report does.I also enjoyed reading about his skirmishes with Ed Sullivan most of us probably only think of the genial Sullivan introducing the Beatles or Elvis on his TV show, but he was a bitter ruthless son of a bitch contemporary of Winchell in the early gossip column and radio wars. Wow, this was quite a journey It took me months to read, and I m not entirely sure why because it is well enough written and superbly researched It is a longish book, around 550 pages, but not inordinately so for a biography It might be due to the level of detail that author Neil Gabler crams into every page one wants to savor the world and the times in which Winchell lived This is not just a great biography, but also a vast overview of the 20th century The book spans the days of vaudevill Wow, this was quite a journey It took me months to read, and I m not entirely sure why because it is well enough written and superbly researched It is a longish book, around 550 pages, but not inordinately so for a biography It might be due to the level of detail that author Neil Gabler crams into every page one wants to savor the world and the times in which Winchell lived This is not just a great biography, but also a vast overview of the 20th century The book spans the days of vaudeville, the Roaring Twenties, the Depression and Winchell s dominance of radio, newspapers and politics in the 30s and 40s , his close relations with J Edgar Hoover and FDR, his connections to Hollywood, his relationships to Broadway and his vast orbit of publicity seeking press agents, his participation in WWII, his championing of Jewish causes and his admirable place in being the first major American public figure to decry the Nazis way before everybody else , and, of course, his decline during the McCarthy era, when he hitched his red baiting wagon to Joe McCarthy, his bimbo affairs and the train wreck that was his family life the latter takes us into the era of Vietnam and drugs Reading this book will help you better understand how things work in the United States of America, for better or worse Winchell was the progenitor of all the Entertainment Tonight gossip wasteland that now dominates corporate media He was a household word Now, he s a very obscure trivia question When Winchell died, nobody cared and nobody came Walter Winchell was the precursor of tabloid gossip journalism, yellow journalism, if you will Winchell was based in NY and broadcast lies, half truths and unsubstantiated innuendo One of the victims of his broadcasts was my grandfather, Robert Keith When the very unfortunate Peg Entwhistle committed suicide by jumping off of the H in the Hollywood sign, Winchell blamed my grandfather This was cruel and untrue My grandfather had dated Peg two years previously Keith was getting the play he Walter Winchell was the precursor of tabloid gossip journalism, yellow journalism, if you will Winchell was based in NY and broadcast lies, half truths and unsubstantiated innuendo One of the victims of his broadcasts was my grandfather, Robert Keith When the very unfortunate Peg Entwhistle committed suicide by jumping off of the H in the Hollywood sign, Winchell blamed my grandfather This was cruel and untrue My grandfather had dated Peg two years previously Keith was getting the play he was written produced on Broadway in collaboration with the Shuberts Peg decided to enter films, so she went to Hollywood For reasons only known to Peg, she succumbed to despair and took her life Winchell blamed Keith who said Peg was distraught because she had just learned Keith had two children my mother and the actor Brian Keith from a marriage she knew nothing about This is very curious because my mom had met Peg in NY and Peg was very well aware of Keith s previous wife because they had lunch togethertwo years previously My mom went to Winchell after school in her Catholic school girl uniform and explained the pain he was causing the family by his untrue broadcast He apologized and broadcast a retraction The truth will out Backed down by a child in a school uniform Way to go mom Walter Winchell was the originator of gossip in the newspapers, not quite the inventor of the genre, but the man who popularized it and set in motion all the ways we expect to know everything about celebrities He had a syndicated newspaper column when that was an enormously influential thing to have, and a weekly radio broadcast when that was evenpowerful He was, for all intents and purposes, a miserable human being, who mixed up love and control, who gave up the concept of friendship in Walter Winchell was the originator of gossip in the newspapers, not quite the inventor of the genre, but the man who popularized it and set in motion all the ways we expect to know everything about celebrities He had a syndicated newspaper column when that was an enormously influential thing to have, and a weekly radio broadcast when that was evenpowerful He was, for all intents and purposes, a miserable human being, who mixed up love and control, who gave up the concept of friendship in favor of scoops, who desperately wanted to be known as a journalist when he mostly just put his name to an assemblage of other people s writing He did as much as anyone to prepare the U.S for entry into WWII, but then did as much as anyone to support Joe McCarthy s witch hunts after the war His story is fascinating, despite the fact he was hard to root for throughout his long career I really enjoyed this book, but I don t think I could have read it completely through without reading other books along the way Walter Winchell was a fascinating person and he lived through fascinating times If you are interested in the history of gossip columns or if you like reading about famous people s day to day lives, this is a good book to read. Hailed as the most important and entertaining biography in recent memory, Gabler s account of the life of fast talking gossip columnist and radio broadcaster Walter Winchell fuses meticulous research with a deft grasp of the cultural nuances of an era when virtually everyone who mattered paid homage to Winchell Time of photos A very detailed biography of Walter Winchell that is respectful yet unflattering I think that s why I loved it. The book is not juicy, for not fun as I expected to see such a oh my lord figure It followed the pattern that since his birth, and then his childhood and growth, to his highlight for a whole life with bittersweet moments, to the last he died in loneliness.I spent 3 weeks but only finished three quarters It s very detailed story about the greatest columnist in American history His passion towards gossip, his talent writing attracted half of American population, his humor won him soaring career The book is not juicy, for not fun as I expected to see such a oh my lord figure It followed the pattern that since his birth, and then his childhood and growth, to his highlight for a whole life with bittersweet moments, to the last he died in loneliness.I spent 3 weeks but only finished three quarters It s very detailed story about the greatest columnist in American history His passion towards gossip, his talent writing attracted half of American population, his humor won him soaring career in media He won fame but died in fame, which is everything and nothing He sacrificed marriage and family Great person always couldn t be imitated, his hardship dwells in his passion for another track, so he couldn t be balanced to be a normal good person A masterpiece of biography very funny yet never frivolous, tons of great anecdotes and yarns The quality that sets this volume above other great biographies is that it s subject was lets s face it a pretty vapid character Gabler makes Walter Winchell into a keyhole a metaphor frequently used in the book of a wide variety of spaces media, celebrity, Broadway, politics, etc creating a rich social history A must read for anyone looking into the roots of Matt Drudge and Fox News.


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