OK, I’m back. I reached out to Walter Winchell to remind you we cats have strange and mystical powers humans will never comprehend.
I knew he’d trash Ed Sullivan, one of my faves. They competed as columnists covering Broadway. Then Ed hit the jackpot on TV. Walter’s forte was newspapers and radio.
From the start of the Depression into the late 1950s, he was a feared reporter, commentator and gossip monger, wielding power never to be seen again. He often ruled by blackmail. Sources ratted out friends and led him to bigger scoops to save their own hides.
At its peak, Walter’s newspaper column was in more than 2,000 newspapers, readership averaging about 50 million a day. His radio show on Sunday nights was heard by about 20 million. He was FDR’s mouthpiece. He took on Nazi sympathizers, the KKK and Communists.
His professional decline started in the mid-1950s, when the marketplace relegated his radio program to the perpetually struggling Mutual Broadcasting System, a large collection of low-wattage stations. He tried TV, with news programs and once hosting a variety show like Sullivan’s that was canceled after a few weeks.
WW’s biggest TV success was off-camera, when he narrated “The Untouchables,” a series about federal agents chasing gangsters in the 1930s. He knew plenty about the subject, too, having befriended Mafia figures before deciding it was better for his well-being to suck up to J. Edgar Hoover.
“The Untouchables” last aired in 1963, the same year his column’s flagship paper folded. Personal tragedies ensued. Death came in 1972. He was 74.
Those who thought Winchell arrogant and cruel gloated. But Mr. and Mrs. America noted his legacy: The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, founded in 1946 when Winchell delivered a few sentences on his radio program following the death of his famous newspaper pal.
In frantic staccato, 160+ words a minute. Pounding his trademark telegraph key, of course.
For more about the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, go to http://www.damonrunyon.org