Celebrity Interview Goes Wrong

Boyer-Lansbury-BergmanThere’s really no journalism practiced in this episode of “A Date with Judy” from April 3, 1945, although the teenage heroine is going off to do a celebrity interview with actor Charles Boyer, in town for a wartime Red Cross benefit. Judy even mentions Boyer’s charm in the previous year’s hit with Ingrid Bergman and Angela Lansbury in Gaslight, photo at right. Her interview is hardly as dramatic, just a charming case-of-mistaken-identity, followed by an apologetic editorial, but it’s the only even loosely journalism-related episode of the series currently in
this Internet Archive collection

More may be on the way, however. Radio collector J.David Goldin’s RadioGoldIndex online database of episodes, which may be in various not-online library collections, includes several possibilities, all fitting my theme about how important the daily newspaper was in American culture for most of the 20th century.

In one of the episodes Goldin mentions, in which “Judy has a ‘job’ with The Daily Chronicle, she’s a society editor,” was apparently broadcast in 1942 and again in 1945. Judy was “covering” her Aunt Lilly’s wedding. I doubt that journalistic conflict of interest is part of the plot. And then in 1944 Judy tried to get a job as assistant to the paper’s society editor. She apparently wound up getting a date with the handsome son of “the editor of the Daily Bugle” instead. (So it looks like Judy Foster and family lived in a two-daily-newspaper town, not uncommon in the 1940s.) Also in 1944, her brother was in the running to be editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, and a year later Judy was (briefly) editor of what was apparently a school literary magazine, “The Purple Flamingo.”

I haven’t heard any of these, but according to online discussions, the Old Time Radio Researchers Group (https://otrr.org) is preparing a new collection that will eventually be shared at the Internet Archive, so maybe some of Goldin’s old favorites will be included.

Meanwhile, the most significant “newspapers in popular culture” connections for the “A Date with Judy” series may be its author and producer. The creator of the character was a Pittsburgh Press columnist, Aleen Wetstein (1908-2010) who went from being secretary of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment to writing a weekly column in the 1930s called “One Girl Chorus,” which Wikipedia says was “eventually adapted by Wetstein and Jerome Lawrence as a radio domestic comedy titled A Date with Judy, which she adapted and exploited across all entertainment forms possible at that time, including theatre, film, television, and comic books.” (Jane Powell was Judy and a 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor was her best friend in the newspaper-free 1948 movie “A Date with Judy.”)

According to Wetstein’s L.A. Times obituary, <<“A Date With Judy” was originally conceived as a radio vehicle for her friend, actress Helen Mack, whose “crazy stage mother” kept pestering Leslie to write a show for Mack, Diane Leslie said. By the time the teen-angst comedy debuted on the radio in 1941, Mack was too old to star, but she directed episodes that Leslie wrote and produced.>>

The radio series producer was, in fact, Helen Mack, whose earlier acting career included the classic newspaper movie “His Girl Friday,” in which she played the memorable Mollie Molloy, “hooker with a heart of gold,” treated terribly by newspapermen. She was also the co-star of “King of the Newsboys” in 1938, but again not in a journalistic role. Her appearance in “His Girl Friday” was brief, but memorable, with Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson, her one friend in the courthouse newsroom:

Hildy Johnson : Come on, Molly. Let’s get outta here.
Molly Malloy : They ain’t human!
Hildy Johnson : I know, they’re newspapermen.
Molly Malloy : All they’ve been doin’ is lyin’! All they’ve been doin’ is rotten lies!

I hope “A Date with Judy” included a more positive newspaper role model for teen listeners, although society editors and editor’s sons may not be the most promising possibilities.

Posted in 1940s, comedy, teenagers | Leave a comment

Newsies in the Dusty Attic

During the past month, “The Dusty Attic,” a classic-radio program of the Radio Talking Books Service offered a series of four hour-long programs on the same theme as “Newspaper Heroes on the Air,” exploring the role of newspapers in society and their depiction in audio dramas.

A special attraction: A comparison of two broadcasts inspired by the same real-life newspaper investigation that freed an innocent man from jail. One production was an “audition” for an eventual radio series, the other a dramatization of a classic Hollywood film based on the case, “Call Northside 777.”

The shows were hosted by researcher and collector Joe Webb, who has done extensive investigations of “The Big Story” and “Casey Crime Photographer,” among other series. The four-part series has been preserved on its own Internet Archive page as “Dusty Attic Newspapers.

Posted in Big Town, Casey, Chicago, Drama, j-heroes, media history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Does “Foreign correspondent” deserve quotes?

Bela Lugosi wasn’t on the radio show, but was in both of Chandu’s movie incarnations

“I never thought we’d really know a foreign correspondent!” the two youngsters gush, in an early scene of this 1949 radio drama.
“Oh now children,” says their mother. “Stop acting as if he’s a foreign correspondent in the movies.”

The man in question replies, modestly enough, “It’s just a job. You know, kids, we’re not heroes. The men I admire are the scientists, working behind the scenes in all sorts of risky experiments. Your husband was a man like that, wasn’t he, Dorothy?” — and he proceeds to praise the kids’ presumably deceased father.

Unfortunately, this “foreign correspondent,” Gordon Douglas, is not someone to admire. He has killed someone. It’s even unclear whether he is a journalist gone bad or simply an evildoer using that title as a cover in order to steal scientific secrets. Douglas intends to turn them over to another shadowy figure, “Roxor,” whose goal is world domination.

Fortunately for the world, Roxor and Douglas don’t know that Dorothy’s brother has powerful secrets of his own. He is Frank Chandler, also known as Chandu, the Magician (more information at Wikipedia, including cast member names), the real hero of this radio story. Alas, Bela Lugosi is not in the radio play, although he was in two Chandu movies. And Chandu apparently was the inspiration for Marvel Comics’ “Dr. Strange” a generation later.

Chandu’s on-the-air adventure series ran from 1931-1936 and was spun off into two Hollywood productions, a 1932 feature film and a 1934 movie serial. Chandu was brought back to radio in 1948, continuing in various formats until 1950. The Internet Archive has a collection of 178 episodes from that later series.

The episode on today’s MP3 player, The Black Steps, broadcast Feb. 3, 1949, launched a new half-hour format in place of a previous 15-minutes-a-day serial. In the 15-minute version, Douglas’s treachery was stretched over a series of episodes in 1948, starting with this one… Gordon Douglas, 48-08-12

While Chandu’s occult knowledge covered psychic communication more than journalism, that moment of dialogue between his sister and her children does suggest that in the years after World War II the trench-coated foreign correspondent was an image with some magic of its own, enough of an excuse for inclusion of the story here at “Newspaper Heroes on the Air.”

After that one half-hour episode, I did backtrack and listen to a few of the soap-opera style 15-minute serial Chandu the Magician episodes at the Internet Archive, and discovered that Douglas’s treachery had been revealed even more gradually than I’d thought. His character evolved through most of the month of August, 1948, more than three hours of radio play. It was part of an even longer extended plot about Dorothy’s scientist husband’s turning out not being dead after all. She and Chandler are in Egypt searching for him. Douglas appears as a self-described “nosy reporter” with constant questions about Dorothy’s husband, who was believed drowned at sea nine years earlier.

Our heroes have mixed reactions to the inquiring correspondent …

Dorothy: “What a disagreeable way to have to earn a living — prying into people’s private lives. How can a man like that bring himself to do it?”

Bobby: “I’d love every minute of it… It’s a job with him. He gets to travel all over, be in on stuff everywhere,  secret meetings…”

Chandler: “He’s an accredited correspondent all right; I telephoned the press association in Rome.” 

But, astutely, Chandler mentions that even an accredited reporter might be working for the evil Roxor, which turns out to be half-true. He is working for Roxor, but he is not the real Douglas. The reporter apparently was murdered by Roxor, who gave his credentials to the unnamed imposter and instructed him to mimic the reporter’s style with his editors while pursuing leads to both the missing scientist and the mysterious Chandler/Chandu.

Sorry about the “spoilers,” but skimming the episode titles and seeing “Douglas Is an Imposter,”  “Fraud’s Identity” and “Douglas Disappears” among them just might be a giveaway. By August 19, Chandler had used his occult powers — and a crystal ball — to uncover Douglas’s evil background.

I’ll listen to more of Chandu, just in case other reporters or editors appear, or Douglas reappears. If you are a Chandu fan who has run into more stories with actual “newspaperman hero” (or “newspaperman villain”) plots, please use the comment field below to point me to them!

Sources: In addition to the downloadable MP3 files at the Internet Archive and elsewhere, professionally produced CD versions of Chandu episodes are available from the Radio Spirits company. It also carries “The Return of Chandu” movie serial, in which Bela Lugosi plays the hero.

(Speaking of magic, in the earlier feature-length Chandu film, source of the Internet Movie DataBase poster and link above, Lugosi was the villain!)

Posted in 1940s, adventure, foreign correspondents, stereotypes, villains | Leave a comment

Praying for a Free Press?

“The Family Theater” was a classic old time radio show that ran from 1947 to 1957 with an unusual sponsor: Prayer. book jacket for Kent Cooper's "Anna Zenger, Mother of Freedom" But it also found itself telling the stories of newspaper editors and reporters from time to time… So here is one of those episodes, the story of John Peter Zenger, Anna Zenger, and a landmark libel trial. (In fact, it was a story that had been told before in radio dramas and a biography by an Associated Press executive. Click on its image for a previous JHeroes essay.)

The series was the creation of the Rev. Patrick Peyton, a Catholic priest who wanted to promote family unity and praying the rosary, according to radio historian John Dunning and articles about Peyton and his radio programs at Wikipedia. His 1945 rosary-crusade broadcast, endorsed by Bing Crosby, led to this not exactly religious dramatic series, which enlisted an amazing array of Hollywood stars, including episode narrators at least as willing to deliver a closing message about the importance of “family prayer” as they were to endorse “Lux beauty soap” in the closing minutes of Lux Radio Theatre.

In the first two months alone it featured as hosts or stars an ecumenical array of Hollywood celebrities: Crosby, James Stewart, Don Ameche, Loretta Young, Walter Brennan, Irene Dunne, Dana Andrews, Van Heflin, Robert Young, J Carroll Naish, Edward G Robinson, and Pat O’Brien, among others. Religious faith and prayer do not always enter into the stories themselves, but they do support positive values.

Telling the truth about government corruption is the main value celebrated in this November 15, 1950, episode, “Peter Zenger”, narrated by Pat O’Brien. The key “intervention” involved is not an appeal to divine power, but the eloquence of a lawyer from Philadelphia, although Father Peyton’s promotion of family and community values comes through in the Zengers — and the jury at the John Peter Zenger’s trial.

The radioplay presents one of American journalism history books’ most famous real-life dramas: The libel case of colonial printer, newspaper editor & publisher Zenger, including the role of his courageous wife, Anna, who kept the presses running while he was jailed for criticizing New York’s colonial governor. In the process she became one of the first women newspaper publishers in America. Since the cast announced at the end includes only one woman, Jeanne Bates, it’s a safe guess she plays Anna, who also was featured in a Cavalcade of America dramatization of the Zenger case, dubbing her “Mother of Freedom,” the subtitle of her biography by Kent Cooper, executive director of the Associated Press.

Raymond Burr — later known as Perry Mason — plays the starring and decisive role of defense attorney Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, who successfully argued that the truth of a publication should be a defense against libel. The historical details may have been adjusted by writer Robert Turnbull to make a more listenable half-hour radio drama, but Hamilton’s appeal to the jury — and to truth — is powerfully presented.

The announcer does not identify the actor playing Zenger himself, but other cast members to choose from include Michael Hayes, Tudor Owen, Herb Rawlinson, Bill Johnstone, Stan Waxman and Jack Kruschen. (I’m asking old time radio fans whether anyone identifies Zenger’s voice.)
I’ll double-check on future listenings, but despite the “sponsorship” of the series, I don’t recall prayer and divine intervention as being explicitly mentioned in Turnbull’s script for the Zenger story, only in the program’s “commercials,” including O’Brien’s closing message, a slogan of Father Peyton’s crusade: “The family that prays together, stays together.” And the Zengers’ story does reflect family unity as well as Freedom of the Press.

Meanwhile, it is easy to imagine O’Brien wearing a Roman collar for that closing benediction. He had played so many charming Irish priests in his career that his his 1983 obituary said he once joked, “One more and they will have to ordain me.” However, his memorable roles also included more than one rascally newspaperman, starting with Hildy Johnson in the original 1931 “The Front Page,” his first major hit.

Thanks, as usual, to the Old Time Radio Researchers group for an email list discussion of The Family Theater that got me started listening to the series, and to its OTRR Library for the links to the MP3 files of the program, which I’ve linked above. The OTRR library has 579 episodes of the program, and judging by their titles or plot summaries, at least 10 present newspaper reporters or editors in one way or another.

After posting my first draft of this essay, I was alerted to the fact that the oldtime radio preservation company Radio Spirits published a collection of episodes of The Family Theater as high-quality CDs, with a booklet of notes by radio historian Karl Schadow. The collection does not have the Zenger episode, but does include another of the “newspaperman” episodes I’d downloaded to review later, “Little Boy Blue,” so I hope to give a listen, read Karl’s booklet and say more about the series next time! Incidentally, the “Little Boy Blue” episode is about a newspaperman who became more famous as a poet — so much so that Family Theater presented its biographical radio play a second time.

Posted in Colonial America, courtroom, editors, historical figures, History, journalism, New York City, newspapers, political corruption, publishers, true stories, women | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Editor takes on publisher’s pal: Big Town 1937

I’m finally catching up with the first year of “Big Town” with Edward G. Robinson… the long-running series that eventually adopted a “flaming sword” slogan paraphrased at the top of this blog. I have long been curious about the series’ 1937 subplot of managing editor Steve Wilson’s transition from profit-motivated scandalmonger to conscientious civic-minded crusader and racket-buster, as well as his increasing conflict with the Illustrated Press publisher, who disappears from later episodes.

When I last wrote about the series, only the first two 1937 episodes were available in public archives online, and only a handful of programs from Robinson’s five-year run as Illustrated Press editor Steve Wilson. (With new stars, the series ran all the way to 1952, but Wilson’s later incarnation spent more time personally tracking down criminals than pondering journalism ethics or editing his newspaper, even if each program did have have an inspiring tagline, “The power and the freedom of the press is a flaming sword; that it may be a faithful servant of all the people, use it justly. Hold it high. Guard it well!” )

This story, about a “Fake Accident Racket,” is listed as the sixth in the weekly series, dated Nov. 23, 1937 in the OTRR Library, collector Jerry Haendiges’ OTR Site episodic log of the program, and collector J. David Goldin’s Radio Goldindex database at the University of Missouri, which frequently share information.

The plot begins with managing editor Wilson ordering his city editor to make a more sensational front page “human interest” splash out of a hit-and-run story, because the driver is well-to-do and there is a traffic safety campaign going on.  But his society-connected reporter Lorelei Kilbourne (Claire Trevor) convinces Wilson to dig deeper; she is a friend of the socialite accused in the alleged hit-and-run. The digging involves investigative techniques (surreptitious recordings) that would not meet the standards of today’s journalism ethics codes and courses, and would probably be illegal in many states, although to a 1937 audience they may have seemed quite “high tech” and ingenious.

The racket that Wilson and Kilbourne expose this time is a complicated one, involving a lawyer, a doctor, and medical fakery, as well as the usual racketeers faking personal-injury lawsuits or insurance claims. To complicate matters, the newspaper’s publisher wants the paper to promote the political career of the same lawyer who gradually appears to be involved in the fake accident and liability-insurance racket.

In the end, Wilson can assure the publisher that his candidate’s name and picture will be “all over the front page.” Listen to the program for the details.

Meanwhile, the serious consequences of newspaper sensationalism are also a theme of “Big Town,” as they were in “Five Star Final,” the film in which Robinson first played an increasingly conscience-stricken tabloid editor. In both that story and this one, someone commits suicide as a result of the newspaper’s investigations. In the film, innocent people die and the conscience-stricken editor quits his tabloid. In this case, the death is of a guilty party, and the editor presses on.

Posted in 1930s, Big Town, crime, detectives, Drama, editors, ethics, journalism, tabloids, technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Minnie Pearl with the news

Minnie Pearl via WikipediaIn a rare crossover between my personal research interests in Old Time fiddle music and Old Time Radio, I stumbled onto the Grand Ole Opry of September 25, 1943, with Cousin Minnie Pearl being introduced as “our girl reporter from Grinder Switch” with a comic description of the attributes of a good reporter…

This is at least something to file away under references to the ubiquitous presence of newspapers in 1940s American culture…

You know neighbors, someone said to be a newspaper reporter you must have an eye like an eagle (or does he say “needle”?), a nose like a gimlet, and an ear that can catch the faintest sound of news. Well, our girl reporter has all of those and a new Sunday go to meeting dress besides…” — announcer

This is also the first time I’ve seen the reference to gimlet and nose, as opposed to the usual cliche about being gimlet-eyed… “A piercing nose for news” would be an odd mixed metaphor, but a gimlet was a piercing tool… as opposed to the gimlet cocktail which is named for its creator… At least according to this combined source at Grammarist. Could the Grand Ole Opry announcer be making a subtle reference to cliches about reporters and cocktails? I don’t think Minnie Pearl was ever associated with drinking, but I have not listened to a lot of these early episodes yet.

GrandOleOpry 09-25-43

That MP3 file of the episode came from one of the collections of Grand Ole Opry episodes at the Internet Archive. The Country Music Hall of Fame digital archives are more thoroughly documented and searchable, including 473 references to Minnie Pearl who is nicely profiled at Wikipedia), but I haven’t inspected them all to determine whether she was frequently given this “reporter” introduction.

Posted in 1940s, folklore, local news, newspapers, women | Leave a comment

A Clue in the Clouds

Long before the advent of Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure, “The Clue in the Clouds” was a technology-rich episode of “Casey, Press Photographer,” more often known as “Crime Photographer,” one of the longest-running old-time radio dramatic series to feature newspaper reporter characters.

Photo of 1940s helicopter via Wikipedia
A 1944 Sikorsky R-4, via Wikipedia

That’s “technology rich” if 1944 aviation and darkroom or studio-photography tricks are “technology” enough for you. But I did notice the “clouds” in this episode title and decided to write about it on a day when an AWS outage put “cloud computing” in the headlines.

In this story, Casey and Ann Williams have suspicions about a private helicopter crash — not many private helicopters buzzing around in 1944! — and the guy they are suspicious about turns out to be a photographer himself, complete with snapshots of his adventures on a tropical isle.

I’ve written about the Crime Photographer series several times before, including its movie, comic-book and TV spinoffs, but somehow never got to this episode. It’s easy to see how the show might have appealed to fans of the newspaper racket, or of photography, or of saloons with great piano players — all of which have roles to play in this mystery.

You do get some banter between Casey and his editor Bert (“If that ‘heliocopter’ turns out to be a Halloween witch on a broom, you’ve shot your last picture for me!”), and the stereotype of the reporter spending part of his life on a bar stool at the Blue Note Cafe, and both men and women having a place in the newsroom. Ann sometimes does seem to be more “sidekick” to cameraman Casey, but remember she, or an unnamed rewrite man, is the one who writes the stories in that Morning Express.

“Time and deadline wait for no man — or woman either,” as Ann says, just after noting an important clue, soon to emerge from the clouds of Casey’s darkroom developer tray.

(No name is mentioned, but the editor does tell Casey and Ann to give their early research on the helicopter crash to a rewrite man, and an obit writer, the kind of “behind the scenes” newsroom detail I love to hear in these 1940s radio dramas.)

Posted in 1940s, Casey, newspapers, photographer, reporters, women | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Who was that masked reporter?

A 19th century cub reporter faces an extra challenge on a big story in the “Race to the Wire” episode of The Lone Ranger. His competition is the villainous Jay Collins, so mean he is rumored to have killed another reporter’s horse to get the story of Robert E. Lee’s surrender.

This time Collins and young reporter Todd Rawley are both after the first report of a peace settlement with Sitting Bull, who had been in Canada since Little Big Horn.

Collins hires thugs to intercept Rawley and beat him within an inch of his life. Lucky for Rawley, the ambush is also within earshot of the Lone Ranger’s campsite.

The masked man does more than rescue Rawley, whose injuries send him to the hospital. He offers to get the story to the telegraph and — with Tonto’s notes on the surrender of Sitting Bull and his men — tell a true story, not the sensational, “lying and bigoted” version Collins is sure to file.

The Lone Ranger also presents his version of a piece of 19th century newspaper trickery that might even be true — a reporter monopolizing the only telegraph out of town by paying the Western Union operator to transmit a large book, page by page, tying up the line for however long it takes to ensure an exclusive “beat” on the real breaking news.

Meanwhile, the Lone Ranger certainly has his own touch when it comes to news writing:

“Sitting Bull and over 1,000 dispirited, hungry and heartbroken Americans today crossed the border and surrendered after years of exile in Canada…”

Pioneer old-time radio collector J. David Goldin’s online index lists only 17 newspaper-related Lone Ranger plots among more than 2,000 episodes broadcast between 1937 and 1957, often with the adjective “courageous” preceeding “editor” or “publisher,” but sometimes with villains running or taking over newspapers. This story is the only one I’ve heard where a reporter is anti-Indian, and where the Lone Ranger and Tonto wind up doing some reporting themselves!

See my JHeroes Lone Ranger page for a selection of stories with reporters and editors crossing that masked man’s path.

Posted in 19th century, adventure, competition, ethics, historical figures, racial justice, reporters, westerns, wire services | Leave a comment

TV is news, and a risky business… Radio and newspapers say so

The Los Angeles Daily News is the real hero in this August 1951 “Dragnet” episode, The Big Screen, part of an Old Time Radio Researchers group collection at the Internet Archive… A reporter on the paper’s TV-radio beat has uncovered cases of fraud in the new business of home TV repair.

Dragnet TV title screen, via Wikipedia

“Not everyone has one yet,” says Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, who has a television set’s “channel selector” explained to him in one scene. Webb would bring the Dragnet series to the TV screen that December. Dragnet had been on radio since 1949 and would continue there until 1957, overlapping with the popular 1951-1959 TV series.

Newsman Jack Kennett explains how he even went undercover as a solder-salesman to learn more about the shady side of TV repair. And he found a whistle-blower who started his own honest repair business and was happy to spill the details on a corrupt bigger company he had worked for.

(I liked the extra touch of the reporter saying he double checked the whistle-blower’s background. This is no irresponsible quick-hit undercover expose, it is presented as careful investigative reporting by a respected local paper.)

And that’s when the newspaper brought the police into the story. Also, like a lot of reporters, this one also doubles as a photographer, discussing his nifty Leica camera and high-speed film that could take pictures in low light without a flash… He puts the camera to work in a police sting operation with Dragnet’s Joe Friday and a police electronics technician.

At the end of the broadcast, there is an extra tip of the hat to the LA Daily News and reporter Kennett for their cooperation.

When I get a chance, I’m going to see if I can find Kennett’s original TV-scam stories in some digital archive. Cast members are not named, so it’s unclear whether he might even have played himself. (I did check the spelling of his name, which wasn’t hard since once of his stories on another topic was entered into the Congressional Record.)

The “only the names have been changed to protect the innocent” aspect of this Dragnet-meets-newspaper tale is reminiscent of “The Big Story” series that dramatized a “how we got the story” newspaper adventure every week and gave the reporter a cash award. Like this one, those scripts often emphasized cooperation between reporters and the police.

Dragnet, brought to you by Fatima cigarettes, Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co.. The Big Story, brought to you by Old Gold cigarettes, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Ah, the 1950s.

Posted in 1950s, columnists, newspapers, photographer, Police, reporters, reporting, television, true stories, undercover | Leave a comment

Military radio tells Stars & Stripes History

Back in 1947, “The Voice of the Army” used radio-drama techniques to tell the history of the U.S. armed forces newspaper, Stars & Stripes, begun during World War I.

The radio show itself was a post-World War II Army and Air Force Recruiting tool.

I just stumbled on this broadcast in the old time radio researchers group library and will be back to say more about it later.

Research sources:



Posted in 1940s, historical figures, journalism, newspapers, true stories, World War II | Tagged , , | Leave a comment