No paper dolls on radio, just a pioneer newswoman role model

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.

It has taken six years, but I finally found a source for the second episode of radio’s attempt to turn the newspaper strip’s original “most beautiful girl in comics” into a soap opera, “The Adventures of Jane Arden.”

That leaves who knows how missing daily episodes to go! Documentation for tapes and mp3 files circulating among collectors and online can be pretty thin.

I had stumbled onto the first episode while examining an Old Time Radio Researchers group collection of hundreds of fragmentary episodes of less-known series, stored at the Internet Archive. Now that I am better connected to the group through its Facebook incarnation, I was able to ask whether other episodes were around, and veteran collector Jerry Haendiges kindly put a copy of the second installment online where I could listen.

Perhaps it was the coming of World War II, or the similarity to the 1937 to 1939 Torchy Blane series of movies about another feisty “girl reporter,” but attempts to make Jane Arden as big a star on radio and movies as she was in the comics pages did not take off.

Jane was such a star reporter that in the first episode, we hear a young colleague saying, “Just give me a chance, and I’ll be the best male Jane Arden in the racket.”

Ms. Arden starred in the female reporter role on daily and Sunday comics pages for more than 40 years, 1927-1968, pre-dating other fictional-newsie heroines: Torchy Blane (1937) in the movies, Lois Lane (1938) in Superman comics (and newspaper strips, radio, cartoons and live-action movies), Penny Parker (1939) in a series of Nancy-Drew-style novels, Brenda Starr (1940) in the newspapers, and Hildy Johnson (1940) in the movie “His Girl Friday.”

After the opening description of Jane, the announcer also set the scene in The Bulletin’s 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.”

There was one thing radio could not offer: Jane’s Sunday newspaper adventures came complete with Jane Arden paper doll fashion cutouts, a gimmick picked up by the competing “Brenda Starr” comic, back in the day when big cities might have two competing Sunday newspapers each buying its comics from a different syndicate.

Jane’s adventures also ran in black and white dailies, were reprinted in comic books, inspired this radio series and became a one-hour movie. Turner Classic Movies has a trailer and summary of the film, apparently intended as the first in a series that did not come to pass. Pressbook.

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.

That first “singles and doubles” collection I searched includes only one Jane Arden episode, giving it an apparently erroneous date in 1939, unless the series was rebroadcast or restarted.

Radio historians and contemporary publications date the first episode of the NBC Blue Network broadcast as September 26, 1938 after its trial in New York. Confusingly, the plot summary for that series in one standard radio reference book gives Jane’s newspaper an entirely different name than the Bulletin mentioned in my two MP3 examples — instead, it has her at the Comet-Globe, the result of a merger.
But these two mp3 episodes, whatever their broadcast dates, made a pretty exciting series launch, starting with a murder in the newspaper building’s elevator, and Jane giving orders to the coroner, the police and her boss! By the second episode, the newspaper’s reputation was an issue — imagine, letting someone literally get away with murder in the newspaper’s own building. Of course competing papers dive right into the fun of teasing the editor.

John Dunning’s 1998 edition of “On the Air, the Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio” lists the series title as simply “Jane Arden,” (without “The Adventures of…” given in these recordings) and says it was broadcast until June 23, 1939, as a Blue Network soap opera, weekday mornings at 10:15. Time zones and other concerns may have shifted the timeslot; I’ve seen one station’s newspaper ad for a late-afternoon broadcast. And a quick check of 1938-39 Chicago Tribune radio listings confirms the program was on at 9:15 a.m. on WLS in the Central time zone, with a music program taking over its slot on Monday, June 26. Sorry, Jane.

Alas, since the program was a 12-minute daily serial, even having two episodes 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 is sidetracked by breaking news: Someone is stabbed to the death in the crowded elevator while Jane and Jerry, the cub reporter, are headed out for coffee.

There 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 the first “Jane Arden” episode. Not only is Jane on a first-name basis with Mike, the Irish cop in her newspaper building, she 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.

In a soap opera format of daily continuing episodes, there is no telling how many days or weeks it took to resolve the murder in the elevator story, or where Jane’s adventures went next.

Dunning’s history of radio mentions “Jane Arden” story lines including reporter competition and that newspaper merger, neither hinted in these first two episodes, so there may be more radio adventures — audio transcription discs or broadcast scripts — in collectors’ hands or library archives.

If I find them, I will update these blog posts into a full page in the Soaps or Adventure section listed on the menu at the top of this page.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1930s, adventure, comics, journalism, newspapers, reporters, women. Bookmark the permalink.

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