John and Anna Zenger weren’t radio stars, but I’ve just found a third appearance for them… In an episode of the CBS series “You Are There.”
It’s an entertaining “live news report,” as if the 1949 CBS radio news crew had been present to cover the Zenger libel trial in colonial New York in 1735. The radio reporters seem businesslike, one even rushing Anna Zenger through a more passionate part of her interview. (Perhaps they had to pretend that on-the-scene in 1735 they didn’t know then that an Associated Press executives’ novel would one day declare her the “Mother of Freedom” for her role in her husband’s newspaper and its stand for a free press.)
They CBS announcer almost routinely declares that Zenger’s chances are slim, according to “informed observers.” Later, CBS news reports with surprise when distinguished Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton is added to the case for the defense. “We didn’t recognize him because we’ve never seen him before,” the reporter apologizes, after the famous defense attorney’s identity is announced. (For a brief account of the trial, and Hamilton’s career, see The First Amendment Encyclopedia at Middle Tennessee State University.) Or just listen to the dramatization…
At the end, when the surprise verdict is announced, CBS newsman John Daly struggles to be heard over the voices of cheering spectators, but manages to get out the key detail that “The principle that truth can be used as a defense to a charge of libel is upheld.” As his voice fades, the You Are There announcer’s voiceover, with godlike echo, summarizes in 20-20 hindsight the even greater conclusion: “John Peter Zenger is acquitted, and the American colonies win a free press to spearhead their fight for independence.”
CBS staff, whose voices would have been familiar in 1949, play themselves in this radio-time-machine play, including Daly and Don Hollenbeck. Hollenbeck was also the host of CBS Views the Press, a pioneer radio effort in media criticism. His death by suicide was a subplot in the movie “Good Night and Good Luck,” and his life if the subject of a 2008 biography. (See “Remembering a Fallen Newsman,” 2008, New York Times.)
Ottmar Mergenthaler already had been the subject of a Cavalcade of America historical-biography radioplay in 1937, but here he is getting the Hallmark Hall of Fame treatment 16 years later… a story that includes a suspenseful beginning for anyone who doesn’t recognize his name. Perhaps in 1953 it was still familiar? (Certainly Hollywood star Lionel Barrymore, the narrator, was better known then.)
This starts as an “Everything must begin with a dream” romance-in-America immigrant drama, and then a man walks into the shop and explains how a newspaper — remember them? — was set in type, one letter at a time, a process little changed in the 400 years since Gutenberg spread the magic of movable type.
Mergenthaler, originally a watchmaker, went the next step… and his Linotype machines, full of cogs, levers, molten lead and matrices, fed news into the columns of daily newspapers — and more — for a century. Of course Hallmark Hall of Fame took liberties to compress his life and invention within its broadcast half hour. For more detail, see the PDF of the printing history newsletter linked beneath the illustration.
Personal perspective: My own byline was set in hot type for most of my first decade as a newspaper reporter. But then optical and digital “cold type” arrived — even before that American Printing History Association publication about the 1986 Linotype centennial — and Mergenthaler’s inventions became museum pieces.
Thanks to the collectors who save, restore, digitize and freely share radio recordings, and to the Internet Archive, which hosts them in such a way that I can link to them, and also to the programmers who make WordPress. They all make it possible for me to share my search for newspaper journalism related stories from the golden years of American radio broadcasting. If only Mergenthaler could see this system at work!
She’s a high-school-age Shirley Temple, but distracted by playboy artist Cary Grant.
It’s The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, the 1947 Hollywood hit adapted in 1949 for Lux Radio Theater, with two of its original stars. (Myrna Loy, as Shirley’s older sister, the judge, was replaced for the radioplay by Frances Robinson, a frequent Lux cast member.)
And it’s not much of a lesson in journalism… High School newspaper editor Shirley, smitten, but technically “interviewing” for a story, asks the famous artist (who just happens to look like Cary Grant) whether he’s ever been in love… and whether she’d make a good model.
“Goodbye Miss Winchell,” he says to the 17-year-old, invoking the name of the naion’s best-known gossip columnist, but she gets it into her head that he wants to paint her, and somehow gets into his apartment to wait for him…
The results are a bit 1949 predictable… and we probably will not get back to the newsroom.
This also begins to sound a little like the “A date with Judy” radio episode I listened to a few weeks ago. In that case, Charles Boyer was the teenage reporter’s interview subject… but although starstruck, she wasn’t as interested in romance.
Back to The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, as you can see in the trailer below, both Myrna Loy’s character and visual gags had bigger parts in the original movie.
Footnote: When she played that perky 17-year-old on radio, Shirley Temple was actually 21, married, a young mother, and about to get a divorce… She remarried and retired from show biz the next year, at 22. Eight years later she did some TV before going on to a political career: an unsuccessful run for Congress, followed by appointments to the U.N. and two ambassadorships. See more on the Shirley Temple Wikipedia page.
On D-Day, one of America’s most famous reporters, Front Page Farrell, was not involved in the war coverage at all… But, of course, Dave Farrell was fictional.
Still, his June 7, 1944, episode above has hints of America’s mood on the day the troops landed at Omaha Beach, even if the script was written far in advance, with no knowledge of the war developments.
I’ve heard very few episodes of “Front Page Farrell,” a daily soap opera about romantic couple David and Sally Farrell, and mentioned the program briefly in an overview page on journalist characters in soap operas. (Coincidentally, one of those earlier episodes, from 1942, was about the possibility of David leaving his job to go to war, and former-reporter Sally going back to newspaper work! I wish I knew how that “to be continued” story concluded, days or weeks later.)
Daytime soaps aren’t as widely available in digital archives as “prime time” evening comedies and dramatic series. But this June 7, 1944, episode is caught up in archived recordings of NBC’s coverage of the invasion day, D-Day, and D-plus-one, 2:50 a.m. Eastern War Time June 6 to 6:00 p.m. the next day… The 106 quarter-hour and half-hour recordings would make fascinating listening, with their 79th anniversary approaching.
There’s really no journalism practiced in this episode of “A Date with Judy” from April 3, 1945, although the teenage heroine is going off to do a celebrity interview with actor Charles Boyer, in town for a wartime Red Cross benefit. Judy even mentions Boyer’s charm in the previous year’s hit with Ingrid Bergman and Angela Lansbury in Gaslight, photo at right. Her interview is hardly as dramatic, just a charming case-of-mistaken-identity, followed by an apologetic editorial, but it’s the only even loosely journalism-related episode of the series currently in
this Internet Archive collection.
More may be on the way, however. Radio collector J.David Goldin’s RadioGoldIndex online database of episodes, which may be in various not-online library collections, includes several possibilities, all fitting my theme about how important the daily newspaper was in American culture for most of the 20th century.
In one of the episodes Goldin mentions, in which “Judy has a ‘job’ with The Daily Chronicle, she’s a society editor,” was apparently broadcast in 1942 and again in 1945. Judy was “covering” her Aunt Lilly’s wedding. I doubt that journalistic conflict of interest is part of the plot. And then in 1944 Judy tried to get a job as assistant to the paper’s society editor. She apparently wound up getting a date with the handsome son of “the editor of the Daily Bugle” instead. (So it looks like Judy Foster and family lived in a two-daily-newspaper town, not uncommon in the 1940s.) Also in 1944, her brother was in the running to be editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, and a year later Judy was (briefly) editor of what was apparently a school literary magazine, “The Purple Flamingo.”
I haven’t heard any of these, but according to online discussions, the Old Time Radio Researchers Group (https://otrr.org) is preparing a new collection that will eventually be shared at the Internet Archive, so maybe some of Goldin’s old favorites will be included.
Meanwhile, the most significant “newspapers in popular culture” connections for the “A Date with Judy” series may be its author and producer. The creator of the character was a Pittsburgh Press columnist, Aleen Wetstein (1908-2010) who went from being secretary of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment to writing a weekly column in the 1930s called “One Girl Chorus,” which Wikipedia says was “eventually adapted by Wetstein and Jerome Lawrence as a radio domestic comedy titled A Date with Judy, which she adapted and exploited across all entertainment forms possible at that time, including theatre, film, television, and comic books.” (Jane Powell was Judy and a 16-year-old Elizabeth Taylor was her best friend in the newspaper-free 1948 movie “A Date with Judy.”)
According to Wetstein’s L.A. Times obituary, <<“A Date With Judy” was originally conceived as a radio vehicle for her friend, actress Helen Mack, whose “crazy stage mother” kept pestering Leslie to write a show for Mack, Diane Leslie said. By the time the teen-angst comedy debuted on the radio in 1941, Mack was too old to star, but she directed episodes that Leslie wrote and produced.>>
The radio series producer was, in fact, Helen Mack, whose earlier acting career included the classic newspaper movie “His Girl Friday,” in which she played the memorable Mollie Molloy, “hooker with a heart of gold,” treated terribly by newspapermen. She was also the co-star of “King of the Newsboys” in 1938, but again not in a journalistic role. Her appearance in “His Girl Friday” was brief, but memorable, with Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson, her one friend in the courthouse newsroom:
Hildy Johnson : Come on, Molly. Let’s get outta here.
Molly Malloy : They ain’t human!
Hildy Johnson : I know, they’re newspapermen.
Molly Malloy : All they’ve been doin’ is lyin’! All they’ve been doin’ is rotten lies!
I hope “A Date with Judy” included a more positive newspaper role model for teen listeners, although society editors and editor’s sons may not be the most promising possibilities.
During the past month, “The Dusty Attic,” a classic-radio program of the Radio Talking Books Service offered a series of four hour-long programs on the same theme as “Newspaper Heroes on the Air,” exploring the role of newspapers in society and their depiction in audio dramas.
A special attraction: A comparison of two broadcasts inspired by the same real-life newspaper investigation that freed an innocent man from jail. One production was an “audition” for an eventual radio series, the other a dramatization of a classic Hollywood film based on the case, “Call Northside 777.”
The shows were hosted by researcher and collector Joe Webb, who has done extensive investigations of “The Big Story” and “Casey Crime Photographer,” among other series. The four-part series has been preserved on its own Internet Archive page as “Dusty Attic Newspapers.
“I never thought we’d really know a foreign correspondent!” the two youngsters gush, in an early scene of this 1949 radio drama. “Oh now children,” says their mother. “Stop acting as if he’s a foreign correspondent in the movies.”
The man in question replies, modestly enough, “It’s just a job. You know, kids, we’re not heroes. The men I admire are the scientists, working behind the scenes in all sorts of risky experiments. Your husband was a man like that, wasn’t he, Dorothy?” — and he proceeds to praise the kids’ presumably deceased father.
Unfortunately, this “foreign correspondent,” Gordon Douglas, is not someone to admire. He has killed someone. It’s even unclear whether he is a journalist gone bad or simply an evildoer using that title as a cover in order to steal scientific secrets. Douglas intends to turn them over to another shadowy figure, “Roxor,” whose goal is world domination.
Fortunately for the world, Roxor and Douglas don’t know that Dorothy’s brother has powerful secrets of his own. He is Frank Chandler, also known as Chandu, the Magician (more information at Wikipedia, including cast member names), the real hero of this radio story. Alas, Bela Lugosi is not in the radio play, although he was in two Chandu movies. And Chandu apparently was the inspiration for Marvel Comics’ “Dr. Strange” a generation later.
The episode on today’s MP3 player, The Black Steps, broadcast Feb. 3, 1949, launched a new half-hour format in place of a previous 15-minutes-a-day serial. In the 15-minute version, Douglas’s treachery was stretched over a series of episodes in 1948, starting with this one… Gordon Douglas, 48-08-12
While Chandu’s occult knowledge covered psychic communication more than journalism, that moment of dialogue between his sister and her children does suggest that in the years after World War II the trench-coated foreign correspondent was an image with some magic of its own, enough of an excuse for inclusion of the story here at “Newspaper Heroes on the Air.”
After that one half-hour episode, I did backtrack and listen to a few of the soap-opera style 15-minute serial Chandu the Magician episodes at the Internet Archive, and discovered that Douglas’s treachery had been revealed even more gradually than I’d thought. His character evolved through most of the month of August, 1948, more than three hours of radio play. It was part of an even longer extended plot about Dorothy’s scientist husband’s turning out not being dead after all. She and Chandler are in Egypt searching for him. Douglas appears as a self-described “nosy reporter” with constant questions about Dorothy’s husband, who was believed drowned at sea nine years earlier.
Our heroes have mixed reactions to the inquiring correspondent …
Dorothy: “What a disagreeable way to have to earn a living — prying into people’s private lives. How can a man like that bring himself to do it?”
Bobby: “I’d love every minute of it… It’s a job with him. He gets to travel all over, be in on stuff everywhere, secret meetings…”
Chandler: “He’s an accredited correspondent all right; I telephoned the press association in Rome.”
But, astutely, Chandler mentions that even an accredited reporter might be working for the evil Roxor, which turns out to be half-true. He is working for Roxor, but he is not the real Douglas. The reporter apparently was murdered by Roxor, who gave his credentials to the unnamed imposter and instructed him to mimic the reporter’s style with his editors while pursuing leads to both the missing scientist and the mysterious Chandler/Chandu.
Sorry about the “spoilers,” but skimming the episode titles and seeing “Douglas Is an Imposter,” “Fraud’s Identity” and “Douglas Disappears” among them just might be a giveaway. By August 19, Chandler had used his occult powers — and a crystal ball — to uncover Douglas’s evil background.
I’ll listen to more of Chandu, just in case other reporters or editors appear, or Douglas reappears. If you are a Chandu fan who has run into more stories with actual “newspaperman hero” (or “newspaperman villain”) plots, please use the comment field below to point me to them!
“The Family Theater” was a classic old time radio show that ran from 1947 to 1957 with an unusual sponsor: Prayer. But it also found itself telling the stories of newspaper editors and reporters from time to time… So here is one of those radioplays, from Nov 15, 1950, the story of John Peter Zenger, Anna Zenger, and a landmark libel trial. (The link will take you to the Old Time Radio Researchers Group OTRRLibrary entry for the series. Click on the “Peter Zenger” episode title to use the on-page player or download an MP3 file of the episode. The library has also made its collection available on YouTube, using the player below.)
In fact, the Zengers’ story had been told before in radio dramas — and a biography by an Associated Press executive. Click on its the book cover for a previous JHeroes essay about “Mother of Freedom.”
The Family Theater series was the creation of the Rev. Patrick Peyton, a Catholic priest who wanted to promote family unity and praying the rosary, according to radio historian John Dunning and articles about Peyton and his radioprograms at Wikipedia. His 1945 rosary-crusade broadcast, endorsed by Bing Crosby, led to this not exactly religious dramatic series, which enlisted an amazing array of Hollywood stars, including episode narrators at least as willing to deliver a closing message about the importance of “family prayer” as they were to endorse “Lux beauty soap” in the closing minutes of Lux Radio Theatre.
In the first two months alone it featured as hosts or stars an ecumenical array of Hollywood celebrities: Crosby, James Stewart, Don Ameche, Loretta Young, Walter Brennan, Irene Dunne, Dana Andrews, Van Heflin, Robert Young, J Carroll Naish, Edward G Robinson, and Pat O’Brien, among others. Religious faith and prayer do not always enter into the stories themselves, but they do support positive values.
Telling the truth about government corruption is the main value celebrated in this version of the Zenger story, narrated by Pat O’Brien. The key “intervention” involved is not an appeal to divine power, but the eloquence of a lawyer from Philadelphia, although Father Peyton’s promotion of family and community values comes through in the Zengers — and the jury at the John Peter Zenger’s trial.
The radioplay presents one of American journalism history books’ most famous real-life dramas: The libel case of colonial printer, newspaper editor & publisher Zenger, including the role of his courageous wife, Anna, who kept the presses running while he was jailed for criticizing New York’s colonial governor. In the process she became one of the first women newspaper publishers in America. Since the cast announced at the end includes only one woman, Jeanne Bates, it’s a safe guess she plays Anna, who also was featured in a Cavalcade of America dramatization of the Zenger case, dubbing her “Mother of Freedom,” the subtitle of her biography by Kent Cooper, executive director of the Associated Press.
Raymond Burr — later known as Perry Mason — plays the starring and decisive role of defense attorney Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, who successfully argued that the truth of a publication should be a defense against libel. The historical details may have been adjusted by writer Robert Turnbull to make a more listenable half-hour radio drama, but Hamilton’s appeal to the jury — and to truth — is powerfully presented.
The announcer does not identify the actor playing Zenger himself, but other cast members to choose from include Michael Hayes, Tudor Owen, Herb Rawlinson, Bill Johnstone, Stan Waxman and Jack Kruschen. (I’m asking old time radio fans whether anyone identifies Zenger’s voice.)
I’ll double-check on future listenings, but despite the “sponsorship” of the series, I don’t recall prayer and divine intervention as being explicitly mentioned in Turnbull’s script for the Zenger story, only in the program’s “commercials,” including O’Brien’s closing message, a slogan of Father Peyton’s crusade: “The family that prays together, stays together.” And the Zengers’ story does reflect family unity as well as Freedom of the Press.
Meanwhile, it is easy to imagine O’Brien wearing a Roman collar for that closing benediction. He had played so many charming Irish priests in his career that his his 1983 obituary said he once joked, “One more and they will have to ordain me.” However, his memorable roles also included more than one rascally newspaperman, starting with Hildy Johnson in the original 1931 “The Front Page,” his first major hit, and 1932’s “Scandal for Sale” and “The Final Edition.”
Thanks, as usual, to the Old Time Radio Researchers group for an email list discussion of The Family Theater that got me started listening to the series, and to its OTRR Library for hosting MP3 files of the program. The OTRR library has 579 episodes of the program, and judging by their titles or plot summaries, at least 10 present newspaper reporters or editors in one way or another.
After posting my first draft of this essay, I was alerted to the fact that the old time radio preservation company Radio Spirits published a collection of episodes of The Family Theater as high-quality CDs, with a booklet of notes by radio historian Karl Schadow. The collection does not have the Zenger episode, but does include another of the “newspaperman” episodes I’ve downloaded to review later, “Little Boy Blue.” I hope I have a chance to give a listen, read Karl’s booklet and say more about the series sometime! Incidentally, the “Little Boy Blue” episode is about a newspaperman who became more famous as a poet — so much so that Family Theater presented its biographical radio play a second time.
I’m finally catching up with the first year of “Big Town” with Edward G. Robinson… the long-running series that eventually adopted a “flaming sword” slogan paraphrased at the top of this blog. I have long been curious about the series’ 1937 subplot of managing editor Steve Wilson’s transition from profit-motivated scandalmonger to conscientious civic-minded crusader and racket-buster, as well as his increasing conflict with the Illustrated Press publisher, who disappears from later episodes.
When I last wrote about the series, only the first two 1937 episodes were available in public archives online, and only a handful of programs from Robinson’s five-year run as Illustrated Press editor Steve Wilson. (With new stars, the series ran all the way to 1952, but Wilson’s later incarnation spent more time personally tracking down criminals than pondering journalism ethics or editing his newspaper, even if each program did have have an inspiring tagline, “The power and the freedom of the press is a flaming sword; that it may be a faithful servant of all the people, use it justly. Hold it high. Guard it well!” )
The plot begins with managing editor Wilson ordering his city editor to make a more sensational front page “human interest” splash out of a hit-and-run story, because the driver is well-to-do and there is a traffic safety campaign going on. But his society-connected reporter Lorelei Kilbourne (Claire Trevor) convinces Wilson to dig deeper; she is a friend of the socialite accused in the alleged hit-and-run. The digging involves investigative techniques (surreptitious recordings) that would not meet the standards of today’s journalism ethics codes and courses, and would probably be illegal in many states, although to a 1937 audience they may have seemed quite “high tech” and ingenious.
The racket that Wilson and Kilbourne expose this time is a complicated one, involving a lawyer, a doctor, and medical fakery, as well as the usual racketeers faking personal-injury lawsuits or insurance claims. To complicate matters, the newspaper’s publisher wants the paper to promote the political career of the same lawyer who gradually appears to be involved in the fake accident and liability-insurance racket.
In the end, Wilson can assure the publisher that his candidate’s name and picture will be “all over the front page.” Listen to the program for the details.
Meanwhile, the serious consequences of newspaper sensationalism are also a theme of “Big Town,” as they were in “Five Star Final,” the film in which Robinson first played an increasingly conscience-stricken tabloid editor. In both that story and this one, someone commits suicide as a result of the newspaper’s investigations. In the film, innocent people die and the conscience-stricken editor quits his tabloid. In this case, the death is of a guilty party, and the editor presses on.