A case of mistaken identity

In Raymond Chandler’s novels or the 1947-51 radio series they inspired, Philip Marlowe wasn’t the kind of detective who plays for the headlines.

“What’s the news in that?” he asks at the end of this 1950 adventure titled “The Big Book.”

So far I can’t name a single episode of his radio adventures with a substantial newspaper reporter character. I haven’t yet listened to all 105 half-hour tales available at the Internet Archive’s Old Time Radio Researchers collection, but so far the closest I have found is an adventure in which he looks for a newsboy’s missing uncle.

So why is “The Big Book” here in a blog about newspaper reporter and editor characters? Because, in it an Italian shoemaker — who once was an artist and also can bind large volumes in leather — easily mistakes Marlowe for a newspaper reporter, and their dialogue is interesting.

Given the location of Marlowe’s office, I suspect there are episodes with Hollywood publicity agents, but I’d rather stick with the working press.

Oops… In the background while I was editing this, I just heard the phrase “a Tribune reporter dodging bullets” while Marlowe was investigating a diner owner’s wife who had gone missing. I guess I’ll be back to write about “Friend from Detroit” eventually.

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A cemetery scoop

It’s October, and as Halloween approaches, I am reminded that I have not posted many stories from radio’s always popular macabre or thriller series… Might as well start early.

“Scoop,” the December 8, 1942, episode of the scare-filled late-night radio show Lights Out must not be confused with the amusing Evelyn Waugh novel by the same name.

As it opens, a 40-year-veteran newspaper columnist is called into the office of a heartless and clueless new publisher. To save his job and keep serving his readers, the columnist even offers to continue working for no money.

The columnist sounds a bit like Boris Karloff, which should be a warning that the publisher’s end will not be a pretty one.

The story is by Arch Oboler (1909–1987) one of radio’s most creative writers and producers. At the end of the wartime program, he delivers a personal war-bond sales message about a real terror, preventing “the horror of a Jap-Nazi world.”

Archive.org has separate sections headed “LightsOutOTR” and “LightsOutoldTimeRadio,” each with a version of this program, so I will include a link to the duplicate copy here, just in case one or the other is, like the old man in the story, declared redundant.

Pioneer radio collector and historian J. David Goldin reports that the later syndicated episode was also known as “Cemetery.”

Posted in 1940s, adventure, Drama, publishers, reporters, suspense | Leave a comment

Before Bond: Moscow correspondent faces Russian with steel teeth

Suspense (1955):

This script by John Dehner was timely Cold War radio about an American correspondent attempting to flee his Soviet interrogator, “The Man with Steel Teeth.”

It was produced twice, both times by Antony Ellis, for two of radios most popular anthology series, Suspense and Escape.

Dehner, who also starred as a newspaper reporter in the wild west series Frontier Gentleman, took the lead in the Suspense production in February 1955, but Escape was the first to broadcast the story, in March 1953, with Harry Bartell in the lead.

Other than presenting the reporter as brave, stubborn and resourceful, there is little about journalism here . . . No particular job of reporting gets him charged with espionage, the charges are entirely trumped up, and the toothy interrogator tries beatings and torture to extract a confession.

Both actors do a fine job, and the script reinforces the era’s assumptions about the Soviet Union. No spoilers here, just a good suspenseful attempted-escape story, as the names of the two series suggest.

One interesting twist in the radioplay — patches of dialogue are in Russian with no translation. . . or what sounds like Russian to an American who only knows a few words.

Escape (1953):


Continue reading

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Shocking! Presidents do lie to and about reporters

The various radio series that dramatized historical events sometimes sacrificed historical accuracy to tell a story, especially in the common 30-minute format.

In this broadcast, at least a newspaper reporter gets a happier ending out of the revisionist history.

“Mr. President” was an 1947-1953 ABC series in which Edward Arnold played a different U.S. president each week, disguising the president’s name until the end of what was usually a little-known story in that presidential life.

(Unfortunately, online archives of mp3 recordings of the series, such as this collection of Mr. President at the Old Time Radio Researchers Library, often give away the president’s identity in the filename.)

This tale of a president hiding a cancer diagnosis — and even a secret surgery on a yacht — includes more than one newspaper reporter. Only one gets the scoop early — so early that the president swears him to secrecy until after the operation, and even then the reporter has difficulty convincing his editor that he has the true story… and the president comes to his defense.

That’s quite a different tale from the one reflected in the subtitle of a more recent book, “The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth, by Matthew Algeo.

In 2011, NPR interviewed the author, who among other things found a letter from Cleveland admitting his attempt to “deny and discredit the story,” which continued throughout his life.

The reporter is identified as “Holland” at the end of the “Mr. President” episode, which was the syndicated column pseudonym of reporter Elisha Jay Edwards.

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Fatherly editor faces romantic son, Persian poetry

When Ah, Wilderness, Eugene O’Neill’s comedy-drama about coming of age, was adapted for radio, Walter Huston starred as the newspaper-owner father whose poetry-besotted son is tempted by what passed for the wild side of life in 1906 Connecticut.

Theatre Guild on the Air broadcast the program in 1945, but the show is still set in 1906, when that Connecticut wild life — or the amount of it suited for a 1945 family radio audience — consisted of beer and a blind date arranged by the lad’s older brother’s Yale classmate, who knew “a couple of swift babies from New Haven.”

The radio production made no reference to the 1935 film with Wallace Beery, previewed above via YouTube, Lionel Barrymore and Aline MacMahon, but tipped its hat to George M. Cohan‘s year-long star turn as the father and editor in the play on Broadway and for two years on the road.

The Theatre Guild program had Eugene O’Neill Jr. provide narration for the radioplay. In addition, Huston not only had played another O’Neill father in “Desire Under the Elms,” but was married to newspaper reporter Rhea Gore Huston.

His character, Nat Miller, is owner-publisher of the paper in a “large small town” — the Barrymore role in the movie — who stands up to an irate advertiser whose daughter is being pursued by his son, Richard, writing letters full of quotations from Swinburne and Omar Khayyam.

Reading about socialism as well as romance have led the 17-year-old son to make family-table speeches about “liberty,” and “wage slaves” and July 4 being a farce. But the father defends him against charges of being “dissolute and blasphemous” and corrupting his advertiser’s daughter.

We never get to the newsroom in this domestic drama, but we do learn that the editor has his own copy of the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” at the office, even if he lets his son know that Swinburne’s sensuality is “a little strong” to be sending to a nice girl.

The bottom line, as a portrayal of a journalist, the play is pleasantly free of negative stereotypes. With one son at Yale and another headed there in the fall (even though he might rather dive right into a newspaper job), the editor is presented literally as a father figure, educated, practical, family-oriented, ethical and thoughtful. He’s not infallible, at least on the subject of bluefish. But, significantly, he is not the alcoholic in the family, one of Hollywood’s favorite cliches about newspapermen. (In fact, the inebriated uncle is less of the story in the radio adaptation than he was in the movie, where Wallace Beery received top billing over Lionel Barrymore as the father.)

Note: Some sources of information on the radio program spell its name “Theater Guild,” but the parent organization uses the “Theatre Guild” spelling. I have never seen a printed script, “U.S. Steel Hour” press release, or transcription disc label to determine whether the radio industry departed from that spelling.

Posted in 1930s, 1940s, adaptations, comedy, Drama, editors, ethics, romance | Leave a comment

Reporter finds Lost Angel, maybe more

A national public radio profile today of actress Marsha Hunt at 100 years of age sent me browsing through her career, and I happily stumbled on the movie “Lost Angel.” She played the singer-girlfriend of newspaper reporter Mike Regan, whose interview with scientifically raised child prodigy “Alpha” turns into an adventure in the magic of childhood.

While his reporting technique may not be the greatest example of journalistic detachment, the result is still a sweet story. And there’s more than one mention of the reporter’s being a Harvard grad, which can’t hurt the image of the profession.

Neither can his having a significant other like Hunt’s character Katie, who explores the frequent theme of reporters’ letting their careers get in the way of their relationships… with help from Alpha and an escaped convict.

Lux Radio Theater had the original cast for the one hour adaptation broadcast in 1944 before an appreciative studio audience.

The precocious Margaret O’Brien, 7, is the real star, with James Craig, Hunt, and Keenan Wynn as the escaped convict who complicates matters.

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A gentleman of the press vs. ungentlemanly gentiles

A Facebook conversation just led me to check back and see if I had ever posted a blog item about the radio adaptations of the movie Gentleman’s Agreement, and it looks like I hadn’t, other than a paragraph in my overview of movie adaptations by radio anthology series like Lux Radio Theater.

Lux is the only one that I had found that brought the Gregory Peck film to a radio audience, but it did so twice, in 1948 and 1955. The player above should get you the 1948 version, or you can click on either year to download an MP3 file.

The film about a non-Jewish reporter going undercover to get a story on anti-semitism was based on a 1947 novel by Laura Z. Hobson and won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

In an opening scene, the reporter, trying to explain anti-semitism to his ten-year-old son, says some people hate Jews, some hate Catholics, and some hate Protestants.

“But no one hates us, because we’re Americans,” says the boy. His father explains the difference, then, in a way worth echoing today, “Religion hasn’t anything to do with the country; you get it?”

Other than the basic idea of a reporter immersing himself in a group identity to get a story, there isn’t a lot of journalism technique presented in the brief radio versions of the story. It’s a more anthropological technique, but in this case with a strong element of deception thrown in.

For comparison, the reporter mentions having worked in a coal mine while writing a story about coal miners. (He also did a story about “Okies,” but doesn’t discuss the details.)

In any case, working in a new occupation, even as an undercover reporter, is not the same as pretending to be of a different racial, ethnic or religious group… as he discovers.

“Not that it would make any difference to me…” — with a hint of hypocrisy — becomes a key phrase in the story, whether spoken by a co-worker or the reporter’s new girlfriend. That relationship, of course, is the center of the drama, with the girlfriend’s family, friends and neighbors in suburban Connecticut all at risk of opening closets full of skeletons.

Given the problems of compressing a novel into a movie, and the movie into a half hour radio show, the Gentleman’s Agreement broadcast was still pretty powerful for its day… listen to that audience applause at the end!

Leading man Gregory Peck appeared in the first Lux adaptation, with Ann Baxter as the leading lady. Peck’s role as Phil Green was taken by Ray Milland in the second production seven years later, with Dorothy McGuire recreating her original role, and radio’s ubiquitous William Conrad as the editor.

Although the story is about anti-semitism, the level of racial sensitivity as late as 1955 is reflected in a between-acts discussion of a new film about South Africa that, an announcer mentions, features “tamed” Zulus in the cast.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, adaptations, civil rights, reporters, stereotypes, undercover | Leave a comment