The folks at DuPont’s Cavalcade of America made three attempts at telling the story of 19th century journalist Anne Royall, but the first one, in 1940, was something special.
That’s despite her introduction as a “little old woman who lived in Andrew Jackson’s day,” before it gets her fights for freespeech and against corruption.
The radioplay was based on research by former newspaperwoman Bessie Rowland James, whose career included helping her husband Marquis James win two Pulitzers for historical biographies (of Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston), and writing other books with him and on her own. In fact, her research on Anne Royall continued for 32 years after this broadcast!
The full-length biography, Anne Royall’s U.S.A. was her fifth book under her own name, finally published in 1972, two years before the author’s death. John Driscoll, Edward Longstreth and Kenneth Webb are all credited with the adaptation for the 1940 radio play, rushed into live performance a week early, according to Martin Grams Jr.’s The History of the Cavalcade of America.
Two later Cavalcade radio plays about Anne Royal used a new script by Robert L. Richards, and did a better job of showing her at work as a reporter, interviewing President Jackson, and standing off a mob that wanted to wreck her press. Those 1942 and 1944 productions also had excellent casts, but no one named Ethel Barrymore, who delivers fine pleas for freedom of speech against a trumped up trial as a “public scold.”
For younger readers, here is what Wikipedia says about the actress:
Barrymore was a stage, screen and radio actress whose career spanned six decades, and was regarded as “The First Lady of the American Theatre”.
The 1940 “Anne Royall” with Barrymore presented a strong portrayal of Royall as a strong-willed and articulate critic, but was a bit vague about the issues of the day.
For more detail, and to find out whether the later script took liberties with history to make a better radio story, I’ve tracked down a copy of Bessie Rowland James 1972 book Anne Royall’s U.S.A. was finally published by Rutgers University Press. I don’t plan to take as long reading it as she took writing it. (For one thing, I’m curious whether Anne Royall was as big a fan of Andrew Jackson as that second script makes out.)
Coincidentally, a dozen years after the Cavalcade Royall broadcast, Ethel Barrymore made a memorable appearance in one of the classic newspaper movies.
She was the widow of a newspaper publisher in Deadline USA, with Humphrey Bogart as the editor fighting to save the paper from the widow’s daughters’ plans to sell it to a less principled company. (Neither Bogart nor Barrymore were in a still strong 1953 radio production of the movie story.)
More about the radio history series at my Cavalcade of America page, as well as more about the other two versions of the historic journalist’s life on my Anne Royal overview page, which is due for an update.