Emotional woes and courage of a newspaper family

“Bad enough to give up something that’s meant your whole life, running a newspaper, but when I can’t even get a copy of it to read!” — Bob Drake, publisher

No wonder publisher Bob Drake has a temper tantrum when his morning newspaper isn’t delivered. He’s moved out to the country town of Walton to recover from the miracle operation that gave him back the use of his legs, but he still expects his Monroe Trumpet in time for breakfast. Corruption may be afoot!

In this fifth episode of our serial (4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st), the angry newspaperman fires off a long distance phone call to the managing editor — serious business back in the 1930s — and you can hear his blood pressure rise when the switchboard operator doesn’t recognize his name immediately.

His wife (and co-publisher) Betty laughs and teases him constantly from the background (“Oh darling… I think you’re ridiculous”), enough to suggest that his histrionics are at least slightly theatrical. But when the conversation with the managing editor turns serious, so does she.

The news is that both the police chief and the city manager in Monroe have resigned — major news that Bob has been missing, and he’s only been on his rest-cure for a couple of days!

“He wasn’t the brightest chief of police in the world, but he was an honest man,” Drake says, perhaps foreshadowing something we’ll find out soon.

Alas, this week’s JHeroes selection from the Archive.org Betty & Bob collection spends so much time recapping the plot and re-establishing the characters that I’ll add a second episode below. The summaries — along with the two minutes of “commercial would go hear” syrupy music — eat about half of this one, so feel free to fast-forward. More time goes to a sub-plot about a possible romance between Claire, the widow of a murdered star reporter, and Chet, the courageous local schoolteacher. In fact, the episode’s filename is Chet is falling for Claire. (Chet and the Drakes bravely saved a neighbor from an angry mob on their first “peaceful” day back in the country.)

Reporter murdered

This next episode, Betty tells Chet about Claire’s Situation, includes an element familiar in many “newspaper movies” and radio series — a “how the reporter got his job” scene. The reporter in this case is Hal Evans, Claire’s late husband, and Betty tells how the idealistic young writer hitchhiked cross-country when he heard the Drakes were taking over The Trumpet.  

She follows up with the story about the investigative reporting project that led to Hal’s apparent murder by racketeers, and she makes clear his pretty young widow’s current “situation.” Of course she’s pregnant. “Betty and Bob” was, after all, a daily soap opera — a pioneer in what became traditional soap themes of romance, emotional trauma, family, divorce, mysterious evil-doers, bravery, malicious gossip, fragile physical or mental health, and — of course — a determination to keep on going, day after day.

For all its campiness, “Betty & Bob” is here because it added plenty of “newspaper drama” themes to the suds — dedication to a newspaper (sometimes devastating to personal relationships), journalism as a career for women, civic spirit and citizens’ respect for newspapers, investigative work, political crusades, muckraking, reform, and sometimes a bit of cynical frustration about “the system.” (The sort of thing that drove Britt Reid to become The Green Hornet.)

By the end of this episode, for instance, a telegram makes it pretty clear that suspicions of renewed political corruption back in Monroe are going to draw Bob and Betty back to The Trumpet a lot sooner than his “rest cure” doctor anticipated.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1930s, 1940s, editors, journalism, publishers, romance, soap opera, women. Bookmark the permalink.

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