WINCHELL

Neal Gabler

Winchell was an entertainer, and primarily uninteresting. During the 1920s he came up in the newspaper world (columnist) and made most of his money and notoriety (not fame) in radio. Winchell never had the substance, education and discipline of an Edward R. Murrow or a William L. Shirer.

What Winchell had was gossip, “making smart chat,” initially about persons involved in Broadway plays and shows extending to Hollywood, New York City, crime, and into politics. A fact is found this biography telling about Winchell’s wife, June:
“She read novels, saw movies, listened to records and radio
programs for Walter and delivered her opinions, which then
became his opinions.” (p. 357)
Apparently Winchell great observer, critic and commentator did none of those things. He collected and organized gossip, having a string of runners whom he usually did not pay. Much of the slang he developed and used then does not live today.

Winchell had no background for what he was doing. He was an empty suit. At the end of his life he wrote an overlong autobiography (in manuscript) pulling no punches, punching down, kicking shins and elsewhere else. It is hinted, though, that therein Winchell told the truth.

The author quotes a member of the Smart Set: “If all the Armenians were to be killed tomorrow” that would help establish the decade’s tenor, “and if half of Russia were to starve to death the day after, it would not matter in the least. What concerns me alone is myself and the interest of a few close friends. For all I care the rest of the world may go to hell at today’s sunset.”(p. 47) This book tells the relationships and activities of Walter Winchell and a few close associates and colleagues who lived in New York City and Washington D.C.

At the end of life Winchell was defeated and bitter. His family’s life had collapsed: A daughter had died when young; his wife (somewhat estranged) saw him a week or two a year; she died before him. A daughter with grandkids was unhappy and not productive. A son had committed suicide. For the final fifteen (15) years of life (60-75 years) his health was no good. All the while his professional career of gossip was disappearing. His was a name many knew, but he was from a profession and a time that no longer existed. He was a hanger-on, has-been, once-was.

From gossip around New York City in the 1920s, Winchell moved toward circles in Washington D.C. New York City might tolerate the fluff, insults and revelations. Almost everyone would not hold grudges. However, Winchell held grudges for years or decades to the point of being vile and evil. I had to rethink Ed. Sullivan who adamantly opposed Winchell for a quarter century. Sullivan was not intimidated. Unlike the person most Americans remember, Sullivan was very athletic when young. Winchell did not want to tangle with him.

The Washington D.C. world pegged Winchell, and held him to his words. He was initially anti-Nazi and against racial discrimination. He was on “the New Deal” team and opposed to conservative forces in the Democratic Party. He was B.F. F. with J. Eager Hoover – died two months apart in 1972.

Those persons and organizations presented forces and influences on Winchell that he could not handle and did not have the ability to dismiss. Personally, he was a raving lunatic when it came to his column; He mostly had the blessings of his sponsors of his radio broadcasters, but not his employers. Everyone liked the expanse of exposure and advertising Winchell provided, but there were no controls, no discipline, no education and no restraints on Walter Winchell. He was a master and manipulator of his world, gossip.

His failure to recognize and abide by limits, to observe times were achanging, and to be introspective brought failure. Josephine Baker entertained in New York City and dined at the Stork Club, owned by a good Oklahoma friend of Winchell. The unstated policy at the Club was no riffraff and no minorities; the place was for white snobs only. In the early 1950s Winchell was in the restaurant when Baker and her guests were served drinks but left for a movie premiere. Baker later was not served the dinner she ordered. Everyone wondered what Winchell thought. He did not explain the facts as he knew them and next say he was awaiting the results of the Civil Rights investigation. Instead, Winchell treated the incident like it was part of his column, an item of gossip where he did not have to take responsibility for missing or added facts. He tried to protect the Oklahoma friend and the Stork Club, although he disagreed with the policy. As the sides hardened, Winchell attacked Baker for several years. It is wrong to say Winchell was a racist, but it is right to say he was an idiot bordering on imbecility.

Winchell was anti-Communist, and once again he got caught up on the extremes of Washington D.C. and a national issue. Winchell backed Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn (whom he introduced to the Senator). The grand finale which Winchell did not perceive coming or realized while it happened on television, was followed by Winchell trying to protect McCarthy and slamming organizations and individuals as communist-oriented, leaning left and pink. In the 1960s Winchell still called John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy communists.

Would anyone ever believe Walter Winchell could be so uneducated, ignorant and thick? He never understood, When the horse is dead, get off. He had to opportunity (like Ed Sullivan) to make the transition to Television, but did not fully understand the medium. [This thinking came from a guy who was in vaudeville for a dozen years and never forgot stage work.] Apparently, his life was so perfect – none of it was – that he was incapable of change. A New York celebrity dined with Winchell at the Stork Club, and opined in his diary, “Winchell was a bore, a vanity of all vanities.”(p. 257) Late in life he got a press pass and observed the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention street riots. Like most reporters Winchell did not and could not know the full story, but he chose anyway.

The strength of this biography tells the life and times of the man, how he fit in and his methods of surviving. The surprising fact is that Winchell did not change. In the end he sought television exposure, a further failure of business opportunities accompanying bad health and a disintegrating family. The times of Walter Winchell are not as complete as they can be because primary sources are likely not yet opened or available.

If the biography has problems they are absence by inference. Winchell’s shortcomings. It is a New York City behavior revisited on the American people every week now. He was usually nonsensical and unmeritorious on the attack, always blundering through trivia; the points made were off-point, scattered and offensive. That was Winchell’s doing in his column and on the radio. And now Americans have to hear that sort of tripe, petty, crybaby stuff everyday.

Winchell was not a celebrity. He received no respect and no love during his lifetime and afterward. He did not deserve it. Winchell preyed upon people’s fears until the last decades of life when opponents began beating Winchell up with their words. Winchell was notorious, an outlaw to entertainment and to society, one of the sorts of figures today who get arrested before a concert tour as part of a publicity campaign.

A final point: The Burt Lancaster movie, Sweet Smell of Success, (1957) was representative of Winchell’s career and life. Winchell was the target. It is an ugly, dark movie and a classic. But His Girl Friday is also about Winchell. Gary Grant, editor, plays Winchell. The character and the target share a first name, Walter.

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CRIME I

I’ve watched enough Crime Shows on ID and elsewhere, for background into police investigations, criminal activities, and cops and robbers. I might write about that stuff in the future. Here’s my rundown.

ONE, Do not be upset any thing a member of your family does or says. Do not be upset by any situation coming from within a family. Everyone in your family, including yourself, is a knucklehead. Be doubly thankful you only have to see those people once or perhaps twice a year, always smiling while you’re outright plastered, stoned or drooling.

TWO, Almost every one involved in a crime is guided by the worst base instincts, reinforced by low intelligence – moron, retard or imbecile. There is never any reason, logic, thought or discipline.

THREE, The lamest reason to kill are slights or disrespect. That reason usually indicates the criminal is so weak, he is hardly capable of remaining bipedal.

FOUR, Victims are plenty stupid. They are weak, have no reason, have no ability to observe, and cannot draw conclusions from the simplest facts and the most obvious behaviors before and around them. Some women think having a man be violent around them, means that man loves them. Note that victims prefer to remain innocent and surprised, if not delighted, until they are murdered.

FIVE, Always lock the doors of your dwelling and office. No community in America today should have an open door policy.

SIX, Be careful when dating a male who has been violent, arrested or has a long police record. A psychologist is likely to declare that man treated and cured. But psychologists like to lie; they make money lying to courts, prison officials, doctors, victims and the police. Lies are how psychologists make money.
[Note as a potential story, longtime shrink approves release of prisoner who then kills. Of course the prisoner/perpetrator is guilty. But can the shrink be discredited (impeached) by 20 previous misdiagnoses. American court let victims sue professionals for malpractice in the exercise of their professions. Can a crime victim or a family sue the shrink for malpractice?]

SEVEN, In any marriage the lack of money is usually a problem. If a spouse is going to Goodwill or to Ross on special occasions, the other other spouse shops at malls, those actions will grind away love and end in murder.

EIGHT, Obviously dating perpetrators and victims are tremendously immature. Neither knows who they are or who the other person is. The relationship never gets past, I’m the man for this pretty little girl. The guy has been looking at Internet porn for five years and figures he knows what to do. The girl is a step away from playing with dolls and giggling with girlfriends about boys in bathing suits. This is hardly sexist or a diminishment of American womanhood. An adolescent girl beginning middle school is much less mature than a savvy 17 year old lady.

NINE, Will Rogers advised (paraphrased), If you’re heading the herd, turn back every once in a while to see if anyone is following.
Americans are individuals in society and isolated. Look around everyone once in a while to see who is following. Sometimes it is good to take heed.
This is appropriate for parents loading and unloading children into cars. A family is vulnerable at this time. Get that routine down so it is automatic, thorough and quick.

TEN, Unless you are involved in Criminal Activities, always leave GPS or location markers (installed or absent) in your car; leave them on your phone [The U.S. government does not listen because they know most Americans are crushing bores. It’s the only way to explain how the government treats us.] If your computer has apps or locations markers, install them.

ELEVEN, Have common sense. If you are new to town, wait a spell before dating the prettiest girl or the most handsome hunk. Try to live alone; get your bearings. Don’t join roommates who don’t have common interests with you i.e. education, job, religion. If new to an area, keep a diary or a log, and explore until there is a map of the area within your brain.

TWELVE, Sometimes, meet anyone you date more than once before going on future dates. Don’t go on dates where plans are changed from a public place, to a private, secluded or secretive location.

THIRTEEN, Don’t believe anything anyone tells you online: age, location, occupation, photographs, likes and dislikes. How might anyone know the man or boy of her dreams does not have a job? He responds immediately after you send him an involved email or greeting during the day.

FOURTEEN, Sure firearms kill people. So do knives, screwdrivers, icepicks, hammers, tire irons, automobiles, clubs, ropes, wires, scarves and many other instruments, pieces of apparel or tools. Women and men should all be acquainted with and be able to use these means of improving civilization in their most useful ways.

FIFTEEN, Today, there will be witnesses to almost every act by every human being – microphones, recordings, videotape, security cameras, electronic memories and data collection and a less reliable witness, human beings.

CRIMINAL MINDS

The TV show has taken a bad turn with Reid in the slammer. Last night’s segment ended with a team member interviewing Reid in the pokey. Next came the ads. I hit the fast forward button, but there was a toilet paper holder with a frog decoration, I believe. I continued hitting the button but slowed when I got to crash dummies. I thought these adds really fit and support the Reid in prison story.

I can’t remember the next ads but at the end of the break I was disappointed. I wanted to return to reality: Jackie Johnson did not come on to give a teaser about tomorrow’s [today’s] weather.

KNOCK DOWN DRAG OUT

Tonight, the TV show The Good Fight airs. The description of tonight’s program reads, Lawyers Maia Ricdell and Diane Lockhart join one of Chicago’s preeminent law firms after a financial scam destroys Maia’s reputation.

Only on Wall Street, in California, in Hollywood and on TV can anyone be promoted after the reputation is blown to smithereens. If an attorney’s reputation is destroyed by fraud or scandalous acts, they become private investigators or security people, unless they’re hired by Don Trump.

As the program airs look for gut-wrenching moments when the producers try to concoct Catch Me If You Can moments, plus Maia attempts to regain reputation by giving lollipops to babies or by helping previously scammed old ladies, cross the street.

WRITING DEAD

Another participant on WordPress, Dan Altorre, has wondered and ask why Walking Dead has any audience at all. His blog was posted. I read it, and wrote. Rather than comment on his short blog and the shorter comments, I’ve decided to post my comments.

I can’t believe there is any attraction of zombies who are bipedal and sometimes kill people (kill because that’s what zombies do). Amongst those people zombie hunters want to live a norm life of a 1950s sit-com, perfect if the zombies weren’t around. It is pure dualism, us versus them, the most elementary of messages.

Perhaps, but unlikely normal viewers, can rid the world of all the dead and bad people, like Wyatt Earp did. Do everything that can’t be done. Shoot them; knife them; toss them off cliffs. Essentially Walking Dead scripts are easy to understand, written to soap opera standards. Toss in cliches to bring emotion for the fore. If you got caught up watching the Soaps as a kid, you’re ready to join the Walking Dead audience. This is real formula: On page 30 of the script is a “turning point.” On page 38 there is a crisis of character.” Sadly the whole world knows what is going on, except ME.

Other than the soap opera aspects, death in Walking Dead is carved into our brains just like it’s part of the TV news. Killing Zombies relieves us of shock value as statistics of real killings of human beings mount. Zombie may take the place of the boogie-man like Don Trump. The whole world is watching. Human traits of empathy and grief become less meaningful and in the end are a waste of time.

These mind sets are detrimental to the rainbow society everyone likes to advertise. In history, countries, societies and cultures have lived through eras of death. In the last century pre-World War Two Japan was such a place. Life and human existence became cheap; Japanese generals sacrificed soldiers and sailors and civilians. That trait of the Japanese is no longer part of that vibrant country and its people.

I do not understand the lure of Walking Dead. It is not supported by any of the world’s major religions. It is neither penetrating and deep, psychologically or philosophically. Its substance can be mastered in an afternoon’s reading to learn all the nuances of zombies, the undead, vampires and other violent imaginary characters. It is probably this last point which makes Walking Dead a primary attraction.

P.S. This explains why audience members have learned Klingon but don’t know a speck of Spanish. Why people use Friends to support lifestyle choices, but are always running out of money. Why living on a desert island is a drag because there is no professor and no Internet.

 

 

 

 

 

GULLIGAN’S ISLAND

I follow the news closely, but on the whole I’d rather watch reruns of Gulligan’s Island than the PBS Newshour. Sometimes it is better to be stuck on an isolated, desert island where everyone has enough space, there is food for everyone, and clean water is plentiful. It is a much cheerier locale without Internet or telephone connections than the dismal, unchanging island and inhabitants advanced in William Goldman’s Lord of the Flies, an episodic novel much like a TV show.

It is important and improbable to appreciate Gulligan’s Island. On the week before Christmas who would have thought that Mary Ann’s photograph wold be printed on the first page of Not Born Yesterday – News for Smart & Savvy Adults. Mary Ann looks terrific. Anyone who is eighteen years or older should stand and salute.

The interview with Dawn Wells aka Mary Ann (have you ever noticed no woman is named Dusk) gives some personal details. Dawn Wells was athletic but had bad knees (not evident on the show). Her youthful activities were jettisoned except canoeing and archery (neither evident on the show or she alone would have rowed to other islands and gotten help). When growing up she wanted to be a pediatric surgeon (not useful on the show). She went to college and onto the University of Washington where she became a theatre major (which is what a lot of people in Hollywood do).

Dawn Wells has now co-authored a book What Would Mary Ann Do? A Life Guide. I hope its tales and advice comes from the real life experiences of Dawn Wells, and not from the TV show. In the interview Dawn Wells is frank about the show: “If you’re a ten year old kid watching…, there’s not much to date it ‘ a desert island is a desert island.'”

I’m happy to learn that the rivalry between Ginger (Tina Louise) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) was only fable; Natalie Schaffer, Lovey Howell, was a real human being. Dawn Wells has credits in 150 TV shows and films and 60 theatrical productions since her Mary Ann role.

It is a Hollywood storied career with a book along the way – be positive, have friends, keep and generate new interests. That is good advice for every member of the human race. And for Dawn Wells, Mary Ann could have done much worse.

Dawn