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Walter Winchell

His initials were W.W., and in the 1930s and 1940s they were enough to identify him to most of America. He was widely considered the creator of modern gossip writing, and in his heyday this rude, abrasive, egotistical and witty man was the country’s best known and most widely read journalist and one of its most influential. In 1943, when there were 140 million people in the United States, more than 50 million of them read his gossip column every day in more than 1000 newspapers, including his flagship, The New York Daily Mirror. Even more people listened to his weekly radio broadcast. Hated, feared and revered, he presided over Table 50 of the Stork Club in New York, creating and destroying celebrities at the drop of his trademark gray snap-brim fedora.

Yet when he died in 1972, at age 74, he was practically forgotten. Only two people attended his funeral; his daughter, Walda, and the rabbi who officiated at his services. Today, not many people under 40 even know the name of Walter Winchell.

Mervyn Rothstein, in the New York Times, 6-24-1990.