Books: A Novel Treatment of a Legend

WALTER WINCHELL by Michael Herr; Knopf; 158 pages; $18.95

It's got a dark, obsessive, partly despicable and wholly compelling protagonist; a strong supporting cast (Damon Runyon, Ernest Hemingway, Hedy Lamarr); a marvelous milieu (vaudeville in the '20s, New York City cafe society in the '30s, radio in the '40s, television in the '50s); a plot that comes in Gatling-gun bursts; and a resonance that is part parable of American success and part caution. Walter Winchell would make a great movie.

It didn't, though. Michael Herr, whose 1977 Dispatches was one of the seminal books about Vietnam, first wrote this semifictional portrait...

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