My cousin in Memphis just told me she heard an episode of the classic series called “Night Beat” recently on a satellite radio show made up of golden age broadcasts.
I told her she’d found one of my favorites, and pointed her to my Night Beat page, where I’ve been aggregating my blog posts and notes about individual episodes. In the process, I noticed that tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of the first dated episode in the Internet Archive collections, one that I hadn’t written about before.
So here it is:
Sometimes identified as star Frank Lovejoy’s “audition” recording, it’s the only episode where his newpaper-noir columnist is named “Lucky Stone” instead of “Randy Stone,” and his paper is “The Examiner” instead of the “Chicago Star.” In the archives, it’s called 500113_Elevator_Caper.mp3
The title is from a dramatic scene that finds the hero playing cat and mouse with a killer in a Chicago skyscraper.
The series got rolling with the permanent names on Feb. 6, according to collectors logs, with another Chicago skyscraper playing a featured role memorable episode titled “Zero.” I will write something about that one later. (In it, an announcer introduces Lovejoy’s character as “Rudy,” but he’s agreed on “Randy” by the closing credits. Yes, radio drama was live, transcribed to discs, not to more editable audio tape.)
The “Lucky” audition — was it ever aired, or just recorded for prospective sponsors? — was eventually rewritten to change the names of reporter and paper.That version was broadcast a few months later; one archive copy calls its recording
The “Lucky” script explains his nickname. The Randy script does not. We will assume it is just short for Randolph. The other kind of randiness was not a regular feature of the program. On the other hand, some listeners might have been amused by an adaptation of the original name passage:
“Lucky Stone is the name. I’m the guy that writes that column that’s buried somewhere in the middle of your Examiner, called Night Beat.
“They call me ‘Lucky’ for the same reason they call a fat man ‘Slim.’ Because the best you can hope for on a job like this is chronic bronchitis, rings under your eyes, and the fact that you’re awake when regular folk are asleep.
“Sometimes the worst happens to you, a story grabs your heart and shakes it until you holler uncle. A corpse in a dark alley is the business at hand… ”
Students of script-writing might want to carefully compare the two versions of the programs to see how the writer eliminated the “Lucky” references and generally tightens the script. They might discuss the half-hour-broadcast economy of giving the newspaper a name of one syllable instead of three. Acting students might listen for differences in interpretation. English majors and other students of writing will enjoy the colorful writing, with echoes of the more poetic pulp fiction.
For journalism students, Night Beat is sometimes interesting as a “newspaperman procedural,” good for classroom discussion of Stone’s work process, his professionalism, his personal life, and the changes in the business over more than a half century — assuming that the radio drama had some relationship to reality.
Whether the hero is Lucky or Randy, this first script is more detective story then some later Night Beat melodramas. The police aren’t very interested in the murder of a 28-year-old they brand as a hoodlum.
The reporter has his own motivation for investigating the case. The dead man is an old friend, whom he had convinced to go straight. As part of his investigation, partly fueled by guilt over putting his friend on the wrong side of the mob, he eventually uses his column to publicly identify the gangster he thinks is responsible.
Could a reporter, even in 1950 Chicago, get that libellous an attack past the copy desk and keep his job? Could he survive mob retaliation? For the answers to those questions, you will have to listen to the episode — either version — and maybe dig into a media law history book or two.
Movie fans will probably have a crooked smile on their faces when one of the villainous gangsters in this episode is mentioned. In the first version of the boadcast, his name is repeated several times in a conversation between Stone and a cop, “George Bailey,” like the troubled hero of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Maybe someone noticed. The revised script takes out the “George.”
The revised May broadcast is still a detective story, but the rewrite also gives Stone an introductory speech that sets the tone for later episodes, far from the crusading crime-busting reporters of “Big Town,” “Crime Photographer” and similar radio series.
In 21st century marketing parlance, this passage from “The Elevator Caper” sounds like an “elevator pitch” proposal for the entire series:
“They call my Night Beat stories human interest, which means after you’ve struggled through the latest atom bomb scare, the latest spy scare, the latest murder, the latest slaughter on the highway, you come to page 17 and Randy Stone.
“I’m supposed to give you a little breather, some nice simple human story to make you believe no matter how tough things are, the world has a heart. Only once in a while it doesn’t always work out just that way. Human interest. Hmm. Oh yeah…”