Mann of the Press at Bay

From November 1952, this is no Thanksgiving story… A San Francisco newspaper columnist gets involved with bad Italian accents, puns on his name (“Mann”), a picture postcard and a mystery.

Supposedly based on a true story, this episode of the long-running series “Suspense” has an assault on a ferryboat concertina player, a redhead with a mysterious parcel, a word that sounds like “cuspidor,” and a doctor who says he charges wealthy customers more so he can patch up the occasional concertina player for free… and the doc has a neat trick smoking two cigarettes a yard apart.

It would be too much of a coincidence to have one of those 1950s medical doctor cigarette advertisements in this episode. But the sponsor is the Autolite spark plug company, not a tobacco manufacturer.

The real reporter and newspaper the story is supposedly based on are not identified, unlike the series the Big Story, which you will find elsewhere on the menu above, and which did have a tobacco sponsor. Or perhaps the reporter character is entirely fictional, added to frame the story, while the only “true story” aspect involves that postcard. Seems to me that I would have heard about this reporter in the Pulitzer Prize archives if his part in the story was as advertised.

If you know the inspiration for this episode, please drop me a note in the comments below.

Titled “Mann Alive” or “Man Alive,” it could have been “Man Overboard” for part of the plot.

In my collection of radio portrayals of journalists, this is both reporter-as-narrator and the detective-reporter, complete with foghorns and overcoat, putting himself in harm’s way, turning a small local story into something of national significance. The question of whether he will survive a life threatening situation is somewhat spoiled by the fact that he is the narrator.

Actor Paul Douglas delivers the dramatic dialogue. William Conrad is a familiar voice in the cast.

Today’s coincidence is that I had car trouble this morning and it really did turn out to be the sparkplugs.

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A Gentleman and Lady of the Press

The 1940 CBS radio series “Forecast” was a summer showcase for ideas for new series… what television later called “pilots,” and a drama about an Indiana newspaperman was part of the series’ first edition.

However the newspaperman story wasn’t the series idea: It was to be called “The American Theatre” and would produce a new radio drama each week based on a different American work of fiction.

The pilot episode July 15, 1940, used Booth Tarkington’s 1899 novel “The Gentleman from Indiana” as its source, with John Houseman doing the adaptation and directing… shoehorning the tale into a half hour.

The husband-and-wife team of Frederic March and Florence Eldridge starred, and apparently were to continue in new “American Theatre” episodes if the series idea had been accepted. Perhaps they were to become the core of a repertory company like Houseman’s and Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater.

Instead, Academy Award winner March made three films in 1941, and next played a (sometime) newspaperman in the title role of the 1944 “Adventures of Mark Twain.”

Houseman became active and the United States government propaganda effort during World War II. But in 1941, he also found time to direct an episode of another CBS anthology series, The Columbia Workshop production of”The Trojan Women,” according to radio historian J. David Goldin’s

“The Gentleman from Indiana” already had been adapted for a silent film in 1915, but the radio production makes no reference to that version.

The novel fleshes out the characters quite a bit more, but even in Houseman’s half-hour we still get the crusading –perhaps reckless — newspaperman taking on corrupt politicians and gun-slinging white-capped vigilantes. And we get a valiant woman editor taking over for him when he is hospitalized.

Houseman had been associated with not only Mercury Theatre, but also — for a while — Welles’ film newspaper-related film project, “Citizen Kane” until he and Welles parted company. Coincidentally, another Tarkington novel was the basis for Welles’ film “The Magnificent Ambersons.”

I haven’t looked at Houseman’s autobiography yet to see whether he reveals more about this radio production. Something for the to- do list.

For more about “Forecast,” see DigitalDeliToo’s guide to the series.

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Two Reporters Conspire in Moscow

RIAN archive 11591 Galina Ulanova and Yury Zhdanov in the ballet Radio’s dramatic adventure series like “Suspense” and “Escape” sometimes relied on journalist characters as narrators, doing what reporters do — telling a story mostly from the outside.

In “Two If By Sea,” the derring-do is their own. Even in peacetime, it suggests, the life of a foreign correspondent can be “high adventure” too.

In this 1950 Cold War story — which takes the series title “Escape” literally — a London newspaperman’s Russian ballerina bride is forbidden to leave Moscow. The reporter plots a rescue.

What role will an American radio newsman’s way with words play in reuniting them? And do many journalists become skilled yachtsman, or is that just a British thing?

John Dehner, in the role of the Englishman, played a London reporter from a different century, as star of his own Western series “Frontier Gentleman,” which has its own JHeroes page.

The excellent Escape-Suspense blog has additional writing and cast information on the “Two If By Sea” episode.

The Old Time Radio Researchers Group, meanwhile, provides 250 episodes of the 1947-54 series for download at the Internet Archive Escape page.

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Her guy Friday?

Rosalind Russell, ace fast-talking newshound of “His Girl Friday,” was back in a journalism-related movie a few years later in “What a Woman!” — but this time she was the one under the reportorial magnifying glass.

“I’m not a cub reporter chasing headlines,” the dapper magazine writer Henry Pepper tells her, “I’m an associate editor; my assignment is you.”

Lux Radio Theatre brought Russell back to present the story as a one-hour broadcast in 1949 and again in 1954.

The journalist is from “The Knickerbocker” magazine, which sounds a lot like “The New Yorker,” and he practices an immersive, fly-on-the-wall style of reporting. He has already profiled her father, a senator, but she is something special — the nation’s top press agent, able to turn a shy professor’s first novel into a best seller, and planning to turn the tall, athletic and handsome literary scholar into a movie star.

Unlike most “newspaper movies,” this could be a textbook for both the public relations executive and magazine-writing majors at your School of Communication, as well as providing a 1940s caricature of the academic life.

The professor wrote the somewhat steamy novel “The Whirlwind” as a break from his serious literary studies. At first he says he values his dissertation and its three copies more than the thousands of sales of his novel, published under a pseudonym. He intended to keep his identity a secret — until Russell’s character came along, intent on making him a star, and collecting her 10 percent .

The movie — sometimes available on Turner Classic Movies or YouTube — does a good job of showing an immersive “‘New Yorker’ profile” style of reporting. That is, Pepper, especially in his opening scenes, mostly sits in the background with his hat, bow-tie and pipe, observing.

Erudite, insightful, confident and witty, he manages to get in wherever needed, but without being pushy or aggressive like his 1930s Hollywood newspaper counterparts, whose suits were never as well pressed. However, he shares their habit of wearing a hat indoors, even if his is in better shape.

Pepper is intent on learning what makes “the other 90 percent” of her tick — an unsubtle hint that 1943 Hollywood rarely portrayed a business career as fulfilling to a single woman, no matter how successful. Pepper literally takes his hat off to the publicist’s professional skills as a manipulator, but he immediately sees through her fake story about a supposedly tragic first romance, dismissing it so quickly that she begins to take him seriously. Later, she even likes the first installment of his article about her.

He has more in common with Hollywood’s “Front Page” style reporters when he employs an evening at a bar (and a hangover cure at a Turkish bath) to loosen up the professor and convince him that the movie-acting idea, and Russell, are worth pursuing.

The question is how long it will take Pepper’s in-depth reporting to convince himself of the same thing. Not long, it seems… as the professor starts to assert himself. It’s not one of Hollywood’s greatest romantic triangles, but it will do for light entertainment.

In the film, Pepper was played by Brian Aherne, with some of the wryness and understated efficiency of William Powell’s “My Man Godfrey.” In both the radio adaptations for Lux Radio Theater, Robert Cummings played Pepper, perhaps sounding more smug than insightful, without the non-verbal characteristics that help Aherne’s screen portrayal of the journalistic observer. (Or perhaps I can’t help hearing echoes of the ladies’ man photographer from Cummings’ TV days on “Love that Bob” — more “Look” than “The New Yorker.”)

In any case, the adapted script gets the story told, even if you have to read a lot between the lines.

The actor playing tall handsome Elizabethan scholar Professor Michael Cobb was Willard Parker in the film, Leif Ericson in the 1949 radio production. But the reporter is the real leading man, hence Ahearn’s and Cummings’ star billing. Russell and Cummings were about to release a new film together at the time of the 1949 broadcast.

Lux broadcast a remake of the radioplay in 1954, when the movie’s director William Cummings (no relation to Bob, he points out) was host of the series:

(The audio files are from the Old-Time Radio Researchers collection of Lux episodes at the Internet Archive. The screen capture of Russell and Aherne is from a clip of the movie posted to YouTube.)

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Love is News for Valentine’s Day

180px-Love_Is_News_Poster“He’s a newspaperman, he’ll ruin his career,” the leading lady observes, when Bob Hope, playing a reporter, threatens to go into show business.

Love Is News” was a 1937 romantic-comedy film starring Tyrone Power, Loretta Young, and Don Ameche. But when Lux Radio Theater adapted it as an hour-long broadcast drama in 1940, they emphasized the “comedy” over the “romantic” by casting Bob Hope in the lead.

In short, it’s a tabloid tale about publicity and privacy — and 1940s radio loved it. The Lux production was only one of several broadcast adaptations by radio’s “anthology” series, including breezy half-hour versions at Theatre of Romance and The Lady Esther Screen Guild Players (or Screen Guild Theatre), which did the story three times.

The basic plot: Conniving newspaper reporter tricks heiress into an interview about her broken engagement; she gets even by announcing to all the other papers in town that she is marrying our reporter hero, making him endure the trials and tribulations of instant celebrity.

“I’ve put you in the headlines and I’m going to keep you there,” she tells him, as the obvious love-hate duel gets rolling. If there is any journalistic consciousness-raising about the ethics of fake news or invasion of privacy, it is probably lost in the meet-cute shenanigans and laughter. There was a war on, and enough serious news on other programs to justify some escape into silliness.

Director Cecil B. DeMille, the Lux series host, adds some comments on the “man bites dog” tradition of the press at the opening of the show, and admits that Hope took liberties with the script. Madeleine Carroll plays heiress Tony Gateson, the part Loretta Young created on screen, and Ralph Bellamy takes the Don Ameche role as city editor.

Newspaper movie fans will remember Bellamy from the classic newspaper screwball romance, “His Girl Friday,” as the non-reporter fiance of heroine Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russel), and victim of conniving editor and ex-husband Walter Burns, played by Cary Grant. This time Bellamy gets to be the unscrupulous toughguy editor trying to trick his star reporter into staying on the job by getting him to cover a big story — an echo of both “His Girl Friday” and its predecessor “The Front Page.” (Although comedies, those classics’ news story was a politically tinged hanging; in this lighter-weight film, its just a society-girl romance.)

Theater of Romance lived up to its series title in its half hour 1945 version, playing the story slightly less for laughs, with Dane Clark and Fay Emerson in the leads, Will Geer as a cantankerous country judge, Jack Hartley as the editor.

According to various oldtime radio websites, the Screen Guild program made three versions, in 1942 with Kay Kyser and Betty Grable, in 1943 with Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan, and in 1946 with Hope and Linda Darnell, who even got first billing in the broadcast. There also was tremendous live-audience response in her smooching scenes with Hope, who filled the show with Hollywood jokes and asides to the audience, like his familiar rascal character from the Hope and Crosby “Road to…” movies.

James Gleason, a frequent Hollywood choice for tough-editor roles, played the reporter’s boss in all three Theater Guild versions. The Benny and Hope versions are available in various online archives, although at least one apparently gives a copy of the Benny episode the 1942 date of Kay Kyser’s performance, cited as unavailable by another archive.

Comparing the Jack Benny and Bob Hope versions should be fascinating for fans of 1940s radio comedy… but it won’t add much to the journalism ethics discussion.

(See my overview page on radio adaptations of newspaper movies for more.)


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Soaps and Circulation

An editor and “ace reporter” debated the news value and audience interest in a sensational murder case — versus coverage of the Korean War — in this December 1950 episode of “The Guiding Light” soap opera.

If you need to know what happened next (or previously), try the collected (but incomplete) episodes at the OldTime Radio Researchers Library.

I hadn’t listened to enough of this series to know how long the City Times newsroom characters were regulars, but the episode title “Newspaper has story about murder” caught my attention… and ethical details about interviews with the accused woman may be a plot point. Here’s a second 15-minute episode from the following day.

And the next day, the accused woman — suffering from amnesia, the soap opera curse — tells her lawyer that she talked to Roberts because she thought the former war correspondent was someone from her past, and she didn’t know he was a reporter.

“When a newspaperman is out to get a story, fairness doesn’t enter into his assignment. Get a story, by hook or crook,” the lawyer tells her, but Roberts isn’t that cynical.

The Guiding Light was created by Irna Phillips in 1937 and in the 1950s made the transition from radio to TV, where it continued until 2009.

From J.David Goldin’s episode summaries and Wikipedia, it looks like the 1950 murder case courtroom drama continued for months — more than 100 episodes, with reporter Joe Roberts’ stories weaving in and out of the plot and leading to (in a triumph of soap opera plotting over journalism ethics?) love and marriage.

Roberts was played by several actors through most of the years that the program was on both radio and television. The radio series ended in 1956.

Goldin mentions that announcer Clayton Bud Collyer also played a radio news reporter in a later episode of the courtroom drama. The man of many voices was also both radio’s tenor Clark Kent and baritone Superman, but his name was not given on the air to maintain the Superman mystique.

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Photo-snatching & Gunsmoke

In 1952, the first episode of the classic adult western “Gunsmoke” began with Marshal Matt Dillon dictating the text for a wanted poster to Mr.Hightower, Dodge City’s printer and newspaper editor.

The enterprising editor had already snitched a tintype of the wanted man and carved a woodcut for his front page. He offers Dillon the picture for the wanted poster.

The marshal (played by William Conrad, who, on radio, did not have to be as tall and lean as James Arness, the television Matt Dillon) laments the cynicism that makes the editor celebrate having a sensational story for his front page. But soon it’s clear the editor is not alone: The town doctor jokes about his profitable autopsy business, a killing suspect faces a lynchmob, and a runaway boy dreams of having a gun to carve notches on.

The story makes nice use of the newspaper editor’s professional cynicism to set the series’ general critique of the “wild west” cultural cliches — gunfighters, lynch mobs, six-guns, violent death as routine, and the era’s media stars, like the young man whose name is in the title of the episode, “Billy the Kid.”

I’ve had a more general discussion of Gunsmoke and links to more episodes on the Gunsmoke series page for a few years, but never managed to listen to the first episode of the series until today, when a Gunsmoke fan in the Facebook page for the Old Time Radio Researchers Group suggested it. OTRR also provides the Internet Archive with the mp3 files I link to in most of these posts and pages.
Here is its collection of almost 500 Gunsmoke episodes, 1952-61.

I haven’t listened to all of them, so there may be episodes with editors or reporters or other journalists that I haven’t found yet. If this post leads you to discover more of them, please let me know in the comment box below.

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