This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Walter Winchell (1897-1972)

Walter Weinschel was born April 7, 1897, in New York City. He quit school after the sixth grade and went into vaudeville in a group called the Newsboys Sextet. As he grew up, he got caught up in some of the gossip that went on backstage in vaudeville. He parlayed this into a journalistic career in the 1920s with the New York Daily Mirror. In 1930, he began doing a 15 minute gossip spot on Saks on Broadway (CBS radio). Two years later, he got his own radio show, still only 15 minutes of airtime, the Jergens Journal (NBC Blue). He had a gimmick being a telegraph key he tapped quickly, while he spoke quickly and staccato. It made everything seem extremely exciting.

Walter reported on the kidnapping of Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. (1931-32), the son of the great aviator. Listeners believed everything he said. It's said that his own prejudice about the case is what sent Bruno Hauptmann (1899-1936) to the New Jersey electric chair.

After the Lindbergh case, Walter became more involved with things outside the entertainment world. Originally, he was a political liberal who was loyal to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1884-1945) and his programs. But as the years went by he became worried about Communism. When the House on Unamerican Affairs Committe (HUAC) began discussing the possibility of Communist sympathizers in the entertainment industry, He was instrumental in getting Josephine Baker (1906-75) deported, even though she was a native born American citizen. Walter Winchell was one of the most hated people in America. When he started out with the Blue Network (later to become ABC) his contract stipulated that he could say anything about anyone and get away with it. He sided with Senator Joseph McCarthy (R., Wisc./1908-57), which didn't help things much after Senator C. Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn./1903-63) set him straight.After McCarthy's death, Walter moved out to California and became the narrator of the TV police series, The Untouchables. After that series, he had a minor role on one of Lucille Ball's TV situation comedies.

In his personal life, Walter married Rita Green in 1919. Rita was one of the other performers in his vaudeville act. Maybe they worked together on the stage well, but they were terrible as husband and wife. The couple adopted a little girl, Gloria (1924-33), who died of pneumonia at the age of nine.. Walter would later call this, "the only tragedy of my life." Before the couple divorced in 1928, they separated and Walter moved in with June Magee (d. 1969). They had a daughter, Eileen Joan, whom they would call Walda (1927- ). For many years, they kept the fact that they weren't married, but living together, a secret, as this was stigmatic at that time in history. Walter refused to get married to June because it would show that Walda was an illegitimate child. Walter Winchell, Jr. (1935-68) was born and would have a very sad life. Walt was working as a dishwasher in Santa Ana, California, when he committed suicide at the age of 33. The following year, June died

As for Walt (Jr.)'s father, he died following suffering for many months with prostate cancer. Even though he had announced his retirement in 1969 after the death of June, his career was really over years before. Walter Winchell died a the age of 74 in Los Angeles. When they had his funeral, the only person who showed up was his daughter Walda. She was the only member of the family left. He is buried in Phoenix, Arizona, at the Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery.

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