Radio stars (July 1933)

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RADIO STARS The Real Truth About the Winchell-Bernie Feud over one eye swaggered U p a nd cu t in on the bully's fun. To make it clear, Bernie was the kid on the spot . . . and the gamester who took his part was Walter Winchell. The bully? He danced home to mama with tears in his eyes and has never been heard of since. That was the beginning of their "feud." Their friendship, I'd call it. Walter left school not long after- wards. At the age of thirteen. You may have missed his story. In brief, he got a job in a Harlem movie house as a singing usher. Two other ambi- tious kids worked with him. One was Georgie Jessel and the other was Eddie Cantor. Winchell was spelled with one "1" in those days. When Gus Edwards put him into a vaudeville review, a printer made a mistake and added an- other "1" ... so Winchel became Win- chell. QCRING the World War. he enlisted in the Navy and became an admir- al's confidential secretary. Can you imagine Walter keeping something con- fidential ? Then he toured the country a-, a "hoofer," earning $100 a week. But he wanted to he a newspaperman. So he took a 75% cut and got a job on a theatrical weekly for $25. From that humble spot to his present post as "the most famous newspaper- man in the world," he rose quickly. Success hasn't stopped him. He is still very much on the job. All night long, usually. His getting-up time is at four o'clock in the afternoon. By five, wlun most people are closing their desks and thinking of dinner and easy slippers, he is arriving at his office. After three or four hours at a type- writer he starts his news hunt. "It's a dizzy business." he says. "But (Continued from page 7) T love it. All Broadway is my back yard." And now . . . Ben Bernie, the Old Maestro. Benjamin Ancel was his name at first. He was a boy prodigy with the violin. Good enough to give a concert at Car- negie Hall (to which came vast droves of relatives ) and get a job in a music store selling $5.98 violins. When he was fired, he went into vaudeville. With the name shifting to Benjamin Berni . . . B-e-r-n-i. yowsir ! The "e" came along years later. Theatrical careers are much the same . . . playing for '"throw money" in cheap cafes where your coffee and cakes are bought by the coins tossed at your feet . . . being a master of cere- monies . . . teaming with another per- former and touring the sticks. One of Bernie's partners was Phil Baker, now starring on the Armour program. One night, Ben happened to hear Paul Whiteman's band. "I want a band, too," he told a friend. Within a few weeks, he had one. And that was the beginning of Ren Bernie and all the lads. RUT the feud? The Winchell-Bernie ° feud. Well, it was Walter's idea. Walter is a smart showman, remember. And his job, in the days that he was grow- ing from a forgotten hoofer to a big shot on the Rig Stem of New York, was to attract attention to himself. One way of doing this, he realized, was to start a fight. His first sparring partner was Mark Hellinger, rival writer and Broadway columnist. For months, these two tossed brickbats at each other. And the town ate it up. Only a few on the inside knew that they were the best of friends. Finally, too many protests were lodged. Their editors made them cpuit. So Winchell picked another victim. He wanted a fight, remember. Some- thing that would make friends and enemies. Deep in his mind was the memory of a maxim of Barnum's. "1 don't care what they say about me," Barnum stated, "just so they mention my name." Winchell picked the most popular guy on the air. Rudy Vallee. Thousands of people rushed to Rudy's defense. Letters and telegrams stormed Winchell's office. His editor went gray with worry, but Winchell grinned. This was what he wanted. But one thing was wrong. Vallee wouldn't hit hack. So Walter dropped his ribbing. Then he remembered Ben. Ben Bernie, the kid in the play-yard with the big bully about to sock him . . . the up-and-coming band leader whom he had met again on Broadway when Winchell was only half of an unim- portant "hoofing" act. That had been twelve years back. Walter had seen Ben on a vaudeville hill, recognized him and characteristic- ally, panned the act. After that meet- ing, for the first time in years, they became pals. So Walter picked his pal to become the goat of his repartee. And Ben agreed to do his part of the berating. And that was the beginning of the fa- mous feud that has split communities. As for Winchell and Bernie. they love it. Why shouldn't they? They're getting rich on it. Not long ago, the two of them were booked into the Para- mount Theatres in New York and Brooklyn. Advertisements called their meeting the Battle of tbe Century. Rec- ord-breaking crowds jammed both the- atres. For each week of this "battle." Walter was paid $7,000. Ben got $6,500. No wonder they love it. Not long ago. Walter heard that Ben had fallen for jigsaw puzzles. He had a special one made up and sent it to him without any name or letter. It was composed of hundreds of pieces. Ben worked over it a day and a night and finally got it together . . . and found a picture of Walter Winchell thumbing his nose above the caption, "Barnum was right." Let this put a finish to all the foolish arguments that Ben and Walter are enemies. Positively, they are the best of friends. Last winter, when Walter's daughter Gloria died. Hen was thor- oughly broken up. When Ben's mother died a few months earlier, Walter was one of the sinccrest mourners. Such friendships as theirs are rare. Broadway is no place for friendships, you know. It is a street of jealousies and bitterness. Walter Winchell, who once named it the Grandest Canyon, described it perfectly when he said, "Broadway is the place where they'll slap you on the back, if you're sun burned." But there arc exceptions. Phil Baker, the Armour Jester, gives up the accordion for the meat saw —just temporarily, of course. That's Harry Norton, "Bottle," behind him —with that luscious steak. 40