Radio propaganda about Russia, Iran, 1953

“I came here for Uncle Joe’s funeral, but I’m also here to learn about the new boy…” — Douglas of The World

The release of more CIA records concerning the coup that re-installed the Shah of Iran in 1953 inspired me to do some editing on a 2011 item about the series Douglas of the World, and to add a new episode of that series today.
Produced by Armed Forces Radio, “Douglas of the World” told the adventures of a fictional foreign correspondent for an American newspaper, landing him in world trouble spots — and in personal trouble — from Teheran and Istanbul to Oslo and Moscow.

If anything about the series turns up in the CIA papers, I’ll thoroughly rewrite the Douglas-in-Iran item as a more complete essay. For now, I’ve just added a few links and corrected some spelling, plus this new post.

For today’s listening, here’s how Douglas “covered” the death of Stalin with a personal style that included casually sexist remarks and snarky banter with his Soviet handlers. Borrowing heavily from Hollywood portrayals of Russian women going back to Ninotchka in 1939 and from the current attitude of radio tough guys in general, the smart-aleck American calls his female escort “kid,” “lover,” “honey” and “legs,” praises her “good-looking gams,” and attempts to hold hands at the theater.

As for professional relations, Douglas sarcastically calls his  Soviet journalist escort “Flash” and “Scoop” and finally “Comrade Flash” when he is asked to use “Comrade Editor” as a form of address. More to the point, Douglas’ visit to Pravda gives him an opportunity to remind the listeners of the differences between American and Soviet newspapers of 1953.

The editor gets so flustered that the woman handler has to remind him that he was about to tell Douglas about the greatness of the state newspaper Pravda, always a butt of American jokes. The Russian doesn’t get much of a chance to sing its praises before Douglas responds:

“Oh yeah, great… Great, all four pages of it… one page of news and three pages of fan mail to Malenkov, the new premier.

“Great little paper all right. Even if it doesn’t have any comics or columnists or cheesecake, you can’t overlook that it has three whole lines devoted to sports. Yeah, you’ve got a great little paper here.” — Brad Douglas, on Pravda

(Today’s readers may need reminding that healthy, advertising-supported twentieth century American newspapers sometimes ran to more than a hundred pages, not counting advertising supplements full of coupons to clip.)

Back to the Moscow episode’s plot and the portrayal of journalists: That theatrical hand-holding is how Douglas makes contact with an apparent Soviet underground agent, in order to later relay information to a British spy. As the story unfolds, Douglas fits both the Soviet and popular-culture stereotypes of Western journalists as government agents or at least participants in foreign intrigue. The press’s independence from government influence is not something the Armed Forces Radio Service chose to emphasize, to whatever extent real impartiality survived Cold War communist-fighting.

But all is not as it seems, and before Douglas gets back to his office he winds up framed for murder, offered Soviet nuclear secrets,  knocked on the head more than once — and he leaves Moscow under Secret Police escort. That’s all in one half-hour program.

Written by John Vlahos and starring radio and TV actor Jack Moyles, “The Murder Rap” episode of Douglas of the World is one of only four stored at the Internet Archive from the short-run 1953 series.

Produced for broadcast to the American military overseas, it was both an entertainment series and a bit of sugar-coated current-events and policy indoctrination for the troops. Other than the patriotic speeches about how great American newspapers were, and the cloak-and-dagger spy story, there’s not much here about the practice of journalism. But maybe it inspired a few of the servicemen and women listening to apply some of their G.I. Bill education benefits to journalism school tuition, in hopes of a life of adventure.

Digital Deli Too’s Douglas of the World page is the most comprehensive resource on the program I’ve seen, using files of the military newspaper Stars & Stripes to list 22 episodes of the six-month run that are not in the publicly shared digital archives or, as the old-time radio collectors say, “in circulation.”

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1950s, cold war, foreign correspondents, international, propaganda, reporters. Bookmark the permalink.

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