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.
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.
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.
“‘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.”
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.
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.
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
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!
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.)
In addition to providing an oldtime radio dramatization of the life of newspaperman turned reteller of folktales Joel Chandler Harris, the Internet Archive has his works and biography, including the volume shown above.
His red hair is mentioned several times in his radio portrait on DuPont Cavalcade of America in 1941, which introduces Harris as a shy, stuttering and insecure young man, far from the brash, confident stereotype of a journalist.
Perhaps listeners also were reminded that 19th and 20th century newspapers provided a steady paycheck for writers whose literary interests were broader than page one news.
Radio writing served that function too: The script was by playwright Arthur Miller, who contributed more than a dozen profiles to Cavalcade. He also spent some time in the South making recordings for the Library of Congress (see this BBC interview) around the same time that he was writing this radio play about the 19th-century story collector. Were the two connected? My research into this continues and this essay will be updated if I find out more. (Thanks to radio historian Randy Riddle for pointing out the BBC story.)
The Cavalcade radioplay doesn’t preach about “cultural appropriation” or race relations in its portrayal of Harris’s “Uncle Remus” African-American folktales, but it does have a message of brotherhood and wartime internationalism, mentioning how widely accepted those Bre’r Rabbit stories were, translated into more than 20 languages.
When Harris meets a crowd of children at the White House, they are disappointed not to meet an old black storyteller. Harris, reflecting, says he is happy to have written himself out of the story, and that “America has got to remember her roots, the plain people.”
That those plain people come in all colors goes without saying. The closest the broadcast comes to discussing race relations is Harris’s plea for “good-neighborliness” and the “kindliness and comradeship” that allowed the friendship of “an old colored man and a little boy.”
Produced less than two years after “Gone with the Wind,” the radioplay makes no statements about the evils of slavery or the Civil War, and hints at a romantic “plantation” image of the South in its opening scene. Five years later, Walt Disney would produce his still-controversial “Song of the South,” based on Harris’s “Uncle Remus” stories, and criticized from the start for stereotyped black characters and dialect, and romanticized Reconstruction Era plantation life. (I haven’t seen the film in years, but its Wikipedia entry mentions that the father whose absence leads his young son to Uncle Remus is an “absent father” because of his newspaper job!)
In the radioplay, Karl Swenson plays Harris, and Juano Hernandez plays Uncle Terrell, his source for the Brer Rabbit tales, which Terrell tells him may have “come over on the slaver ships from Africa.”
When not preserving folk tales, Harris (1848-1908) rose to be an associate editor of The Atlanta Constitution, but his “Uncle Remus” stories were what made him an international celebrity — and guest of Teddy Roosevelt at the White House. Another former newspaperman, Mark Twain, makes an appearance in that scene, helping the shy Harris accept some of the honor due him.
While referring to “dialect stories” hints at stereotypes and the racist minstrel stage (the original Zip Coon and Jim Crow), Harris’s representation of dialect has been called “extraordinarily accurate” in a linguistics journal, and the African-American Registry online encyclopedia calls Harris “one of the first American authors to use dialect to provide an important record of Black oral folktales in the Southeastern United States.”
In 2019, the launch of Disney’s streaming video network prompted numerous articles about the racism of “Song of the South,” which was not included in the online service, including an in-depth “You Must Remember This” podcast that revisited Harris’s legacy as a recorder of folk stories who did not credit his sources by name.
“I had a letter of introduction to him after I went to Atlanta,” he said. “One day I decided to present it. Walking to his office, I passed by a grocery store that had on display out front the drying fingers of a recently lynched Negro…”
“I saw those fingers…I didn’t go to see Joel Harris and present my letter. I never went!”
In that The Atlantic interview by Ralph McGill, DuBois said Harris and his turn-of-the-century Atlanta associates “had no question in their minds about the status of the Negro as a separated, lesser citizen. They perhaps were kind men… (But) They unhesitatingly lived up to a paternalistic role, a sort of noblesse oblige. But that was all. The status slowly had become immutable insofar as the South’s leaders of that time were concerned.”
For more on the Cavalcade series, see Martin Grams Jr.’s The History of the Cavalcade of America presented by DuPont.
J. B. Kendall, 19th century American wild west correspondent for the London Times, had his fictional career cut short when the CBS Radio series Frontier Gentleman wrapped up at the end of its 1958 season.
But star John Dehner’s last episode was a marvelous example of the traditional newspaperman’s ability to “get out of the way of a story”… with Kendall concisely narrating a column of short scenes, what we would call “news briefs” or ” people in the news” items.
Kendall’s introduction: “It occurs to me that in this, my last report to the London Times, there are many incidents which I have omitted — things seen and heard during these several months on my journeys through the American West. Here then, some random notes.”
Some might have been worth a full story, if there had been time, and others may have been best suited to the brief splash of color format given here. For example, the Texas Othello item in the middle of the broadcast might have turned unbearable if given the full half-hour. But I may be wrong.
The “briefs” format was not uncommon for 20th century newspaper columns, including those of Walter Winchell, or even my first contribution to a college newspaper, and a daily “People in the News” feature I compiled for The Hartford Courant while segueing off to grad school about a century after the scene of “Frontier Gentleman.”
“The Lady Has Plans” has World War II’s favorite pinup Rita Hayworth (so described by host Cecil B. DeMille) in the role of a veteran newspaper reporter making a transition to radio news in Lisbon, and William Powell as her war correspondent boss — who assumes a new staffer named Sydney will be male.
Along with the brief 1943 battle-of-the-sexes mistaken-identity theme, there’s a spy plot involving secret plans that are supposedly tattooed on the new reporter’s back… And lots of laughs from the Lux Radio Theater studio audience when strange men keep wanting to unzip the back of her dress. Ah, the things independent women — actresses as well as reporters — had to put up with in the “good old days.”
As a reporter, Hayworth’s Sydney turns out to be brave and resourceful, even impersonating the tattooed spy who was supposed to be impersonating her. And she gets the drop on a Nazi spymaster before it’s all done, while her boss phones in a live broadcast from a Lisbon telephone booth. (I think that would have been stretching 1943 telecom technology a bit, but I haven’t researched the topic.)