30 September, 2020

Tragedy Of Celebrity

The story of a self-appointed arbiter of mass culture and gossip

Tragedy Of Celebrity
AT the height of his power in the late '30s and '40s, every American knew of Walter Winchell. His syndicated gossip column and weekly radio broadcast reached an estimated 50 million readers and listeners out of an adult population of 75 million. In a society seething with egalitarian impulses and discontents, Winchell had redefined media's role in American society, introducing concepts all too familiar today: journalism as entertainment, celebrity gossip as news and opinion-making as reportage. Although he would die a lonely and defeated man, Winchell presided over American mass media culture for decades, a self-appointed arbiter of taste and power and an eerie harbinger of the culture of celebrity and gossip that would take hold of all of us in the decades to come. Winchell was the very epitome of celebrity—he also starred in movies, inspired songs and started controversies.

In Neal Gabler's fascinating biography, Walter Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity, he emerges as a strangely emblematic figure—a guru of "a cultural revolution in...



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