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.”

Posted in 1940s, Casey, reporters | Leave a comment

Cagney, Dickens and ketchup save a newspaper

Johnny Come Lately movie posterLocal 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.
Johnny:

“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 playable and downloadable MP3 versions of the story above are from the Internet Archive collection of 348 Screen Guild radio adaptations.

Posted in 1900s, 1940s, adaptations, closing, editors, local news, newspaper crusades, newspapers, political corruption, reporters | Leave a comment

From fashion column to war reporting with Gusto

Yankee Flyer Cheats Death headline

As the movie’s reporter, Colbert made headlines.

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.

For more about the movie, including the censorship considerations because the U.S. had not yet entered the war, the Turner Classic Movies background essay is fascinating.

Posted in 1940s, movies, reporters, romance, women, World War II | Leave a comment

Another John Reed

The “Illyria Box Lunch” episode of “Rogers of the Gazette” is quite a package… Small-town journalism, small-town romance, mysterious thefts, a writing lecture, and a pickled peach… and all in a half hour!

Newspaper editor Will Rogers Jr has a run-in with the older gentleman who sleeps in the corner of the pressroom and prints his weekly newspaper. This time he doesn’t like Will’s editorial.

“Every so often I think you’re going to make the grade and then you turn around and write a watered down pussyfooting thing like that…”

The old printer’s name is John Reed or Reid (I’ll look that up), and he has some of the fire of another newspaperman by that name, the one who went off and wrote about the Russian Revolution.

I think I’m going to go back through episodes of “Rogers of The Gazette” and see if I can piece together more of the story of Mr. Rogers’ cantankerous friend and, it seems, mentor.

Posted in 1950s, editors, local news, newspapers | Leave a comment

A Daily Planet contest saves the world

Less than a year after the United States dropped the first atomic bombs on Japan, young listeners to “The Adventures of Superman” radio serial heard of another dictatorship’s threat to destroy American cities with 100 planes loaded with atom bombs.

But most of the summer 1946 14-day story had little to do with the Man of Steel zooming to the rescue in his blue suit and red cape. As was often the case in the radio series, the comic-strip-like daily serial featured reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane tracking down a story, in this case with the assistance of a Daily Planet country correspondent (and correspondence-school detective) named Horatio Horn, as well as Planet editor Perry White.

Here the reporters are, in episode 11 of 14 of “Horatio F. Horn, Detective,” facing a mystery-in-a-mystery…

Not only is there a lot of shoe-leather reporting in the story, The Daily Planet newspaper itself plays a central role in solving a mystery, reminding us that the Golden Age of Radio was also a golden age for newspapers, when a subscription to the local daily even seemed part of being an American.

— At this point, if you want to avoid “spoilers,” go listen to all 14 episodes of the radio story, in the Internet Archive collection of Superman episodes. (The fast-forward button on your MP3 player may come in handy with the two minutes of Kellogg’s Pep commercials and announcements at the beginning of each 15-minute program, and another minute at the end. That way the whole story takes a little under three hours.) See the link here or at the bottom of this page.

A Newspaper Quiz

An immigrant family’s reliance on newspaper for news and entertainment was a key in the solution to this July 1946 Adventures of Superman mystery. With a nuclear attack on America hanging in the balance, Clark Kent, reporter, had gone through a series of “expert sources” at university foreign language departments, trying to decipher the only clue in the kidnapping of the nation’s leading atomic scientist.

Between their Kellogg’s Pep commercials, young listeners to the daily radio series — itself modeled on a newspaper comic strip — would have followed the dogged Daily Planet reporters and learned together about linguistic research specialties like philology and etymology, as Kent and his friends interviewed experts from university to university and pored through reference books… while the physics professor held out against torturers in a distant land.

In episodes 11 through 14, the reporters’ word-mystery alternates with the scientist’s ordeal at the hands of his captors’ in that mysterious foreign land. (For the first 10 episodes, the mystery had been his disappearance and abduction.)

In the 11th of 14 episodes, Horatio F. Horn, Daily Planet correspondent, corroborated by reporter Lois Lane, remembers overhearing the kidnapper Carlos berating his driver as “a fool, an idiot, and a zaluto” for letting them escape. It is their first clue to his home country.

Have you forgotten you’re a newspaperwoman, Lois?

First step: Research!
Lois: “It must be a word of his language, so if we can trace that, Clark…”
Kent: “Let’s get going. We’ll get ahold of all the foreign language dictionaries and hunt through them…”
Lois: “Wait a minute, where are we going to find foreign language dictionaries at this hour. It’s a quarter to six in the morning.”
Kent: “So what! Have you forgotten you’re a newspaperwoman, Lois? We’ll go see Charlie Sims at the New Orleans Times; he’ll let us in their library.”

And quite the pre-Internet research library the newspaper has! The three reporters scour books from the Balkans, middle European countries, the Far East, Central and South American, before something dawns on them.

First Super-inspiration:
“‘Zaluto’ may be idiomatic,” Kent tells the group, “… in pretty general use in the country, but not accepted as a standard part of the language…
“Like ‘groovy’ or ‘dreamboat,’a lot of our youngsters use those words all the time, but you won’t find them in our dictionaries.”

That sends them off to a philologist, who eventually recommends an etymologist. But even he can’t figure out the origins of the word “zaluto.”

Second Super-inspiration:
That’s when a virtual lightbulb goes on over Kent’s head, and he races to editor Perry White with an idea for a newspaper “Define-the-Word” contest. In the nation’s largest city of immigrants, maybe someone will recognize the word from their small foreign country! And he’s right, although there are a few complications before the contest winner arrives at the editor’s office, and Superman zooms off to battle a fleet of nuclear bombers.

The contest does reach a man who knows the local slang word from his country. He and his wife are dedicated Daily Planet readers. He is chuckling over the “Mutt & Jeff” cartoon in his first scene in the story. (I wonder if “Mutt & Jeff” and “Superman” comic strips had the same distributor!) But the newspaper’s generous — for 1946 — $100 prize for anyone identifying the word distracts him from both the news and the comics.

All 14 of the episodes in “Horatio F. Horn, detective” can be streamed or downloaded from Page 9 of the 15-page Superman collection at the Internet Archive.

Episode 13 has the Zaluto solution

Episode 14 has a colorful description of Superman’s attack on the nuclear bombers, ending with — as was always the case — the start of new adventure.

And here’s a Super Bonus … that Page 9 of the Internet Archive collection also has the full sets of a some other 1946 Adventures of Superman, including two of his biggest Post-World-War-II battles against hatred and intolerance at home, “The Hate Mongers Association” and “The Klan of the Fiery Cross,” both of which I’ve written about in the past.

Posted in 1940s, adventure, Clark Kent, detectives, Lois Lane, newspaper crusades, newspaper readers, newspapers, Perry White, reporters, reporting, Superman | Leave a comment

The Case of Exploding Dolls

The opening episode of this six-part Superman story from 1940 shows reporters Kent and Lane on assignment, tracking down a fatal industrial explosion at an unlikely place — a doll factory.

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode one

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode two

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode three

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode four

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode five

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode six

As a journalism “procedural” to discuss in a media studies class, it is not bad at all. We hear them being sent on assignment, driving to the location of the news story, arguing a bit, and dealing with a corrupt businessman who has special reasons for not wanting them to investigate his industrial accident, which took 13 lives.

Unlike the Superman movies of later decades, the 1940s radio adventures — during a golden age for comic books, radio and newspapers — showed more of Clark and Lois as reporters pursuing news stories, and running into mysteries along the way. Only a few of the radio serial adventures approached the digital-special-effects-movie “Superman saves the world from super-villains (and destroys cities in the process)” proportions of the more recent decades.

The attempted journalism-realism in this story includes the two colleagues being competitive reporters, with “Miss Lane” particularly convinced that “Mr. Kent” is up to steal the biggest part of the assignment for his own byline. (The way they sometimes do and sometimes don’t, call each other “Miss” and “Mister” could be someone’s master’s thesis on “Code-switching with honorifics, or inconsistent script-writing?”)

At their destination, Lois and Clark split up to use two distinct reporting styles… Lane goes off to interview a principal source, the factory owner, while Kent goes to inspect the scene the explosion, a ine-man CSI team.

Kent, of course, is Superman, so when a thug lies to him and tries to send him on a fake detour, he has his own way of finding the truth… defending himself from what would have been a deadly attack had he not been “super,” then threatening the gunsel with bodily harm.

Later, he appears to have super powers of persuasion when, encountering the same thug working as factory watchman, he insists he is not a reporter, but a traveling tie salesman.

Lois Lane has no superpowers and falls victim to the main villain of the story, the factory owner, who takes direct action against her and Kent when they get too close to his secret. (He binds and gags Lois, while he sends his gunman off to intercept Clark at the ruins of the doll factory… creating cliffhanger situations as transitions between the daily episodes that were then the format for The Adventures of Superman.)

As investigative reporters in a 1940 drama, Kent and Lane also cooperate with the police and are treated as fellow investigators by the police chief. Was such close cooperation actually common between 1940s police and newspaper reporters? It certainly does pop up as a theme in the Adventures of Superman, the Green Hornet, and even some more adult crime-drama series on the radio.

Audio files of the series are presented here via the Old Time Radio Researchers Group library, otrrlibrary.org

Posted in 1940s, adventure, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Perry White, reporters, reporting, Superman, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

30 Years of NBC Radio plus Balloo in a Balloon, and me

In 1956, NBC radio’s “Biographies in Sound” featured veteran radio news commentator H.V. Kaltenborn and radio satirists Bob & Ray in the episode above, paying tribute to the first 30 years of commercial radio — news, music, drama and more. The Internet Archive has a copy stored on its own page: Recollections at Thirty. Broadcast news is only a small part of the history capsule, but I like the coincidence that “-30-” is the old newspaper symbol for the end of a story, a fine time for “Recollections,” and coincidentally that I stumbled on this during a day spent exploring the past of this website of mine.

I found this program today while double-checking my link to another “Biographies in Sound” episode — one that didn’t play correctly on my page — having discovered the error while I was making a guest presentation to a journalism class. Some old code needed updating, causing me to notice in the process that I have an anniversary of my own approaching: In December this site will be nine years old!

Among the editing updates today, fixing code for which software standards have changed over the years and other omissions, were past posts about Soap Operas in general, one specifically about an anti-Roosevelt propaganda soap, American Family Robinson, an overview of a international affairs series aimed at members of the Armed Forces at the height of the Cold War, and a biography of the sportswriter Grantland Rice, which the professor asked about — perhaps thinking that students, some of whom who didn’t even recognize the name “Clark Kent,” might wake up to the word “sports.”

Anyhow, I’m grateful for the chance to talk about this project and the excuse to put in an afternoon of editing. I’m afraid I rambled around as much as this page does. And my editing is a bit random, too. But everything I’ve added or refreshed probably could use proofreading — maybe the students who are reading this, trying to make sense of my class presentation, will hit the “comment” button below let me know if they see any bad links, bad metaphors, or incomplete thoughts. I’ll check the comments tomorrow, hoping they don’t wait until they are on deadline. One of the refreshing things about writing this site as a retirement hobby is the lack of deadlines, or of a regular publication schedule. I forgot to mention that.

There were so many things I didn’t mention in that class presentation, beyond playing a few snippets of Superman, Frontier Gentleman, Rogers of the Gazette, and Night Beat, stumping the professor with a question about Anna Zenger, and explaining the menu structure at the top of the page and the location of the “About the Author” page that explains how and why I started what began as academic research and has since become a retirement hobby.

I figure that list of links should give the journalism students more than enough to supplement their notes on my show-and-tell presentation… at least the ones who stop back at this page before they write a story for the professor’s eyes only. I’m especially glad that I’m not the one who will have to grade them.

The professor asked how many radio shows I’ve written about, and I mumbled a bit about not keeping count. But he said numbers might help his students describe the extent of the project, so I’ve counted a few things for them: There are 198 date-stamped “blog posts” here, like this one, each usually discussing just one or two episodes of a radio series; and there are about 70 longer “pages” listed on the drop-down menus at the top of the screen, most of them compiled from earlier blog posts, including one that lists almost 60 “newspaper movies” that were redone in radio versions (some more than once), and other pages that go into details about radio serials like “The Green Hornet” and “Superman,” which each broadcast hundreds of episodes where newspaper reporters were described doing their jobs, getting in and out of trouble, and — at least sometimes — being heroes… which is how this website got its two names, “Newspaper Heroes on the Air” and “jheroes.com” for short.

(If you are reading this on a full-screen Web browser, not a smartphone, the right margin carries a chronological index going back to the first episode, from December 2010. I don’t suggest that the students start there and read all 198 blog posts and 70 “pages” of essays, listening to hundreds of hours of radio. And I guess I can hold off for a year on doing my own nostalgic read-through, then have a big tenth-year celebration — after I do a lot more editing.)

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, Drama, historical figures, Korea, media history, radio, World War II | Leave a comment