Do you suppose the fact that Eddie spent more than six months each year at sea had something to do with it?
Fast-talking Walter Winchell was at the peak of his popularity and power during my high school years, with his widely syndicated Broadway column and his 15- minute nightly radio show on the NBC Blue network.
When he made the cover of Time Magazine July 11, 1938, the editors called him a “national institution.”
Later on, Winchell’s vicious paranoia and the fadeout of “Cafe Society” led to the erosion of his fame and power. But in the late thirties, he was still at the top of his game. One afternoon, as we were putting the Washingtonian to bed for the week, Editor Fred Lang came up with the idea of my doing a weekly Winchellesque column for the paper.
I took on the challenge.
Fred Lang named the column By’s Bylines. For the next nine months I banged out a weekly, uninhibited column loaded with gossip, opinions, predictions, doggerel poetry and even the latest knock knock jokes. These nutty, word-play diversions were the rage at that time.
“Euripides pants, I breaka your face!”
It was a sloppy column. As I look back on it, I am not proud of my attempt at three-dot journalism.
The column was popular with some of my compatriots, detested by others. Either way, it added a touch of spice to my senior year at Washington High.
In that final year, I was one of six Portland high school journalists invited to The Oregonian for an afternoon visit to the newspaper’s editorial department. We were able to meet and talk with reporters and editors and view the newsroom in full operation. It was truly a memorable experience for me. I stood around bug-eyed as an associate editor took us from point to point, explaining what was going on.
No computers. The big, noisy room echoed the organized bedlam of loud, fast-talking reporters, clickety- click typewriters, scores of teletype machines seemingly all going at once, cluttered floors, the smell of ink, yells from the copy desk and people running around—straight out of The Front Page. Playwrights Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur apparently knew what they were writing about.