The Case of Exploding Dolls

The opening episode of this six-part Superman story from 1940 shows reporters Kent and Lane on assignment, tracking down a fatal industrial explosion at an unlikely place — a doll factory.

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode one

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode two

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode three

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode four

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode five

Hans Honin’s Doll Factory, episode six

As a journalism “procedural” to discuss in a media studies class, it is not bad at all. We hear them being sent on assignment, driving to the location of the news story, arguing a bit, and dealing with a corrupt businessman who has special reasons for not wanting them to investigate his industrial accident, which took 13 lives.

Unlike the Superman movies of later decades, the 1940s radio adventures — during a golden age for comic books, radio and newspapers — showed more of Clark and Lois as reporters pursuing news stories, and running into mysteries along the way. Only a few of the radio serial adventures approached the digital-special-effects-movie “Superman saves the world from super-villains (and destroys cities in the process)” proportions of the more recent decades.

The attempted journalism-realism in this story includes the two colleagues being competitive reporters, with “Miss Lane” particularly convinced that “Mr. Kent” is up to steal the biggest part of the assignment for his own byline. (The way they sometimes do and sometimes don’t, call each other “Miss” and “Mister” could be someone’s master’s thesis on “Code-switching with honorifics, or inconsistent script-writing?”)

At their destination, Lois and Clark split up to use two distinct reporting styles… Lane goes off to interview a principal source, the factory owner, while Kent goes to inspect the scene the explosion, a ine-man CSI team.

Kent, of course, is Superman, so when a thug lies to him and tries to send him on a fake detour, he has his own way of finding the truth… defending himself from what would have been a deadly attack had he not been “super,” then threatening the gunsel with bodily harm.

Later, he appears to have super powers of persuasion when, encountering the same thug working as factory watchman, he insists he is not a reporter, but a traveling tie salesman.

Lois Lane has no superpowers and falls victim to the main villain of the story, the factory owner, who takes direct action against her and Kent when they get too close to his secret. (He binds and gags Lois, while he sends his gunman off to intercept Clark at the ruins of the doll factory… creating cliffhanger situations as transitions between the daily episodes that were then the format for The Adventures of Superman.)

As investigative reporters in a 1940 drama, Kent and Lane also cooperate with the police and are treated as fellow investigators by the police chief. Was such close cooperation actually common between 1940s police and newspaper reporters? It certainly does pop up as a theme in the Adventures of Superman, the Green Hornet, and even some more adult crime-drama series on the radio.

Audio files of the series are presented here via the Old Time Radio Researchers Group library, otrrlibrary.org

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 1940s, adventure, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Perry White, reporters, reporting, Superman, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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