“Give me a chance, just give me a chance, and I’ll be the best male Jane Arden in the racket.”
— Jerry Delaney, the newspaper’s cub reporter
Jane Arden was a long-running comic strip about an adventurous “girl reporter,” pre-dating Lois Lane and Brenda Starr, and gracing daily and Sunday comics pages for more than 40 years. Her radio and film spin-offs weren’t as popular, but still illustrate themes in the portrayal of journalist characters in popular culture.
The radio announcer’s introduction:
The Adventures of Jane Arden, a thrilling drama of a fearless girl reporter, the most beautiful woman in the newspaper world. Jane Arden, star reporter for The Bulletin, important newspaper of a big American city.
As the story in our 1939 example begins, the announcer provides the details of The Bulletin’s big 10th floor newsroom, full of “men in shirtsleeves, cuffs rolled up, green shades over their eyes…
“Far back in the room is the slot, the double-row of table-like desks over which the rewrite men finally shape the stories as they will appear in The Bulletin. And guardian of the slot, commander of the news staff, Eddie Dunn. city editor, sits, the final arbiter in the news of the day.”
Jane made it from the newspaper comic page (complete with Sunday comic Jane Arden paper doll fashion cutouts) to comic books, a 1938-39 radio series and a 1941 movie. Turner Classic Movies has a trailer and summary.
The strip was created by newspaperman Monte Barrett in 1927 and kept running in syndication until 1968. (See the Monte Barrett bio at the Des Moines Register.) His comic was aimed at women readers, and the radio serial that followed a decade later was broadcast in the morning, prime time for soap operas and other programs aimed at women listeners. Jane Arden was promoted in newspaper display ads as “the most beautiful girl in comics,” which became “the most beautiful girl in the newspaper world” to radio listeners.
The Old Time Radio Researchers “singles and doubles” collection includes only one Jane Arden episode, from an unspecified date in 1939. Alas, the program was a 15-minute daily serial, so this one episode will leave you hanging, but you do get quick introductions to the characters and their relationships.
Eddie Dunn, the editor, wants Jane to investigate another company in the newspaper’s building, but she may be sidetracked by breaking news: Conveniently, someone is stabbed to the death in a crowded elevator while Jane and Jerry are headed out for coffee.
Even with just one episode to go by, here are features familiar to other portrayals of journalists in radio, film and fiction. For example, Jane and the editor engage in some of the “show some respect for your editor” banter familiar in most appearances of Hollywood’s Torchy Blane or comicdom’s Lois Lane.
“No other woman on the staff calls me ‘Eddie.'” — Jane’s editor
Similarly, a “police-journalist cooperation” theme I’ve noticed in other crime radio series also shows up in this “Jane Arden” episode. Not only is Jane on a first-name basis with Mike, the Irish cop in her newspaper building and knows his badge number when she calls the morgue and police headquarters — where she doesn’t have to explain who she is.
Editor Dunn sounds a bit grumpy about her calling the morgue and the police before telling him all the details of the murder. Actually, he asks her a good set of questions for the story — and she provides descriptive details for the elevator murder.
Jane, billed as “star reporter,” sounds experienced at hard-news crime reporting; the body in the elevator apparently isn’t the first fresh corpse she’s seen. She says the dead man was good-looking, then adds:
“Death has a way of painting a mask over a face,” — Jane Arden.
Both Jane and the cub reporter demonstrate good reporting skills — remembering details like the killer’s brown tweed suit, brown hat and limp. Eddie Dunn sounds like more of a mentor than some fictional editors when Jane asks him to give Jerry, the cub reporter, a break.
“I am giving him a break — I’m breaking him in” — editor Dunn on his treatment of a cub reporter.
According to a 1938 newspaper account, “Jane Arden” newspaper comic strip fans voted on the selection of the actress Rosella Towne to play the leading role in the “Jane Arden” movie, which was intended to be the first in a series. “More than 120,000 readers of 79 newspapers throughout the country joined Warner Brothers casting department in choosing the actress,” The (St. Petersburg) Evening Independent for Nov. 4, 1938, said, noting that “22,833 voted for her to play the part.” (The other candidates weren’t mentioned.)
The comic’s journalistic focus was a natural — its creator, Monte Barrett, was managing editor of a San Antonio, Texas, newspaper. Barrett felt the comics page was lacking both a women’s angle and a continuity strip, rather than the “gag-a-day” comics popular at the time, he told the Associated Press in 1946. As for Jane’s “look,” Barrett said his inspirations (in 1928) had been actresses Corinne Griffith and Billie Dove. Barrett wrote the scripts and sent them on to collaborating artists, including for many years Russell Ross of the Des Moines Register. (“Many Famed Comic Strips Are Created by Texans,” by Jack Rutledge, Associated Press, Apr. 11, 1946, Victoria Advocate, p. 10, via Google News Archive )
Even before the U.S. entered World War II, Jane was overseas getting involved with foreign intrigue in “Anderia.” In 1939, newspapers even ran display ads that said “Jane Arden to Cover WAR!” (Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 12, 1939)
While the radio collection is limited, the Internet Archive also has collections of comics that reprinted Jane Arden newspaper comic strips, with titles including Crack Comics and Feature Funnies, and Google’s newspaper archives have numerous papers that carried the daily and Sunday comic.