Today was the birthday of Émile Édouard Charles Antoine Zola (1840-1902), and the birthday of a former editor of mine, a coincidence that reminded me that I have never gotten around to posting about the 1898 Dreyfus case and Zola here.
The Whistler episode Conspiracy. from Sept. 29, 1948, opens with a reporter reading a newspaper murder story in a diner, and speculating about the motivation of killers.
Then he gets a call from his editor, sending him out into the driving rain to a Mississippi River town whose levee is about to break. It’s the town where Marilyn lives, his ex-wife, the one person he might want to kill… and the rising river would cover for him… almost like a Conspirator, hence the title of the episode.
The cool, confident reporter is played by Frank Lovejoy, his voice easily recognized from his leading-man role as the Chicago columnist in the series Night Beat from 1949 to 1950. I wonder whether the heroic part of his performance here — star reporter faces deadly storm — helped him land that starring role a year later. Maybe a search of some archived trade magazines or “Night Beat” history sites will answer that question, in which case I’ll update this page.
Lovejoy, who was also radio’s Blue Beetle early in his career, was featured in a variety of non-journalist roles in at least 20 Whistler episodes, and is credited as writer of one of them.
The CBS network’s “The Whistler” was a special sort of half-hour mystery series — not a simple “whodunit,” because it revealed the killer and his or her motivation early on. Instead, its suspenseful plots led to a twist at the end… The opposite of routine “inverted pyramid” newspaper stories, which open with the conclusion, then fill in details.
More than 500 episodes of the 1942-1955 Whistler series are offered at the Internet Archive by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group, which has broadcasting-history documents and a database at theOld Time Radio Researchers Website (www.otrr.org).
Series synopses and cast lists, which I am skimming for journalist plots, are offered by J. David Goldin at his Radiogoldindex.com website.This story is one of ten or more where a newspaper reporter or editor is criminal, suspect, or victim… or just doing his job.
In my search for radio portrayals of journalists, “The Final Page” was the most promising title in a collection of New Adventures of Nero Wolfe episodes. Unfortunately, the page mentioned in the title is from a novel, not a news publication.
However, there is a public relations or publicity person in the story, working for the book publisher… and the detective makes use of some deceptive public relations — giving a false story to the press — to bring the tale to a conclusion. For a moment, even Archie, wolves assistant and legman, is taken in by the fake article. I guess that’s enough justification to include the program here, since it might warn readers to be alert to fake news… in this case, back in 1951.
I will keep listening to Nero Wolfe, hoping that he encounters a reporter and some real news reporting in another episode.
For today, a very short blog post with a link to some newsroom banter between Lois, Clark and editor Perry White when Lois has a brainstorm about — silly idea — Kent being Superman’s secret identity.
“Oh stop this nonsense, Lois, we’ve got a paper to get out.” — Perry White
It does suggest that a good-natured, argumentative and teasing relationship exists between a newspaper editor and his reporters. It may not be the greatest testimony to women being taken seriously in newsrooms. Still, Lois does come off as being assertive and tough, if not sufficiently sure of her evidence to stand by her intuition about Clark. After all, that was always part of the fun of the Superman comic books and radio series. Had I been old enough to listen to this program when it came out in 1947, I might have grown up thinking a newsroom was a place I wouldn’t mind working. I wonder if the same was true for girl listeners?
The conversation actually refers back to the conclusion of the previous storyline, a transitional recap before starting a new story. Of course, Lois’s suspicions are quickly set aside, after Clark and Perry explain the logic of why Superman showed up to rescue Lois and Clark while they were both unconscious.
“Behind the Mic,” a radio series whose message was to demystify the medium itself, devoted its June 29, 1941, episode to the Associated Press, the newspaper co-op that had gradually come around to the idea of radio news.
The program includes mini-dramas of scenes from AP history, including the 1848 meeting of usually rival New York editors that formed the association to get some leverage over another “new media,” the telegraph companies.
The 19th century hazards of journalism portrayed on the program range from misreading semaphore signals to getting the assignment to cover General Custer at the Little Big Horn — and dying at his side.
We hear another AP man advising Pancho Villa to delay an attack until after the baseball World Series if he wanted to get on the front page of American newspapers. He did.
The anecdotes, dramatized from a history of the Associated Press, are delivered in rapid-fire, but provide no discussion of how the newspaper based service came around to the idea of providing news to radio stations.
Kent Cooper, general manager of the AP is interviewed on issues like the size of the association (1,400 American newspapers, 7,500 correspondents), arrangements for war coverage, and the latest news technology, one that it goes without saying would not be much use on radio — the AP wirephoto.
The program closes with an NBC announcer reading the latest AP war news, to the accompaniment of clattering teletypes, and the newscast ends with an important phrase: “For further details, see your local newspaper,” a clear sign that by World War II the newspapers, their wire services, and the New Medium of radio had found ways to co-exist.
The witty — if a bit prone to puns and quotations — college president on “Halls of Ivy” had more than one anxious moment over campus news media, but supported the freedom of the press in good spirits, which must have been acceptable to the program’s Schlitz Beer sponsor.
The second episode of the series, starring Ronald Colman and Benita Hume Colman as President & Mrs. Hall of Ivy College, featured a student newspaper editorial that offended his nemesis, the chairman of the board of governors, so much that he wanted the editor expelled.
Student Editorial, Jan. 13, 1950.
“A millenium is at hand, someone has finally read an editorial in an American newspaper!” — the student editor.
A year later, the same trustee went after the anthropology department as well as a student anthropologist author. President Hall disagreed with the article… a critique of campus life… but supported it on free speech principles, quoting Sinclair Lewis. The trustee was more concerned with the article’s impact on a football star who had taken the article to heart and was questioning his dedication to the sport.
Student Editorial in the Ivy Bull, Oct. 10, 1951.
“We can discuss the article in The Bull and the possible bull in the article…” — President Hall, inviting student author to dinner.
From the intellectual ramparts of anthropology, the Halls moved on in 1952 to investigate a campus gossip column of the air. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the trustee chairman is in the middle again, but the Halls survive nicely. And, as Hall points out, the young woman reporter does stick to her facts. He quotes Sheridan about that, but also manages to mention one of my favorite oldtime newspaper columnists.
Voice of the Ivy Vine, Feb. 20, 1952.
“What the late Don Marquis called ‘stroking a cliche until it purrs like an epigram.'” — Hall quoting the creator of “Archie & Mehitabel.”
In addition to the Peabody Award winning 1950-52 radio series, more than 100 episodes, the Colmans also brought the series to television in 1954-55, which provided the college gate image at the top of this page as well as this brief clip at YouTube.
While he never went to college himself, Don Quinn, creator of the campus-based radio program, gave a revealing interview about it while on vacation in Hawaii, which has been archived at YouTube. Listen for a tip-of-the-hat to his wife, a Northwestern University journalism school grad. Here it is:
“What a story! Boy this is great!” — reporter Jimmy Gifford
Here’s a mystery from 1932, the days when radio drama was relatively new, when flying the air mail was still an adventure, and so was newspaper reporting.
The broadcast presentation on these original syndication company transcription discs includes no opening title or theme music, just the buzz of an airmail plane and some filler music that presumably could be covered by a local announcer introducing the program. The cast and crew are never identified.
The plot: Irene DelRoy, “clever girl operative of the Department of Justice,” arrives to investigate three mysterious crashes of a private contractor’s airplanes carrying mail and government securities.
Reporter Jimmy Gifford of The Star, who we learn has a romantic history with agent DelRoy, is introduced in the second episode “Andrews Accused,” making a good showing as an investigator himself. Irene and Jimmy’s cop-and-reporter buddy-romance is a mirror image of the”Torchy Blane” reporter-and-cop movie serials, but not played for cuteness and laughs. In a later episode, Jimmy even carries a gun, and at one point Irene tells him to be prepared to shoot-to-kill.
Later in the Air Mail Mystery, Irene mentions that she and Jimmy have worked together before, and tells others that unlike some other reporters, he can be trusted. That kind of camaraderie might be closer than most editors would like to hear about, but it makes me wonder if there were plans for more Irene-and-Jimmy stories. So far I have found no information about whether this one 13-episode serial, which could have run daily for two weeks or so, was part of plans for a continuing series back in 1932.
Here is Jimmy, making his appearance in episode 2…
The third episode, “At the Crash,” finds newshawk Gifford asking more solid questions and unmasking an undercover federal agent working for Irene. (Later, I think he’s the one who produces a whiskey flask right when needed to help revive a tear-gas victim. Some reporter stereotypes are forever, I guess.)
Before the end of the tale, Gifford is being a daredevil, first in a gunfight, then risking his life flying after a mysterious plane on his own…
(It’s interesting that in 1930s fiction, newspaper reporters were sometimes able to fly their own planes. In one of the first Superman radio adventures, Clark Kent piloted a plane on a flying rescue when he was still keeping the existence of Superman a secret. And I remember Lois Lane donning a leather flying helmet and taking off on a solo flight to track down the bad guy in one of the early Superman cartoons.)
Back to the Air Mail Mystery, even with just 12 episodes, the story is very listenable, well-acted and reasonably mysterious. The summaries at the beginnings of the episodes make it easy enough to follow the tale if you weren’t paying close attention, or without the missing chapter seven.
I’ve already updated this post once, and will do it again if I find more information about this intriguing series.
Many thanks to the Old Time Radio Researchers group and Jerry Haendiges of otrsite.com, who digitized transcription discs of the series and provided them to the group for uploading to the Internet Archive by the group’s Web coordinator Paul Kornman.