Academic journal article Journalism History

Book Reviews -- Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity by Neal Gabler

Academic journal article Journalism History

Book Reviews -- Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity by Neal Gabler

Article excerpt

Gabler, Neal. Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. 681 pp. $30.

Walter Winchell and Edward R. Murrow evoke diametrically opposite' images of journalism's past. The former is the dark serpent, the other is the good angel. One represents what journalism was, the other what it should be. But which is which? Whose influence is felt more today?

Winchell should not be dismissed lightly by historians of twentieth-century journalism as an annoying and aberrant presence in the past. Nor can he be. At the peak of his fame and success, he reached far more Americans through his syndicated column and his network radio program than any other journalist of his time. He was powerful enough to make or break careers with a single mention, and politicians as well as entertainers feared him and courted his favor. Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened the White House to Winchell and won the columnist's unflagging support in the political arena. Harry Truman did not. Winchell repaid the rebuff by publicly reminding the president that he was "no FDR."

In the book's introduction, Gabler states two goals. One is to do the definitive biography of his subject; the other is to use his subject's life to explore the emergence of a "culture of celebrity" in twentieth-century America. Gabler states boldly that Winchell helped to create this culture and that it bears his indelible imprint to this day. The author clearly succeeds in the first goal but falls short of the second. Nevertheless, what he accomplishes is remarkable. He weaves a wonderful tale, which is rich in description and insight. …

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