Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mae West: Walter Winchell

MAE WEST probably counted on the fact that the opening of her 1926 show "Sex" would attract press coverage. And it did. Walter Winchell called it "a vulgar affair ... amateurish in script and cast."
• • A native New Yorker, Walter Winchell [7 April 1897 — 20 February 1972] was a newspaper as well as a radio commentator.
• • While Winchell was at The New York Evening Graphic (whose staff included reporter Ed Sullivan), he invented the gossip column.
• • While still in his teens, natural show-off Winchell was drawn to performing in vaudeville. His career as a journalist began with his fondness for posting gossipy notes about his acting troupe on backstage bulletin boards.
• • During the Prohibition Era, he became a journalist. Walter Winchell, who was a regular at Barney Gallant's Greenwich Village speakeasies and Texas Guinan's midtown clubs, credited his buddies with opening the insider Broadway scene and cafe society to him when he was starting out as a columnist. The gatekeeper of gossip, Texas Guinan claimed that scandals did not officially break unless they broke at her establishments.
• • By the 1930s, he was an intimate friend of ganster Owney Madden, owner of the Cotton Club and a backer of Texas Guinan's nightspots and Mae West's Broadway productions. backers.
• • Always ambitious, Winchell disregarded the media's taboo against exposing the private lives of public figures, permanently altering the shape of journalism and celebrity. He was a top gossip reporter, whose newspaper column and radio show could make or break a celebrity. He became influential for decades in shaping public opinion, notoriously aiding and ruining the careers of many entertainers.
• • In his heyday, Winchell's gossip column ran in more than 2,000 daily papers, written with the same frantic pace as his radio show. Fifty-five million radio listeners tuned in to hear his distinctive rapid-fire delivery of his column during the 1940s — 1950s.
• • In the 1950s, Winchell veered away from his leftist sympathies and supported the right-wing Senator Joseph McCarthy. As Joe McCarthy's Red Scare tactics became more extreme and unbelievable, Winchell lost credibility along with McCarthy. He had a weekly radio broadcast which was simulcast on ABC television until he left in a dispute with ABC executives in 1955. An attempt to revive his commentary program five years later proved to be a disaster and Winchell was canceled after half a dozen broadcasts.
• • He did, however, receive $25,000 an episode to narrate "The Untouchables" on the ABC-TV network for five seasons beginning in 1959.
• • His readership gradually dropped. When his home paper, the New York Daily Mirror, for which he worked for 34 years, closed in 1963, he faded from the public eye. He still holds a fascination and several actors have portrayed him on the big screen and on TV.
• • In 1972, Walter Winchell died of prostate cancer at the age of 74.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:

• • Photo:
• • Mae West • •
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Mae West.

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