THE MEN WHO INVENTED BROADWAY: Damon Runyon, Walter Winchell and Their World by John Mosedale

THE MEN WHO INVENTED BROADWAY: Damon Runyon, Walter Winchell and Their World

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The opening chapter here seems to suggest that this book is going to have some theme or thesis: ""Walter and Damon serve as metaphor, the very paradigm, of Broadway columnist and observer. . ."" And social history seems to be in the air when the next chapters sketch in the Pulitzer/Hearst newspaper era--which made news into gossip and reporters into heroes. But soon thereafter it becomes clear that Mosedale has little in mind but a nostalgic N.Y. stroll through the Runyon and Winchell scrapbooks, along with familiar front-page lore and digressions into the big scandals, trials, prizefights, and other big stories of the Twenties and Thirties. As such, this is a fairly readable meander, though some readers may he annoyed by Mosedale's chattery, clichÉ-based style, his cheerful unoriginality (quoted chunks from secondary sources abound), and--most of all--his good-old-days droning, complete with gratuitous (often ignorant) put-downs of modern psychology, music, etc. Ignore all that, and you can probably enjoy the anecdotes: young Walter Winchell's rise from second-rate vaudevillian to barely literate columnist for show-biz rags, for the revolting Graphic (""gargoyle journalism"") and the Mirror; his gimmicks, feuds, and philanderings; Runyon's conquest of alcohoism, his rottenness as husband and father; his rise to fame with sports reporting, to fortune with ""cockeyed morality tales"" bought up by Hollywood. Mosedale also spends a lot of time quoting and arguing with a 1940 New Yorker profile of Winchell, though he then bases his last-page conclusion--that gossip in US papers is ""almost solely due to Walter""--on that same profile. And he gives Winchell full credit for early anti-Nazi propagandizing while not underplaying WW's 1950s Red-bating, his petty vindictiveness and rampant egotism. The connection between the two writers? Well, they both captured the Broadway essence--""Gangsters and speakeasies and darling, doomed children and hard-boiled newspapermen. . .""--and, when Runyon was on the way down, Winchell befriended him, later founding the Damon Runyon Memorial Fund for Cancer Research. Nothing new or significant, then, but a painless enough pastiche.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1980
Publisher: Marek-dist. by Putnam