Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 12/05/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/05/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

>Neal Gabler


"EVERYTHING INTRIGUED ME ABOUT him," says Neal Gabler, 44, after spending six years immersed in the ruthless life and heady times of Walter Winchell. "Month after month, he never bored me. I was fascinated that he lived at a pitch that would have burnt out any other human being. There could never be a another Winchell," adds Gabler, a former Sneak Previews film reviewer whose first book, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, was published to great acclaim in 1988. "Today, Rush Limbaugh delivers political commentary in roughly the same style; Larry King uses his media connections to gain political access in the way Winchell did. Liz Smith writes about personalities and cafe society; Howard Stern talks about the peccadilloes of others, but no one has Winchell's range, and in today's competitive media environment no one could ever monopolize information the way that he did."

Martin Scorsese has scooped up Winchell screen rights, and though he hasn't been asked, Gabler lists Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Richard Dreyfuss and Kevin Costner on his roster to star in the coveted role.

As absorbing as Winchell's company was, Gabler, who lives in Amagansett, N.Y., with his wife, Christina, and their two daughters, Laurel, 10, and Tanne, 7, has had no trouble parting with his subject. In March he plans to tackle his next big project: Walt Disney. "He will be my obsession for the next six years," says Gabler, "and I can't wait to make his acquaintanceship."

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