Walter Winchell (April 7, 1897 – February 20, 1972) was a syndicated American newspaper gossip columnist and radio news commentator. Originally a vaudeville performer, Winchell began his newspaper career as a Broadway reporter, critic and columnist for New York tabloids. He rose to national celebrity in the 1930s with Hearst newspaper chain syndication and a popular radio program. He was known for an innovative style of gossipy staccato news briefs, jokes and Jazz Age slang. He found both hard news and embarrassing stories about famous people by exploiting his exceptionally wide circle of contacts, first in the entertainment world and the Prohibition era underworld, then in law enforcement and politics. He was known for trading gossip, sometimes in return for his silence. His outspoken style made him both feared and admired. Novels and movies were based on his wisecracking gossip columnist persona, as early as the play and film Blessed Event in 1932. As World War II approached, he attacked the appeasers of Nazism in the 1930s, and in the 1950s aligned with Joseph McCarthy in his campaign against communists. He damaged the reputations of Charles Lindbergh and Josephine Baker as well as other individuals who had earned his enmity. However, the McCarthy connection in time made him deeply unfashionable, and his style did not adapt well to television news. He did return to television in 1959 as narrator of the Twenties crime drama series The Untouchables. Over the years he appeared in more than two dozen films and television productions as an actor, sometimes playing himself.
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A broken leg can be remembered and located: "It hurt right below my knee, it throbbed, I felt sick at my stomach." But mental pain is remembered the way dreams are remembered — in fragments, unbidden realizations, like looking into a well and seeing the dim reflection of your face in that instant before the water shatters.