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.”
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.
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.
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 atSea 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.
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.
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.
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 1948and1955. 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 byLaura 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.
The 1943 movie “No Time for Love” and this 1944 radio adaptation both starred Claudette Colbert as a society-gal photojournalist and Fred MacMurray as her leading man.
I have found no radio history book that reveals whether he kept his shirt on for the Screen Guild Theater radio broadcast, playing a macho “big, brawny and good-looking” sandhog digging a New York tunnel… and brawling with co-workers, which she captures on film, costing him his job. So she hires him to lug her photo gear around… and gets carried away herself.
Be prepared for more lessons in 1940s-era caveman romance than journalism.
MacMurray never turns into Clark Kent here, but he does get called “Superman” more than once. (Come to think of it, I remember reading somewhere that MacMurray was the muscleman-model for the Superman-alternative comic book character Captain Marvel. Hard to believe if you grew up with the 1950s “My Three Sons” and Disney-comedy era MacMurray.)
Real-life gossip columnist Hedda Hopper also is included in the cast, as Colbert’s character’s sister, already called “Hoppy” in the movie script.
I wound up listening to this after being reminded that Colbert and MacMurray filled the Hildy Johnson and Walter Burns roles in one of the radio adaptations of “His Girl Friday.”
While Colbert didn’t get to play journalists often, she was the romantic interest for reporters in a couple of newspaper-movie classics, “It Happened One Night” and “I Cover the Wayerfront.” She also got to play a newspaper editor-in-chief in a movie I’ve never seen, “Texas Lady,” slightly reminiscent of “Cimarron,” about a woman editor in frontier Oklahoma.