Walter Winchell, the founder of personality-oriented media, was born April 7, 1897 in New York City. As a teenager, he performed in vaudeville, and found it interesting to post gossip about other performers on the theater bulletin boards. This made him somewhat well-known, and he was offered a job as the western correspondent for Vaudeville News by its publisher. By 1927 he was working for the paper full-time, as well as doing a column for the New York Evening Graphic. By 1932, he became a gossip columnist in the New York Daily Mirror and host of a weekly radio show (where he opened with the phrase, "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea"). He was always opinionated, but whether you agreed or not, you had to know what he said in his slangy, rapid-fire way. At his peak, his words were seen/heard by 55 million people a day, and a positive mention from him could make someone's career. He sometimes used blackmail to get information, and may have been used by Franklin D. Roosevelt to raise popular support for Roosevelt's policies (including a strong stance against Adolf Hitler -- Winchell was Jewish).

The FBI now admits that Winchell "maintained a steady exchange of correspondence with J. Edgar Hoover for over thirty years. The famous newspaper columnist discussed FBI cases with former Director Hoover and publicized FBI accomplishments." By the 1950s Winchell was also publicly supporting Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts to root out Communists in the U.S.. This lost him a lot of popularity. Also, with the rise of television, his style no longer worked, though he was the voice of the narrator on TV series "The Untouchables" from 1959 to 1963. In 1963 his Daily Mirror column also stopped when the paper went bankrupt. He did sometimes write for other papers in the next decade.

He founded the Damon Runyan/Walter Winchell Foundation for Cancer Research (named after his writer friend who had died of cancer; his own name was not added until after he died) in 1946 and guided it until his death, also of cancer, on February 20, 1972.


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