“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.
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 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 byRutgers 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.)
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.)
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.
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.”
Local newspapers have been fighting for survival since the horse-and-buggy days when this story takes place.
The 1943 film Johnny Come Lately starred James Cagney as an out-of-work “tramp reporter” who both rescues and is rescued by an elderly newspaper owner. He faces a vagrancy arrest when they meet, but she likes the fact that he is reading The Pickwick Papers and laughing out loud. She had met Dickens, you see.
When Screen Guild Theater brought the story to radio in 1948, Agnes Moorehead made a spirited editor & publisher of the Plattsville Shield and Banner, more than holding her own as Cagney’s co-star. (Vinnie McCloud or “Mrs. Mac” had been played in the movie by Grace George.)
The announcer doesn’t identify the other players, including the villainous competing publisher, a bigshot state political boss, and Gashouse Mary, an important news source in the film. A bottle of ketchup also plays a major role. And the “experience is the best teacher” life of a wandering newspaperman is even used as a metaphor by the show’s sponsor.
There’s just enough story here for the half-hour radio format. Bosley Crowther at The New York Times didn’t think Cagney was well-served by the movie script writer and director, although Variety liked the original film:
James Cagney’s first independent production via brother Bill Cagney’s unit, comes through with a topnotch performance in the story of the crack tramp newspaperman, afflicted with a wanderlust complex, who temporarily halts in his tracks to help an old lady continue publication of her newspaper and battle the crooked politico-financial forces in her town.
In the end, the tramp reporter is headed back to the road, but he gets in a good last line, when the editor says she won’t try to keep him around because she knows he likes his freedom, and knows he has more Dickens reading to catch up on.
“Yea, I like my freedom, but I also like your freedom and the freedom of all those decent honest citizens out there. That’s what all this fuss has been about. I won’t forget that, Mrs. Mac.”
Mrs. Mac wasn’t Ms. Moorehead’s first entry in the newspaper game on radio. She had already played star reporter Nellie Bly on Cavalcade of America and, coincidentally, would later be the reporter in a Dickens story, “The Signal Man” on an episode of “Suspense.” Pioneer oldtime radio collector J. David Goldin’s logs also list Moorehead as co-star in an optimistic CBS program about atomic power, but I haven’t been able to find an online recording. His summary says it’s “The Sunny Side Of The Atom. June 30, 1947… A dramatization of a woman reporter’s investigation into the peaceful atom. How doctors use a radioactive tracer, a radioactive medical lab, using isotopes to find oil, and a radioactive farm.” The only other cast member Goldin mentions is Al Hodge, better known to radio listeners as newspaper publisher Britt Reid, whose secret identity was The Green Hornet, and known to early television viewers as Captain Video.
The 1940 film Arise My Love was set at the start of World War II, with a woman reporter rescuing an American flier from a firing squad as the Spanish Civil War ended, just before the larger war began. The title is from a Song of Solomon prayer the fighter pilot recites on take-off.
Radio adapted the romantic-adventure film story twice, but apparently could not enlist star Claudette Colbert to play her enterprising reporter role again, just her co-star Ray Milland as the pilot who has been fighting Spanish fascists and wants to get a shot at Germany next. Lux Radio Theater paired Loretta Young with Milland in its June 1942 version above. It was one of the first movie-adaptations actually broadcast to American forces overseas, as noted by producer Cecil B. DeMille at the start of the program.
In the opening scene, Young’s reporter Augusta Nash, nicknamed “Gusto,” has an ulterior motive for her daring exploit, posing as the wife of the American flier to secure his pardon from the Spanish authorities. In addition to his escape, she plans to make an escape of her own — to prove herself as a reporter, escape her fashion column in Paris, and do serious journalism covering what looks like an approaching European war.
That approach turns out to be remarkably fast. Her first assignment will be Berlin, and she’s quickly reading Mein Kampf on the train! Meanwhile, the pilot has volunteered for the Polish Air Force and is on the same train. Will they get to their destinations before Hitler invades Poland?
What a time to start an “Arise my love and come away with me” romance! Falling in love almost convinces them to abandon their professional and patriotic adventures and head for home. But they’re back in Paris when the Germans march into the city, and there are a couple of plot twists before the rousing “It’s not over!” patriotic message from the flier and the correspondent at the end… and another from the cast and producer in their curtain-call interview with DeMille.
Young: “Playing a war correspondent was certainly a novelty.”
Milland: “War reporting is one of the last male strongholds, C.B.; what would Richard Harding Davis and Floyd Gibbons have thought of it?”
DeMille: “Well I knew both of them, and they’d probably ask whether the lady in question was a good reporter.”
“Well, there’s some very good reporting being done by women in this war,” Young replies, and offers a list starting with Claire Booth writing from China, Burma and India in Life magazine, while Milland comments that while reporters are telling the stories of American war heroes, their own heroism may not be recognized until later. And DeMille mentions that radio as well as the press already had its reporter-heroes in this war.
In fact, the “Arise My Love” mixture of romantic-comedy and patriotic war movie got mixed reviews as a film, but won an Academy Award for its original story, and judging by the laughter and applause, the live Lux Radio audience apparently enjoyed it.
Four years later, with the war over, Academy Award Theater gave Milland star billing when it presented “Arise My Love” again, but did not even name his co-star in its compressed half-hour adaptation. In addition to the film story winning its 1941 Oscar, Milland had more recently won the 1945 Oscar for best actor in “The Lost Weekend.” Reprising his role in “Arise My Love” one more time with its truncated script might have felt a bit like a war hangover. But, here it is, thanks to the Old Time Radio Researchers collection of “Academy Award” recordings.