New PBS Documentary on New York Gossip Columnist Walter WinchellBreaking News
tags: media, journalism, radio, Walter Winchell
A new American Masters documentary Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip traces the life and career of Walter Winchell, an American journalist, columnist, radio news commentator and television host who invented the fast-paced, gossip driven, politically charged media culture with massive audience and influence in the U.S. from 1930s to 1950s. He was said to be America’s most feared and admired man at the time and had the power to make or break careers. Directed by Ben Loeterman and presented by PBS, the documentary tapped Stanley Tucci as the voice of Winchell and Whoopi Goldberg as the narrator and utilizes recordings and digitized collection of Winchell’s work to reconstruct the life of a pioneer in the field of journalism. “Walter Winchell is the architect of modern American media,” says biographer and film interviewee Neal Gabler in a press statement, “He turned journalism into a form of entertainment.”
Born in New York City in 1897 to Jewish immigrants, Winchell launched his gossip columnist career when one of the documents he produced for a theatre bulletin board, which were neatly typed, punctuated and consisted of far-fetched puns, was noticed by the publisher of Vandeville News, and he was offered a full-time job in 1927, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. His column at the tabloid New York Evening Graphic and his snappy, acerbic banter procured him his widely syndicated column at the New York Daily Mirror and a weekly radio program. He invented many slangs such as “pashing it” and “garbo-ing it” and wrote and spoke in Broadway idiom. His opinionated news reports attracted millions of people, and he was viewed as one of America’s most prolific phrase-makers.
“Winchell’s is the origin story of fake news; there could not be a timelier moment to unpack it for a wide audience,” Loeterman wrote in an American Masters essay. Loeterman wrote that Winchell was good at spinning tales about celebrities and trading gossips with friends. He had at times attacked famous people who had offended him or any of his affiliates, which eventually led to many people’s downfalls. Yet, his populist agenda had brought to light bureaucratic injustices amongst the rich and the powerful, which put him on President Franklin Roosevelt’s radar. Roosevelt recruited Winchell in 1933 and asked him to persuade an isolationist American public that the U.S. government should increasingly ramp up its intervention in Europe as facist powers were gaining grounds. “Too bad that a man like Hitler can rise so high in politics, who hates so intensely…. His hatred of the Israelites is contemptible,” Winchell wrote.
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