Britt Reid didn’t follow a traditional publisher’s job description, and I’m not just talking about his moonlighting as a masked crime fighter for more than 1,000 radio episodes in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.
However, the “daring young publisher,” as each Green Hornet episode introduced him, did not hit-on his secretary or call her a “hottie” back in the radio days. That bit of inappropriate behavior had to wait for 2011’s Seth Rogen Green Hornet movie, which I sat through last weekend. In the film, Reid admits to being a dope about newspapers.
Not so the radio version. Reid sometimes acted like an editor-in-chief, or took the more hands-on approach of a managing editor. Sometimes he wrote or dictated editorials. In some episodes, he even went out to gather the facts himself — and wound up in great danger as a result.
Lines also blurred between the publisher and Gunnigan, who was Daily Sentinel city editor in name, but more managing editor in practice. I think Gunnigan was the only other titled Sentinel executive mentioned in the couple of hundred episodes I’ve heard, watched or read. (Newspaper job descriptions are a bit vague in other radio dramatic series, too.)
Sometimes Reid gave reporters news tips or explicit assignments, or gave direct orders to the city editor. And sometimes he just seemed bored with the place, giving his secretary the impression he was simply a playboy who slept late after nights on the town.
Radio fans knew that on his nights out, Reid was more inclined to jump in his fast car and fight crime with something punchier than an editorial. Of course that was the underlying theme of the entire series: That Reid had become a vigilante out of frustration with racketeers slipping through loopholes in the legal system.
As the Green Hornet, he pretended to be an even bigger crook, but used guile, trickery, blackmail, threats or coercion to get the real bad guys to incriminate themselves, while eluding the police himself. Here’s an example, complete with some of Reid’s reflections on journalism. In this Murder Ring Racket episode, Reid and city editor Gunnigan debate the ethics of their sensation-minded competition, The Clarion, which is hiding an informant to get exclusive stories:
“The Clarion ought to think more of the public and less of yellow journalism,” Reid says. “What they are doing is against the public interest.”
Reid’s secretary Lenore Case is in the act in this episode, too — confronted by a hoodlum who mistakes her for someone from the other paper, which has hidden away a witness to get exclusive stories out of him. “The Clarion is a block further down,” she says, and slugs him with her purse, mentioning that she wishes it had a brick in it.
Updated June 4, 2011, primarily to correct the episode date and title. The MP3 link is from freeotrshows.com, and the episode is also available at archive.org and RadioSpirits. In the broadcast, The Hornet introduces the story with the phrase “Murder Ring Racket,” and the episode is listed as “Crandall and the Murder Ring” with a 1939 date in some MP3 collections. However, the exhaustive 2010 book The Green Hornet by Martin Grams Jr. and Terry Salomonson lists the story under the copyright-registration script title, “Murder Seeks Its Victim,” with a June 5, 1940, broadcast date.