The Post Office, the Press & Hoppy

Plenty of communication media here, as Hopalong Cassidy and his comedy sidekick California track The Bandit of Blackton Bend … The crime is a Post Office robbery and murder, while the editor of the financially-troubled local newspaper is too ready to jump to conclusions.

Hoppy cocoa mug c.1951

This 1951 Hopalong Cassidy radio adventure reminds me of his TV series and movies, and all the Hopalong Cassidy merchandise my parents spoiled me with when I was little. Including a Hopalong Cassidy milk glass and cocoa mug that are still in the kitchen cabinet somewhere.

William Boyd, who played the sixgun hero, was a pioneer of media marketing, merchandising and personal branding, which I remember seeing written up in one of the communication research academic journals when I was in graduate school.

With its commercials already removed (or not yet inserted), this archived broadcast is only 27 minutes, with more action than character development… a saloon fight, an explosion, the robbery, a posse pursuit, and even some history along the Oklahoma-Texas border. That echoes a more famous tale of a newspaper family on the Oklahoma frontier, “Cimarron,” the Edna Ferber novel and Academy Award winning film. It was filmed a second time and even adapted for radio more than once.

Like the Oklahoma land rush editor in “Cimarron,” Hopalong Cassidy’s young editor friend Matt Hardesty is rumored to be good with a gun and his fists… But Hoppy knows the editor was injured in a fall from a horse recently and may not be up to a brawl when a local troublemaker and hired gun try to start something.

Meanwhile, editor Hardesty’s father, founder of the paper, worries that he hasn’t made life easy for his son — leaving him a struggling business by writing too many impatient editorials, trying to civilize the frontier town.

“I’ve begun to realize that reform editorials can cost a paper friends and business,” the old newsman says.

Perhaps his troubles take their toll when the discouraged man breaks confidence with the sister of a wanted man, accused of a previous postal heist. She was trying to get Hopalong to bring him in for trial safely, sure that he was innocent of the first charge. Will the newspaper and a posse put out a dead or alive search for the wrong man? Not if Hopalong Cassidy can do something about it.

This is a 1951 Saturday morning style cowboy-show adventure, not one of radio’s later adult westerns like “Gunsmoke,” but the ethical issues are pretty serious… and, as usual, the program is an example of all kinds of radio series reminding their listening audience of the existence of newspapers out there in the real world, sometimes trying to make a difference, and sometimes making mistakes.

The episode is one of more than a hundred Hopalong Cassidy tales stored at the Internet Archive by the Old Time Radio Researchers group, but so far it is the only one where I have found a newspaper editor in the plot. That was thanks to J. David Goldin’s collection of plot summaries which I quickly searched for newspaper-related keywords. I’ll listen to a few more and see if I run into any more journalists, doing their jobs but not making it into the headlines.

Posted in 1950s, 19th century, editors, ethics, newspapers, westerns | Leave a comment

Newsman as canary in a coal mine?

Portrait from Wikipedia

Edward G. Robinson

A newspaper takes on the dangers of coal mining — and the power of the local mine owner, a banker who threatens a takeover of the newspaper, in this vintage 1940 episode of Big Town, “Deep Death.” (Click the title to play or download an mp3 of the full episode.)

Two more men die in Big Town mines” is the headline editor Steve Wilson fires across the bow of local mine owner and banker Dave Campbell after a dramatic coal-car wreck in the opening scene.

While later years of the series turned Wilson into a two-fisted crime-fighter, in this episode he is brave and tough-minded about fact-based and first-hand reporting. He lectures a reporter with statistics from an industry yearbook, accusing the owner of running an unsafe mine, with a fatal  accident rate three times the national average. Before the end, he is down in the mine himself as part of a rescue team.

Wilson is played by Hollywood star Edward G. Robinson, who created the series in 1937, playing Wilson as a sensational tabloid editor who turned his scandal sheet into a “reform” newspaper, with the help of the paper’s society editor (Claire Trevor). She becomes an investigative “sob sister” in this episode, getting stories about life in the tumble-down shacks of an impoverished “company-town.” Soon, she is interviewing  miners’ wives while their husbands are trapped below after another explosion and cave-in.

The dialogue is rapid, getting a lot of story into its half hour. The third-generation mine owner is still running the “company town” and mine his grandfater’s way; his mining-engineer son has new ideas.

The radio script pulls its punch a bit with disclaimers about “the vast majority” of modern mines being safe… but on the way to the conclusion we get some gritty reporting.  The company police smash a news photographer’s camera, then there’s the economic attack on the newspaper, and eventually we hear the voices of wailing wives above and trapped miners crying and praying below.

Editor Wilson volunteers to join the young mining engineer’s rescue crew. Not a miner, his job includes carrying the small creatures that will detect gas in the tunnel. (That “canary in a coal mine” role actually falls to some white mice.)

Few of Robinson’s Big Town episodes are “in circulation” as online mp3s, but most include some real newspaper-work scenes and ethical decision-making, like this one from the Old Time Radio Researchers Group library. In “Deep Death” we even get some dialogue about a story being worth “only two sticks,” jargon that dates back to the days of hand-set type, a paragraph or two at a time.

Robinson starred for five years, leaving the series during World War II. Later, the revised series became a long-running hit, taking more of a crime-fighting turn, with the editor using his wits and fists more than his typewriter and pen. Movies and a comic book followed, running into the 1950s.

“Big Town” also acquired a stirring newspaper-hero invocation at the beginning of each program,
“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!” — Edward J. Pawley as “Steve Wilson, fighting managing editor” of the Big Town Illustrated Press.

For more about the series, see my Big Town overview page, written a few years ago and still subject to change as a continual “work in progress,” unlike the daily miracle of a printed newspaper.

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Maybe the stories were true

Guest Wife” was a 1945 film and corresponding Lux Radio Theater production, with foreign correspondent Don Ameche returning from India to collect something like a Pulitzer Prize.Movie Poster
Unfortunately, as ethical as his reporting from India may have been, he has woven a web of deceit with his boss by creating a fictional wife in a series of not-for-publication letters, some of them praising the reporter to high heaven. To survive the New York visit with his boss, he enlists best friend Dick Foran’s wife — whose picture he had sent to the boss.

Ameche and Foran recreated their movie roles on the radio, while Olivia de Havilland got the title role that had been filled by Claudette Colbert in the movie.

Not much about journalism ethics here, although there’s quite a bit about the journalist as ethical risk-taker on a personal level, and about the hazards of marrying one of those guys.

The funny part: I discovered this film and radio adaptation while searching J. David Goldin’s archives of oldtime radio cast information for another Dick Foran performance. He was the newspaper editor in “My Little Chickadee” with W.C. Fields and Mae West — but so far I’ve found no evidence of it being adapted for radio. But “Guest Wife” brought my list of radio adaptations of films with “newspaper” characters up to 62.

Posted in 1940s, adaptations, ethics, foreign correspondents, reporters | Leave a comment

Hollywood royalty meets a journalism Royall

The folks at DuPont’s Cavalcade of America made three attempts at telling the story of 19th century journalist Anne Royall, but the first one, in 1940, was something special.

That’s despite her introduction as a “little old woman who lived in Andrew Jackson’s day,” before it gets her fights for freespeech and against corruption.

The radioplay was based on research by former newspaperwoman Bessie Rowland James, whose career included helping her husband Marquis James win two Pulitzers for historical biographies (of Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston), and writing other books with him and on her own. In fact, her research on Anne Royall continued for 32 years after this broadcast!

The full-length biography, Anne Royall’s U.S.A. was her fifth book under her own name, finally published in 1972, two years before the author’s death. John Driscoll, Edward Longstreth and Kenneth Webb are all credited with the adaptation for the 1940 radio play, rushed into live performance a week early, according to Martin Grams Jr.’s The History of the Cavalcade of America.

Two later Cavalcade radio plays about Anne Royal used a new script by Robert L. Richards, and did a better job of showing her at work as a reporter, interviewing President Jackson, and standing off a mob that wanted to wreck her press. Those 1942 and 1944 productions also had excellent casts, but no one named Ethel Barrymore, who delivers fine pleas for freedom of speech against a trumped up trial as a “public scold.”

For younger readers, here is what Wikipedia says about the actress:

Barrymore was a stage, screen and radio actress whose career spanned six decades, and was regarded as “The First Lady of the American Theatre”.

The 1940 “Anne Royall” with Barrymore presented a strong portrayal of Royall as a strong-willed and articulate critic, but was a bit vague about the issues of the day.

For more detail, and to find out whether the later script took liberties with history to make a better radio story, I’ve tracked down a copy of Bessie Rowland James 1972 book Anne Royall’s U.S.A. was finally published by Rutgers University Press. I don’t plan to take as long reading it as she took writing it. (For one thing, I’m curious whether Anne Royall was as big a fan of Andrew Jackson as that second script makes out.)

Coincidentally, a dozen years after the Cavalcade Royall broadcast, Ethel Barrymore made a memorable appearance in one of the classic newspaper movies.

She was the widow of a newspaper publisher in Deadline USA, with Humphrey Bogart as the editor fighting to save the paper from the widow’s daughters’ plans to sell it to a less principled company. (Neither Bogart nor Barrymore were in a still strong 1953 radio production of the movie story.)

More about the radio history series at my Cavalcade of America page, as well as more about the other two versions of the historic journalist’s life on my Anne Royal overview page, which is due for an update.

Posted in 19th century, cavalcade, historical figures, media history, newspaper crusades, political corruption, women | Leave a comment

Newspapers, charity and a nose for news

Wealthy owners have long been part of American newspapers, for better or for worse. This Green Hornet episode, Dead Man’s Topcoat, opens with a visitor asking newspaper publisher Britt Reid to write a check for $1,000 because a local charity has been robbed just before a big annual event for the city’s poorest families. Of course solving the crime and recovering the charity funds becomes a job for Reid’s masked secret identity, The Green Hornet.

(Yes, I’m a little late writing about a Christmas-themed episode in March.)

The 1947 story takes place after Reid, the Hornet, made his identity known to Police Commissioner Higgins, and after Reid’s secretary Miss Case had become increasingly interested in reporting… although she was not yet part of the Hornet secret-identity conspiracy.

The combination puts Case in jeopardy, Lois Lane style, when Higgins leaves a message for Reid that is actually a tip for the Hornet — which Case takes as her chance to get a big interview. On the way, she does show some aggressive reporting instincts and catches the scent of a story — literally. Unfortunately the person she is interviewing is pretty aggressive too, and has a gun…

And for once the masked Hornet isn’t the one who arrives in the nick of time! I will leave that as a surprise.

This episode is part of the Old Time Radio Researchers Library mp3 collection as well as a CD-quality Green Hornet collection available from Radio Spirits, complete with liner notes.

See the JHeroes Green Hornet page for background and discussions of episodes from the earlier years, when the police as well as the underworld thought the Hornet was some sort of masked gangster himself. As early as 1938, the patient Miss Case had an urge to join the reporting staff, as mentioned on that page.

(Unfortunately the episode download and audio player links on that page may need to be updated after several years of shifting files and file names at the Internet Archive and radio collector websites.)

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Even 1950s cowboys-for-kids followed newspapers

Wild Bill and Jingles as an OTRR CD label

Old Time Radio Researchers CD label

Wild Bill Hickok, the fictional version, sold plenty of breakfast cereal (“flaked, popped, shredded, ready-sweetened, every one’s a favorite…”) to 1950s kids on television and radio at the same time, with Guy Madison and Andy Devine as Bill and his sidekick Jingles, but even they had a few run-ins with working journalists.

A while ago I summarized an episode about a woman editor, “Press for Justice.” This time we have a macho Chicago reporter, Pug Donovan, an old hunting pal of Wild Bill’s who thinks nothing of playing a quickdraw game in which they shoot off each other’s hats. This is not taught at journalism schools.

But even the West’s badmen apparently were newspaper fans.  In this episode, a desperado called “The Rock” kidnaps Donovan so that he will write about his exploits. (The story begins, “For one night of terror, I rode with a scourge of the West…”)

The villain also threatens the local newspaper editor to get him to print the story, but the editor agrees to cooperate with Marshal Wild Bill Hickok and …

OK, so the story is as light as a bowl of Rice Krispies, without as much snap, crackle and pop. But it does make it clear that even while TV was encroaching on the radio advertising market, a children’s dramatic series in both of those “new media” was reminding young listeners of the importance of newspapers — and making a newspaper career sound as exciting as the Wild West. (Spoiler alert: Donovan does meet his deadline.)

If you want to explore a few more episodes, see the rest of the Old Time Radio Researchers collection of Wild Bill Hickok at the Internet Archive. Wild Bill didn’t limit himself to newspapers, there’s another episode where he fights some outlaws who want to interfere with that new-fangled telegraph.

For a slightly more “adult western” approach to Wild Bill Hickok, see the 1958 radio series “Frontier Gentleman,” tales of a fictional London Times reporter exploring the American West, including close encounters with historical figures.

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Reporters as ‘practically policemen’

This “Twenty-minute Alibi” episode from “Crime Photographer,” February 1947, almost makes me wonder whether the script was originally an idea for “Your Truly, Johnny Dollar,” the hit series about an insurance investigator. I even checked Radio GoldinDex’s credit list for author Robert Sloane, but Johnny Dollar wasn’t there. However Sloane was also listed as narrator for several episodes of “The Big Story,” a true-story journalism series, including a murder case from The Hartford Courant, where I was a reporter once! Those newspaper-dramas do breed a lot of coincidences.

In any case, the always-suspicious Casey and reporter Ann Williams do a fine job of figuring out the insurance-related mystery, looking for a murder in a suspected suicide. The reporter and photographer even being allowed at the scene of the crime are quite a contrast with 21st century police-media relations. We get some solid 1940s pay-phone culture, when there were live operators on the line. And Casey gives a hint of an alleged old newspaper-photographer technique — bribing someone with the promise, “Look, if you do this little job for us, you’ll get your picture in the paper!” (“See, he’s got a camera and everything,” Annie adds.) This episode also has a good plug for the regular piano player, Herman Chitterson, who played himself at the fictional Blue Note lounge.

We also get a “door knock after a death” classic reporting scene, in which the father-in-law of the deceased mentions that Casey and Ann aren’t the first journalists to visit. But the widow is quite willing to talk. And her father is quite willing to speak ill of the dead. Reporter Ann also seems to take a bigger part in the sleuthing, telling a doorman, “But we’re practically policemen. Show him your press badge, Casey.” And then doing some quick mental arithmetic to figure out the whereabouts of a suspect, and joining Casey in tailing a suspect by car and on foot.

For more about the episode, see Casey chronicler Joe Webb’s “Blue Note Bulletin” blog for “The Twenty-Minute Alibi.”

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