Monday, April 09, 2012

Beating Up Barry Gray

Barry Gray was a lot like Walter Winchell in many ways. They were both mudslingers no doubt, but Walt was a bit more political and presented himself at least ostensibly as a news man, hence those teletype sounds. Barry Gray was more of a gossip. This is why Lee Mortimer punched out Barry Gray and not Walter Winchell. Though later Winchell had his own spat with Gray. they had some things in common...suffice it to say that Barry Gray got in a lot of fights.

Barry's fight with Lee began in 1946 and started to appear in issues of Billboard as accusations of libel. In January of 1947 Gray had been on WOR-AM for about 2 years doing overnights and doing interviews and slinging gossip like a low-rate Walter Winchell. Lee said that "nobody hit anybody" but that's not what Gray's face looked like. 

Barry Gray's real name was Bernard Yaroslaw.  In radio, Gray had started out as just another disc jockey on WMCA flipping records but then did an interview one night with Woody Herman. The format became what we now call talk radio. For that reason he is sometimes called the father of talk radio. By October of 1949 he was doing overnights on WOR expounding on that talk schtick.

In 1952 he started the spat with Winchell. Winchell called him “Borey Pink” trying to make an offensive connection between Barry's Jewish heritage and communism. But in 1955 Gray had a chance to fight back. Winchell's favorite watering hole was the Stork Club. Relating to a public libel scandal, an effort was being made to revoke it's liquor license. It was a bit of a conspiracy by Winchell's enemies. Gray went on a tear inviting some of those enemies on his radio show including even Ed Sullivan. The book Let's Go To Press by Ed Werner records the following incident:
"On the show, a  guest had asked Gray, "What is your ambition in life, is it  to be another Walter Winchell?" Gray had replied forcefully,  "Yes, my ambition is to be another Winchell. After all, how  long can he expect to live?"

Gray later claimed that Winchell previously hired some thugs to rough him up. It may be why he left town in 1948. Gray took his show from New York to Miami, broadcasting from 1140 WMIE-AM. He broadcast the program live from a series of night clubs including the Kitty Davis Night Spot, Copa Lounge and Danny & Doc's Jewel Box .. (weak source on that last one) Things got a little hot for him professionally after a few altercations and an incident where he clubbed someone over the head with the microphone. 

Barry returned to WMCA in 1950 and stayed for almost 4 decades. He didn't leave until 1989 on the heels of a format change. He took the opportunity to return to WOR-AM. that parlayed into "The Barry Gray Show" which aired on WOR-TV. The TV show didn't last, but Barry stayed on WOR-AM until his death in 1996. He was 80 years old.  He was voted 1996 "Talk Show Host of the Year" by the National Association of Talk Show Hosts.