Walter Winchell

Walter Winchell
"The way to become famous fast," gossip monger Walter Winchell claimed, "is to throw a brick at someone who is famous." His dictum seemed to work. At his peak, he was a national institution, with a syndicated daily column and a weekly radio broadcast that reached millions. Emerging in the 1920s, Winchell spiced his column with titillating insinuations about Broadway notables. With friendships that ranged from socialites to gangsters, Winchell presided over café society from his table at the Stork Club, gathering tips for his column.

Al Hirschfeld depicts Winchell's nervous energy with an asymmetrical pose so strained it creates the illusion that the artist himself can barely control his stretching, recoiling line. The image also hints at the vindictive excesses in Winchell's character that would eventually undermine his reputation. Although he died forgotten, a victim of the celebrity culture he did so much to mold, his legacy remained. By breaking the journalistic taboo against personal revelations, he opened a Pandora's box that would change the nature of celebrity.

Walter Winchell 1897-1972
Al Hirschfeld (born 1903)
Ink on paper, circa 1950
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Drawing reproduced by special arrangement with
The Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd., New York, NY

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