“What a story! Boy this is great!” — reporter Jimmy Gifford
Here’s a mystery from 1932, the days when radio drama was relatively new, when flying the air mail was still an adventure, and so was newspaper reporting.
The broadcast presentation on these original syndication company transcription discs includes no opening title or theme music, just the buzz of an airmail plane and some filler music that presumably could be covered by a local announcer introducing the program. The cast and crew are never identified.
The plot: Irene DelRoy, “clever girl operative of the Department of Justice,” arrives to investigate three mysterious crashes of a private contractor’s airplanes carrying mail and government securities.
Did the Department of Justice have women agents back when this was originally broadcast in 1932? I should check. And would such an agent be called on to investigate someone stealing from airmail planes? It certainly makes a good radio story, which was told in thirteen 15-minute episodes of which 12 have been posted at the Internet Archive by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group.
Reporter Jimmy Gifford of The Star, who we learn has a romantic history with agent DelRoy, is introduced in the second episode “Andrews Accused,” making a good showing as an investigator himself. Irene and Jimmy’s cop-and-reporter buddy-romance is a mirror image of the”Torchy Blane” reporter-and-cop movie serials, but not played for cuteness and laughs. In a later episode, Jimmy even carries a gun, and at one point Irene tells him to be prepared to shoot-to-kill.
That reminded me of an episode of “The Big Story,” supposedly a true story, in which a police investigator asks the reporter whether he is carrying a gun as they approached what may be a murderer’s hideout.
Later in the Air Mail Mystery, Irene mentions that she and Jimmy have worked together before, and tells others that unlike some other reporters, he can be trusted. That kind of camaraderie might be closer than most editors would like to hear about, but it makes me wonder if there were plans for more Irene-and-Jimmy stories. So far I have found no information about whether this one 13-episode serial, which could have run daily for two weeks or so, was part of plans for a continuing series back in 1932.
Coincidentally, there was also a movie serial titled Air Mail Mystery that year, but the plot summaries and cast list I have seen online have nothing much in common with the radio story.
Here is Jimmy, making his appearance in episode 2…
The third episode, “At the Crash,” finds newshawk Gifford asking more solid questions and unmasking an undercover federal agent working for Irene. (Later, I think he’s the one who produces a whiskey flask right when needed to help revive a tear-gas victim. Some reporter stereotypes are forever, I guess.)
Before the end of the tale, Gifford is being a daredevil, first in a gunfight, then risking his life flying after a mysterious plane on his own…
(It’s interesting that in 1930s fiction, newspaper reporters were sometimes able to fly their own planes. In one of the first Superman radio adventures, Clark Kent piloted a plane on a flying rescue when he was still keeping the existence of Superman a secret. And I remember Lois Lane donning a leather flying helmet and taking off on a solo flight to track down the bad guy in one of the early Superman cartoons.)
Back to the Air Mail Mystery, even with just 12 episodes, the story is very listenable, well-acted and reasonably mysterious. The summaries at the beginnings of the episodes make it easy enough to follow the tale if you weren’t paying close attention, or without the missing chapter seven.
I’ve already updated this post once, and will do it again if I find more information about this intriguing series.
Many thanks to the Old Time Radio Researchers group and Jerry Haendiges of otrsite.com, who digitized transcription discs of the series and provided them to the group for uploading to the Internet Archive by the group’s Web coordinator Paul Kornman.