Scope and arrangement
The Walter Winchell papers consist of correspondence, annotated radio scripts, miscellaneous scripts for stage and film, thematic news articles, scrapbooks and clippings. Correspondence is sketchy and consists, with few exceptions, of letters (and telegrams) written to Winchell from Fannie Brice, Samuel Goldwyn, Billy Rose, and Gene Weber. The most numerous letters and clippings in the collection are in the Billy Rose folders, which contain significant information about Rose himself as well as about his relationship with Winchell.
The largest portion of the collection is the radio scripts and includes annotated typewritten copies of his radio broadcasts from 1930 to 1959. Because of their fragile condition, these scripts are available only on microfilm. The radio broadcasts are valuable for their weekly look at the world through Winchell's eyes as he reported the news and world events from his often controversial perspective. Although the latest gossip about celebrities (especially actors) remained a staple of his broadcasts throughout his career, the sequence of Winchell's broadcasts is perhaps most significant as a barometer of his gradual transformation from an amusing gadfly in the early 1930's to a New Deal populist in the later 1930's, a zealous patriot during World War II, and finally a strident anti-Communist in the 1950's. Among his more notable broadcasts are the following:
May 12, 1930: In his first broadcast - filled with ingenious wordplay and tidbits about celebrities - Winchell introduces himself as "New York's most notorious gossip" and "Peck's Blab Boy."
March 19, 1933: Winchell praises FDR as "the nation's new hero," who has pledged to redistribute income in order to eliminate the very poor and very wealthy.
January, 1935: Winchell's broadcasts of this month focus on his personal obser-vations and speculations as a reporter at the Bruno Hauptmann("Lindbergh baby") trial.
February 9, 1936: Winchell extols J. Edgar Hooverand the FBI.
May 9, 1937: Three days after the Hindenburg zeppelin catches fire, Winchell broadcasts three items dealing with possible causes of the disaster.
July 31, 1938: In this famous broadcast, Winchell tests the political waters for FDR when he alleges that "Intimates say . . . the president feels the nation needs him in the White House for another four year term."
June 7, 1942: A long-time advocate of American intervention in the war against Hitler, Winchell asserts that the Pearl Harbor attack proves Americans must rally to defend their liberties around the globe.
October 30, 1949: Winchell discusses his role as treasurer of the Damon RunyonMemorial Cancer Fund (one of Winchell's few lasting legacies, the organization is now known as the Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Research Fund).
April, 1951: In this month's broadcasts during the Korean War, Winchell ardently defends General MacArthur's "global strategy" that won World War II, and blasts the Truman-Acheson "appeasement" policies towards Red China.
October 21, 1951: This broadcast includes Winchell's controversial defense of his conduct in the Josephine Baker-Stork Club cause célèbre.
November 9, 1952: Winchell calls a certain left-wing political party a "Commie front," describes Paul Robesonas a "Moscow mule," and offers a $7000 reward for the capture of each of "7 fugitive Reds."
April 4, 1954: In a very controversial broadcast that caused great alarm among health officials and the general public, Winchell warns of the dangers of the Salk polio vaccine, asserting that "7 of 10 batches contained live - not dead - polio virus."
Among the stage and film scripts, two are of especial interest. The scenario Winchell wrote for the film Broadway Thru a Keyhole(1933) was based on a love triangle of five years earlier that involved Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, and the bootlegger Johnny Costello. In the film Wake Up and Live(1936-1937), Winchell, as an actor playing himself, received good critical notices in his first starring role.
The thematic news articles are primarily of four types: historical sketches of famous men Winchell admired (Washington, Lincoln, Columbus, Jefferson); paeans to seasons or holidays (Autumn, Spring, Summer, Xmas); tendentious essays ("How to Succeed in Show Business," "Communists and Optimists"); and gossip about Great Men ("Things I Never Knew 'Til Now"). The paeans are flowery. The historical sketches are written in a vivid prose filled with colorful facts, striking comparisons, and ringing phrases (e.g., "History is written in blood before it is inscribed in ink").
The scrapbooks from the New York trade paper The Vaudeville News(1920-1923) contain some of Walter Winchell's earliest writing. In its June 11, 1920 issue the 23-year-old Winchell, in a column entitled "The Evening Newssense," already displays many ingredients of the snappy style that later became his trademark. By December of 1923, Winchell's columns have become regular features, with his by-line appearing in bold print.
Winchell's regular newspaper columns for the New York Evening Graphic(1924-1929) and New York Daily Mirror(1929-1963) appear on microfilm reels that represent the years 1928 through 1961. There are also 2 scrapbooks with materials from 1926 to 1935.
The Walter Winchell papers are arranged in four series:
- 1933-19671 box
This series contains primarily letters written from notables such as Samuel Goldwynand Billy Rose. Though it is probable that Winchell had an extensive correspondence, these are the only letters in the collection. The clippings folder about Billy Rose includes his column "Pitching Horseshoes," and one example of Winchell's column "In New York."
- 1930-195941 boxes 10 reels
This series contains radio scripts, stage and film scripts, and transcripts of other writings of Walter Winchell. Because of the fragility of these materials, reference is available only through microfilm.
- 1920-19582 boxes 21 reels
This series contains copies of Winchell's newspaper columns from 1923 to 1958. These columns were published in The Vaudeville News, the New York Evening Graphic, and the New York Daily Mirror. Reference only through microfilm.
- 1926-19352 reels
This series contains clippings about Walter Winchell, bound in scrapbook form. Reference only through microfilm.