Love is News for Valentine’s Day

“He’s a newspaperman, he’ll ruin his career,” the leading lady observes, when Bob Hope, playing a reporter, threatens to go into show business.

Love Is News” was a 1937 romantic-comedy film starring Tyrone Power, Loretta Young, and Don Ameche. But when Lux Radio Theater adapted it as an hour-long broadcast drama in 1940, they emphasized the “comedy” over the “romantic” by casting Bob Hope in the lead.

In short, it’s a tabloid tale about publicity and privacy — and 1940s radio loved it. The Lux production was only one of several broadcast adaptations by radio’s “anthology” series, including breezy half-hour versions at Theatre of Romance and The Lady Esther Screen Guild Players (or Screen Guild Theatre), which did the story three times.

The basic plot: Conniving newspaper reporter tricks heiress into an interview about her broken engagement; she gets even by announcing to all the other papers in town that she is marrying our reporter hero, making him endure the trials and tribulations of instant celebrity.

“I’ve put you in the headlines and I’m going to keep you there,” she tells him, as the obvious love-hate duel gets rolling. If there is any journalistic consciousness-raising about the ethics of fake news or invasion of privacy, it is probably lost in the meet-cute shenanigans and laughter. There was a war on, and enough serious news on other programs to justify some escape into silliness.

Director Cecil B. DeMille, the Lux series host, adds some comments on the “man bites dog” tradition of the press at the opening of the show, and admits that Hope took liberties with the script. Madeleine Carroll plays heiress Tony Gateson, the part Loretta Young created on screen, and Ralph Bellamy takes the Don Ameche role as city editor.

Newspaper movie fans will remember Bellamy from the classic newspaper screwball romance, “His Girl Friday,” as the non-reporter fiance of heroine Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russel), and victim of conniving editor and ex-husband Walter Burns, played by Cary Grant. This time Bellamy gets to be the unscrupulous toughguy editor trying to trick his star reporter into staying on the job by getting him to cover a big story — an echo of both “His Girl Friday” and its predecessor “The Front Page.” (Although comedies, those classics’ news story was a politically tinged hanging; in this lighter-weight film, its just a society-girl romance.)

Theater of Romance lived up to its series title in its half hour 1945 version, playing the story slightly less for laughs, with Dane Clark and Fay Emerson in the leads, Will Geer as a cantankerous country judge, Jack Hartley as the editor.

According to various oldtime radio websites, the Screen Guild program made three versions, in 1942 with Kay Kyser and Betty Grable, in 1943 with Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan, and in 1946 with Hope and Linda Darnell, who even got first billing in the broadcast. There also was tremendous live-audience response in her smooching scenes with Hope, who filled the show with Hollywood jokes and asides to the audience, like his familiar rascal character from the Hope and Crosby “Road to…” movies.

James Gleason, a frequent Hollywood choice for tough-editor roles, played the reporter’s boss in all three Theater Guild versions. The Benny and Hope versions are available in various online archives, although at least one apparently gives a copy of the Benny episode the 1942 date of Kay Kyser’s performance, cited as unavailable by another archive.

Comparing the Jack Benny and Bob Hope versions should be fascinating for fans of 1940s radio comedy… but it won’t add much to the journalism ethics discussion.

(See my overview page on radio adaptations of newspaper movies for more.)


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Soaps and Circulation

An editor and “ace reporter” debated the news value and audience interest in a sensational murder case — versus coverage of the Korean War — in this December 1950 episode of “The Guiding Light” soap opera.

If you need to know what happened next (or previously), try the collected (but incomplete) episodes at the OldTime Radio Researchers Library.

I hadn’t listened to enough of this series to know how long the City Times newsroom characters were regulars, but the episode title “Newspaper has story about murder” caught my attention… and ethical details about interviews with the accused woman may be a plot point. Here’s a second 15-minute episode from the following day.

And the next day, the accused woman — suffering from amnesia, the soap opera curse — tells her lawyer that she talked to Roberts because she thought the former war correspondent was someone from her past, and she didn’t know he was a reporter.

“When a newspaperman is out to get a story, fairness doesn’t enter into his assignment. Get a story, by hook or crook,” the lawyer tells her, but Roberts isn’t that cynical.

The Guiding Light was created by Irna Phillips in 1937 and in the 1950s made the transition from radio to TV, where it continued until 2009.

From J.David Goldin’s episode summaries and Wikipedia, it looks like the 1950 murder case courtroom drama continued for months — more than 100 episodes, with reporter Joe Roberts’ stories weaving in and out of the plot and leading to (in a triumph of soap opera plotting over journalism ethics?) love and marriage.

Roberts was played by several actors through most of the years that the program was on both radio and television. The radio series ended in 1956.

Goldin mentions that announcer Clayton Bud Collyer also played a radio news reporter in a later episode of the courtroom drama. The man of many voices was also both radio’s tenor Clark Kent and baritone Superman, but his name was not given on the air to maintain the Superman mystique.

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Photo-snatching & Gunsmoke

In 1952, the first episode of the classic adult western “Gunsmoke” began with Marshal Matt Dillon dictating the text for a wanted poster to Mr.Hightower, Dodge City’s printer and newspaper editor.

The enterprising editor had already snitched a tintype of the wanted man and carved a woodcut for his front page. He offers Dillon the picture for the wanted poster.

The marshal (played by William Conrad, who, on radio, did not have to be as tall and lean as James Arness, the television Matt Dillon) laments the cynicism that makes the editor celebrate having a sensational story for his front page. But soon it’s clear the editor is not alone: The town doctor jokes about his profitable autopsy business, a killing suspect faces a lynchmob, and a runaway boy dreams of having a gun to carve notches on.

The story makes nice use of the newspaper editor’s professional cynicism to set the series’ general critique of the “wild west” cultural cliches — gunfighters, lynch mobs, six-guns, violent death as routine, and the era’s media stars, like the young man whose name is in the title of the episode, “Billy the Kid.”

I’ve had a more general discussion of Gunsmoke and links to more episodes on the Gunsmoke series page for a few years, but never managed to listen to the first episode of the series until today, when a Gunsmoke fan in the Facebook page for the Old Time Radio Researchers Group suggested it. OTRR also provides the Internet Archive with the mp3 files I link to in most of these posts and pages.
Here is its collection of almost 500 Gunsmoke episodes, 1952-61.

I haven’t listened to all of them, so there may be episodes with editors or reporters or other journalists that I haven’t found yet. If this post leads you to discover more of them, please let me know in the comment box below.

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A brotherhood of reporters and ex-reporters

The 1948-49 series Box 13 featured a former newspaper reporter, Dan Holiday, now a novelist. He had become a detective/adventurer, advertising for tips sent to his classified-ad box, to dig up plots for his works of fiction. The newspaper’s main role is carrying his classsified ad, but he stays in touch.

In a November 1948 episode titled “Suicide or Murder” in the Old Time Radio Researchers Internet Archive collection (although there is no hint of suicide in the actual story), writer Holiday finds a note in Box 13 from the mother of a recently deceased Evening Record reporter. He was a war veteran and Nuremburg Trials observer with a Distinguished Service Cross whose death was attributed to a drunken bar fight. The mother doesn’t believe it and neither does Holiday, played by Alan Ladd.

He finds out from the dead reporter’s editor that he was working on a “big story,” but had been secretive about it. Holiday and the editor, an old friend, search through the dead guy’s desk and begin to unravel the story. The young reporter, less than six months on the job, had been sent off to a Carribean island on a “Latin American neighbors” feature assignment. (Some budget that Evening Record had in 1948! But Holiday and the editor treat that much as routine. A waterfront bartender also is impressed by Holiday’s expensive suit and tie, so maybe journalist and novelists we’re making good money back then. Or at least radio script writers led the audience to believe such a thing.)

Eventually, after another murder, Holiday finds a war-criminals-escape-to-Caribbean clue in the reporter’s notebook and sets off on a search for missing film and the murderers… and the film turns up, quickly followed by a mysterious character with an accent and $10,000 to spend for negatives. The police and a happy ending can’t be far behind.

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News Meets Blues

“Hurry up, newsman, get on with the fight,
Or Johnny dies with me before daylight.”

That’s the unmistakable voice of blues singer Josh White, added to the cast of “Big Town,” the adventures of fighting editor Steve Wilson, for this one prison tale.

In the 1949 episode, Wilson is out to free an innocent man from Death Row, and White provides the blues equivalent of a Greek chorus, urging the editor along from another cell.

Listen to “The Prisoner’s Song” episode of “Big Town.” (Click on the title to download the mp3 file from the Old Time Radio Researchers Library ( if a working audio player does not appear below. The long program filename seems to cause a page-coding problem that I will try to repair after the holidays.)

Josh sings an original blues that parallels the story of the radio play; to be part of the scene, he plays a prisoner on death row.

“He’s going to the chair…” the guy in the next cell says.
“They let him have his guitar. He wanted it instead of his supper.”

As was often the case, Wilson resorts to non-journalistic techniques to free the condemned man, this time browbeating the real guilty man, facing down the armed killer — until a last bit of subterfuge gets a confession, followed by a last verse from the bluesman.

Wilson, played by Edward Pawley, also delivers the episode’s final Lifebuoy commercial, and the announcer plugs an upcoming Josh White concert in New York.

Incidentally, Josh White’s song here is not the more famous “The Prisoner’s Song,” although it also might suit the “Big Town” episode by that title.

The earlier “The Prisoner’s Song” was a huge heart-breaking hit in the early days of recorded music, for  country star Vernon Dalhart a Number 1 hit for 12 weeks in 1925-26.

Since then it has been re-recorded many times. I even remember my mother singing it, sometimes just the line, “If I had the wings of an angel…” when she needed a quick escape from whatever was getting her down. 

(Sections of this post appeared several years ago in my music related blog. I just realized that a version of it I thought I had published here never got past the draft stage. A reprieve, of sorts.)

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Newspaper legwork, 70 years ago on radio

In the continuing story “Pennies for Plunder,” the Daily Planet and Superman waged a month-long battle against a punchboard lottery racket, throughout December 1947, in the era when Superman was a daily 15 minute cliffhanger radio serial (and seller of Kellogg’s cereals and Superman premiums).

Here’s the second episode (starting Nov. 28), in which cub reporter Jimmy Olsen reports back to Clark Kent on the extensive legwork he has put into investigating an attempt to defraud youngsters with phony punchboard sales in candy stores.

“I talked to about 100 kids and it’s just like we thought,” Olsen says,  “70 of the 100 play the punchboards. I told them they didn’t stand a chance and most of them said I was crazy…

“Some of the storekeepers feed them cock-and-bull stories about guys who won bicycles and things… I checked up on a couple of them and of course they’re phony.”

Episode 2:

An audio player for the 18-episode storyline is available at the Internet Archive.

The Daily Planet was frequently portrayed as a crusading newspaper, not just an objective one content to report on events, but an active force for reform, fighting rackets, government corruption and bigotry, or in this one attacking the punchboard business as a gateway to gambling and juvenile crime. The earlier radio series often focused on Planet reporters (and Superman) solving mysteries, not just fighting the super-villains more common in later Superman movies. This social-reform theme took off after World War II. This 1947 story, for example, was a year and a half after the “Clan of the Fiery Cross” story and others that had the Planet and Superman campaigning against bigotry in America

In “Pennies for Plunder,” the primary villain is a gambling boss with an offshore yacht and a voice a lot like Peter Lorre, who attempts to blackmail a key government official, as well trying to murder Lois Lane and Perry White.

Unfortunately, the Old Time Radio Researchers’ library and its Internet Archive version where I listen and download these programs includes only 18 episodes of the “Pennies” serial, through Monday, Dec. 22, four days short of the end of the story. 

By that time, the story was out of the hands of the newspaper. In 1947, Clark Kent wasn’t the only Daily Planet staff member with a dual identity — reform-minded editor Perry White had managed to get elected mayor. And in the later episodes of “Pennies for Plunder,” White takes his newspaper’s crusade against the punchcard gaming to the state legislature, trying to ban all such activities, not just the fraudulent ones run by the story’s gangster villain.

We can safely assume his bill passed, despite a last minute attempt to derail it by the gambling syndicate boss. By New Year’s Eve, Kent and the Daily Planet crew were digging into a new mystery involving recent immigrants and food aid for hungry children in Europe. 

Posted in 1940s, adventure, Jimmy Olsen, journalism, newspaper crusades, Perry White, reporting, Superman, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Strawberry Shortcake at War

Alas, the liberation story shown in this Google newspaper archive clip never made it to the radio, as far as I know, but it hints at the first-person style of husband-and-wife United Press correspondents Reynolds and Eleanor Packard. 

The “Soldiers of the Press” broadcast you can listen to below is an earlier item, the story of a news-feature almost too good to check, by one of World War II’s best-known reporters.

It is not an eyewitness account by Reynolds Packard, but his as-told-to Italian-front yarn worthy of Hollywood, with the title “Battle Boomerang,” and the password-of-the-day “Strawberry Shortcake.”

When veteran foreign correspondent   Packard died in 1976, ​his New York Times obituary contained a passage with a hint of another flavor… sour grapes…

During his reporting career, Mr. Packand was often an irritant of fellow correspondents, who charged that some of his reports were less than authentic. They frequently made such charges in explaining to their editors back home why they had been scooped.

Mr. Packard once gave this pithy definition of his reporting:

“If you’ve got a good story, the important thing is to get it out fast. You can worry about details later. And if you have to send a correction, that will probably make another good story.”

“What I want to do,” he said at later time, “is to let my readers participate in my experiences in collecting news, whether it’s real or phony.”

There are certainly plenty of details in the “Battle Boomerang” story, from the rank of the injured soldier to that password… and the recipe involving battlefield biscuits. Were they improvisations by the radio scriptwriter, interview details from Packard’s notebook, or embellishments to help tell the tale?  So far, I haven’t found a published version of Packard’s U.P. dispatch for comparison, the way I have with some of the radio series’ bigger stories, such as the D-Day invasion

“Soldiers of the Press” dramatizations, usually based on one or more wire stories sent to subscribing newspapers, were reworked extensively by radio script writers, then recorded by actors in a studio, complete with sound effects like the clacking typewriters, gunfire and other battle noise in the background of this episode.  The series helped promote the scrappy and competitive United Press wire service — never as big as the Associated Press — as well as informing and entertaining the homefront audience.

I wonder if Reynolds and Eleanor Packard ever heard or commented on the broadcasts, like fellow U.P. reporter Walter Cronkite, who lived to write about the strange experience of hearing a radio actor playing him in a Soldiers of the Press episode, saying “This is Walter Cronkite” decades before American TV audiences learned the sound of his voice. (Did United Press correspondents ever tell their own stories on Soldiers of the Press? I don’t know, but the recordings clearly have the production values of New York studio work and were broadcast while the reporters were presumably still overseas in the war zones. I’ve found precious little written about the series at the time, primarily trade-magazine advertisements using the program to promote U.P. itself to radio stations. The broadcasts themselves included no credits for cast or crew.)

The Packards wrote several books, which I haven’t read. If you have, and have seen references to their appearances on “Soldiers of the Press,” please add a comment below!

Packard’s obituary doesn’t mention his books, but WorldCat can find them for you, from “Rome Was My Beat” and “Balcony Empire: Fascist Italy at War” to “The Kansas City Milkman.” 

For more about the Packards, see Reporting War: How Foreign Correspondents Risked Capture, Torture, and Death to Cover World War II by Ray Mosely.

(Note: This episode of [] Newspaper Heroes on the Air was written and links inserted entirely with the WordPress app on an Android phone. I will probably edit it later using a more substantial computer to fix any oddities in the fonts, formatting, spelling or linkage.)

Posted in 1940s, foreign correspondents, reporting, Soldiers of the Press, true stories, United Press, Walter Cronkite, World War II | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment