On Broadway

Walter Winchell

Spartanburg Herald-Journal/March 18, 1940

“Dear Mr. Winchell,” writes Rufus P. Payne, publisher of The Strathmore Press (Detroit, Mich.), “the writer has long been an interested reader of your column in The Detroir Times and feel he has the right to forward a suggestion to you, which is: That you change the name of your occasional Hicktown News-Press to Hometown News-Press or some other less antagonizing name. Most people resent the designation of their home town no matter how small or out of the way as “hick town.” Due to the radio, the movies and other features of modern life, including good roads and automobiles, there are not many really ‘hick towns’ left, at least that is my observation in this section of our country.”

Mr. Payne is not alone in muffling the point of the name “The Hicktown News-Press.” That column concerns New Yorkers chiefly, and since so many residents west of it enjoy calling New York “the biggest hick town of them all,” we thought it an appropriate title.


Then there is the open letter on the front page of The Herald-Progress of Ashland, Va. (in Hanover County), which follows:

“Mr. Walter Winchell, who has problem been as far into the Grass Roots country as the Bronx, and who is about as natively rural as a Broadway map post, has been issuing his daily column in what he naively assumes is a small-town weekly style lately, bother his undersigned contemporary and erstwhile admirer no end. Mr. Winchell entitles his column “The Hicktown Press” and fills it with such quaint ruralisms as ‘ye ed opines,’ ‘wal, I’ll be goldurned,’ ‘never did care a hang nohow,’ ‘all het up’ and other phrases which are about as characteristic of modern rural America as celluloid collars and bandana handkerchiefs. Lao Tse say: “Broadway Confucius better stick to Broadway lingo.’


“Mr. Winchell, who usually prides himself on being 24 hours ahead of the news, is, in this instance, about 40 years behind the times. The homespun and illiterate country editor who recorded the career of his subscriber from Baptistry to bier with folksy concern and informal grammar is in these days as outdated as hickory shirts and brogans. Today the country editor is usually a college graduate, about 40 years old, an accurate reporter and a good citizen. Small-town America reads the same magazines, newspapers and novels as Bigtown America and just as soon. It listens to the same radio programs, sees the same movies. It goes to the same places, does the same things, wears the same styles, and speaks the same languages as its brothers and sisters of the cities. It even gets its daily dose of Walter Winchell at the same moment. A wise crack, spawned in a Broadway night club, hits Hicktown about as fast as it hits Brooklyn, and Hicktown usually has a bright answer for it before Brooklyn has found out what it means. About the only place that would still be amused by ‘ye country editor’ is New York City, which proves again to our satisfaction that New York is America’s hick town after all. And if ye country editor gets over being so het up about that gol-durned Winchell feller, we’ll see you all next week.—The Editor.”


Another front-page open letter appeared in the Crewel (Va.) Chronicle, to wit: “Walter Winchell, Prop. and Editor, The Hickstown News-Press, New York City. Dear Walt: I have a sneaking notion that your Hickstown News-Press was poking fun at us smalltown weekly editors. I’ll bet there are more hicks along Broadway than in all our Nottaway county, and history is full of the accomplishments of small-town boys, who went to the bit city and made good, but gosh-darned is I can recall of many city chaps coming to the small town and making good. Maybe they don’t like cows, mules, and are scared when darkness falls. Yes, Walt, you have a lot of the celebs. Jack Dempsey, Mae West, Jim Farley, John L. Lewis, Joe Louis, Mayor LaGuardia and host of others, from whom you can churn news for your column day in and day out, not to mention some of those gangsters who are bobbing up causing trouble in your fair city.


“If it weren’t for the celebs and the politicians, ye ed wonders what you would write about. Down home here our celebs are usually Harry Becks, Bunk Wilson, Bliss Strawser, Bingo Oliver, Charlie Ashmore, Herman McCune, C. I. Jennings, all fine fellers who like to fish, hunt and swap stories. Down here, we do things a little different than you do on Broadway. We live a full life from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., whereas you live just vice versa and, by golly, miss the best part of the day. Then we have lots of things you don’t find along Broadway—creeks, woods, cows, chickens, mules, good roads, bad roads, and so forth. We get a lot of fun out of earning our bread and butter, and if we are sick and cannot earn, friends usually chip in to tide us over until we’re on our feet again. You can’t beat that, can you, Walt—‘Jeff’ Davis, Prop. & Editor, The Crewe Chronicle.”


“Dear Walter,” writes W.K. from the Hotel Sherman, Chicago. “Your reprint of the 1934 burlesk on your own stuff was good nose-pulling. But what interested me most about the thing was the high mortality rate among column personalities. So many of them are dead, discredited, divorced, washed up, etc. I wonder if, back in your files, you haven’t an example of a dead column—of people who no longer rate a mention. It’s kind of throat-catching to think about. Broadway’s a very short street.”

“I can see you never lived in a small town where sound travels faster than light. I have lived here since I was born, and my objection to census questions is not that I do not want the government to know my business, but that I do not want my neighbors to know it. I know they write their own story but I can do nothing about that. I have no objection to giving information about my business to a stranger, but to be required to give it to someone in the neighborhood, who perhaps has not a bowing acquaintance with the word ‘confidential,’ sets me a-dither. Don’t you think the main objection is the thought that one’s personal affairs may be broadcast?—very sincerely yours, Georgia S. Hall of Oakley, Kansas.”


“Dear Mr. Winchell,” writes Allen Morris of The Miami Herald. “In 1932 you ran this: ‘Once when a mighty group put the hooks into my hide, the only balm I got out of it was pasting on my office walls the F.P.A. had penned. The newspaper man, he said, meets only two classes—those who want to know why he printed it, and those who want to know why he didn’t. And in the course of years, the newspaper man, who in an effort at honesty prints many things and quits printing many things loses many friendships, whose wobbly foundations seem safe until the crumble. Our advice to young men about to enter journalism is to enter it if possible, for no other business seems to us like shooting craps for no stakes. But to the youth we add—any friends you make you must consider so much velvet.’

“Does that represent your views today—eight years later?”


Yes, but don’t forget the “Confucius Say” of longer ago than that: “The newspaper man always has one foot on a banana peel.”

(Source: Google News, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1876&dat=19400318&id=fVIsAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1soEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7059,1586929)