Reader Kilmer Spencer, of Griffith, left me a wonderful phone message last week, and I'm happy to share it.
"You mentioned in your column about Earl Wilson's gossip column appearing in The Hammond Times and about rival columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper," Kilmer said.
"But what about Jimmy Fidler? When I was a kid, and I'm 91 now, Fidler's column in The Gary Post-Tribune reported all the news from Hollywood and he also had a popular radio show broadcast heard around the country."
Thank you, Mr. Spencer, for helping remind me of Fidler's print influence and power behind the pen. You are exactly correct with your account. If The Hammond Times carried Wilson's syndicated column and The South Bend Tribune carried Dorothy Kilgallen's syndicated column, then The Gary Post-Tribune likely had to pick one of their contemporaries. The reason being, syndicates often used "exclusivity clauses" in the contract agreements for the mile radius of competing media outlets allowed to purchase the same content. And since Hearst Newspapers' Chicago American (which closed in 1964) had the lock on Parsons and Walter Winchell's columns and The Chicago Tribune featured Hedda Hopper, Northwest Indiana newspapers had to select from other print personalities. Of course, The Sun-Times had Irv Kupcinet.
Originally from St. Louis, Fidler, although now largely forgotten, was a force to be reckoned with and enjoyed a faithful following. Since he was based in Los Angeles, with his column "Jimmy Fiddler's Hollywood" based with flagship newspaper The Los Angeles Times, he was the chief competitor to L.A.-based Parsons throughout the 1930s.
Fidler even famously "scooped" Lolly Parsons with a big story in 1935 about Clark Gable's divorce from his second wife (of his five marriages), Rhea. While Louella had confirmed the info by telephone with Gable, since the actor was in New York at the time, she listened to the advice of Hearst lawyers and opted to wait until Gable's return to the West Coast to get a signed statement. By the time her column in The Los Angeles Examiner appeared with her "exclusive," Fidler had already announced the news to the world the night before on his radio broadcast. His radio show, sponsored by Arrid Deodorant and also Tangee Lipstick, and broadcast from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, reached 40 million listeners via 486 radio stations around the country. McNaught Syndicate provided his column to 360 newspaper outlets.
When Hopper's column launched in the late 1930s, her flair, flamboyant personality and trademark hats seemed to move Fidler to her shadow in the public eye for media celebrity status. While Hopper and Parsons sometimes catered to studio whims, Fidler did not and was often feared for his merciless movie reviews, which could result in box office ruin. At the height of his popularity, he earned more than $250,000 a year and his longevity in the business far outlasted nearly all his counterparts, before he retired in 1983. He died in New York City at age 89 on Aug. 9, 1988.