Adaptations: Radio Versions of Newspaper Films

Note: This page is a draft… the link lists are incomplete and there will be quite a bit of editing before I declare it finished. But most of the program titles below link to playable MP3 files already. Let me know if you find broken links or new adaptations to add to the list. Also see my overview At the Movies page.

by Bob Stepno

Whether the newspaper journalists involved were the drama critics in “All About Eve” and “Arsenic & Old Lace,” the international reporters in “Blood on the Sun” and “Foreign Correspondent,” or the courthouse scandalmongers in “The Front Page” and “His Girl Friday,” radio loved adapting Hollywood movie plots, and did it over and over in what were called “anthology series.”

So many top stars appeared in these broadcasts that Hollywood clearly encouraged the publicity, especially back before television brought moving pictures into the living room. Scripting half-hour or hour-long adaptations of feature-length films must have been a challenge. Even the shortened radio versions of movie stories presumably helped audiences relive favorite films and promoted film revivals, as well as raising interest in the stars’ next features — which were usually mentioned at the close of each broadcast.

Photo of DeMille at work in silent film era

Hollywood producer C.B. DeMille traded his megaphone for a microphone and did soap commercials  as host of the Lux Radio Theater anthology series.

Film producer and director Cecil B. DeMille was host for the early years of one of the series,  Lux Radio Theater. (Archived online copies are often of the Armed Forces Radio rebroadcasts, done without commercial sponsors. Wartime episodes “on behalf of the United States government” were renamed Victory Theater; later AFRS versions were called Hollywood Radio Theater.)

Squibb presented Academy Award Theater in 1946, which featured Oscar-nominated players and Oscar-connected films, including several newspaper-journalist dramas: “The Front Page,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “It Happened Tomorrow” and “Blood on the Sun.”

The “Academy Award” claim in the series title required some cast and story shuffling, such as putting John Garfield in the James Cagney leading role of “Blood on the Sun.” Garfield had been nominated for an Oscar in an unrelated film in 1938. “Blood on the Sun” itself won a 1946 Oscar, although it was for art direction-interior decoration, an aspect of the film that doesn’t come through on radio. Cagney appeared in the Lux Theater, 1945 version of the film the previous year. (The Archive.org collection of 1945 Lux episodes does not include it, but it was added to a supplementary collection.)

The full Cagney movie is also available in various digital video formats at both the archive.org film collection and IMDB/hulu.com, apparently because its copyright wasn’t renewed.

Academy Award Theater wasn’t the first to put the Oscar-nominated The Front Page on the air, but its half-hour 1946 radio version did reunite the original stars of the 1931 movie, Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brien. Lee Tracy, who played Hildy Johnson on Broadway, also brought the role to radio, but I haven’t found a recording of that broadcast. The 1937 Lux Theater production was distinctive for another reason: It included real-life newspaperman Walter Winchell as Hildy Johnson. The detail-oriented archival researchers at DigitalDeliToo located a Wisconsin State Journal listing from Jan. 27, 1946, for a production of The Front Page by Theatre Guild on the Air starring Melvyn Douglas and Michael O’Shea.

However, Ford Theater’s 1948 production may have come closest to the 1928 Broadway original thanks to the script treatment by the distinguished critic, editor and playwright Gilbert Seldes.  The younger brother of long time journalist George Seldes and one of the first critics to take seriously “The Lively Arts” of popular culture, Gilbert Seldes was later to become the first director of television for CBS News and founding dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. He was also the father of actress Marian Seldes.

Ford Theater was a high-quality anthology series that ran for only two years, just as television was beginning to cut into the audience for evening home entertainment. Along with “The Front Page” and “Storm in a Teacup,” the  1947-49 archive.org collection does not include the series’ production of another film about an distinctive era in journalism — the Academy Award winning “Cimarron,” the Edna Ferber story about a husband and wife who found and run an Oklahoma newspaper during the area’s growth from frontier territory to oil-rich state.

DigitalDeli’s scouring of newspaper program logs located a Dec. 14, 1947, Amarillo News-Globe listing: “At 4 o’clock on the Ford Theater, KGNC-NBC, it’s Edna Ferber’s epic novel of the opening of the Southwest and the Oklahoma territory, Cimmaron. Barbara Weeks is cast as Sabra, gentle southern wife of a newspaperman and dreamer Yancey Cravat.” The hour-long Ford production may have told more of Ferber’s story than the two half-hour productions done years earlier on other series, although both of those versions included the original star, Irene Dunn.

Also missing from the audio archives is a Ford Theater production of Booth Tarkington’s “Gentleman from Indiana,” starring Burgess Meredith. Digital Deli uncovered a May 27, 1949, listing in the  Syracuse Herald Journal, which said, “The story deals with a young man who comes back home to run a newspaper, finds political corruption and tries to clean it up as a good citizen. The love interest is provided in the sub-plot of a girl who comes back home to look for her father.”

Some stories featuring journalists came back again and again. This list — all programs available in MP3 format online — may be just a start, considering how many classic Hollywood films had journalists in their plots.

Sometimes the anthology series recruited members of the original casts, sometimes intriguing alternative players from either the Hollywood production or a preceding Broadway play. For instance, Screen Guild Theater replaced Cary Grant with Eddie Albert as Mortimer Brewster, the lead of “Arsenic & Old Lace” and Best Plays brought in Donald Cook to play Mortimer, but both had Boris Karloff play the homicidal maniac brother, as he had on Broadway. (Raymond Massey took the part in the film, but the screenwriters kept a police officer’s comment that “He looks like Boris Karloff.”)

Each film or series title, or year of production, is linked to a downloadable MP3 files, an archive.org series page, or other source of information. (Before you click, hover the mouse over the link for more information as a browser “tooltip.”) A few of these are slight variations on the theme — the adaptation for radio may not have been adapted from a film, but had a play or novel that also inspired a film or television version. There were  adaptations in the opposite direction, too: Newspaper-related radio dramas that inspired Hollywood films and TV series included Superman, The Green Hornet, The Big Story and Big Town, which all have separate JHeroes sections.

  1. All About Eve (Lux Theater, Screen Guild Theater 1951 and Theater Guild on the Air) featured a newspaper drama critic as the storyteller — and as a participant in the story who knows “all about” everything theatrical, including the title character’s deepest secrets. The original stars film Bette Davis and Anne Baxter are in the Lux broadcast, while Tallulah Bankhead heads the Theater Guild cast. The latter also has the author of the original short story in Celeste Holm’s supporting role of Karen, the star’s friend who is manipulated by the up-and-coming young actress in the title role. George Sanders, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of the critic, was not in the two readily available radio versions. More about Eve in an earlier JHeroes blog post.
  2. All the King’s Men, NBC University Theater‘s January 1949 dramatization of Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer-winning novel effectively uses its newspaperman-turned-political-operative character as narrator. The radio adaptation actually preceded the Broderick Crawford film, which was released ten months later. More in JHeroes blog post.
  3. Arsenic & Old Lace (Screen Guild Players 1946 with Boris Karloff and Eddie Albert; Best Plays, 1952 with Karloff and Donald Cook. The radioplay was also done by Ford Theater 1948)
  4. Blood on the Sun (Lux Theater, 1945; Academy Award Theater, 1946)
  5. Bullets or Ballots (Lux Radio Theater, 1939)
  6. Call Northside 777 (Hollywood Sound Stage, Screen Directors Playhouse, 1949, Screen Guild Theater, 1948)
  7. Chicago Deadline, 1950 production by Screen Director’s Playhouse. The film also is (or has been) online at YouTube.
    http://youtu.be/o6FD_KbIjtg
  8. Christmas Holiday — Lux Radio Theatre — A serviceman on the way home runs into a reporter (a relatively minor part of the story) and a girl with a problem.
  9. Christmas in Connecticut, at Screen Guild Theater, with Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman instead of the film’s Dennis Morgan and Barbara Stanwyck. More details at this JHeroes blog entry on Christmas in Connecticut.
  10. Cimarron (Cavalcade of America and Hallmark Playhouse with Irene Dunne, also by Ford Theater 1947 with Barbara Weeks as Sabra Cravat)
  11. Deadline USA (Lux Theater, as Hollywood Radio Theater, 1953)
  12. Design for Scandal (Screen Guild, 1944)
  13. Each Dawn I Die (Lux 1943); prison drama about crime reporter framed for manslaughter, making unexpected gangster friend in jail. Lux had the film’s George Raft as the gangster, with Franchot Tone as the reporter instead of the film’s James Cagney. See the film version’s Wikipedia page; film and radio version are both based on a Jerome Odlum novel.
    http://youtu.be/idy-bdW9bhw
  14. Foreign Correspondent (Academy Award Theater, 1946)
  15. Front Page Woman (Lux 1939). Blog post
  16. Gentleman’s Agreement, Lux Radio Theater, 1948 and 1955. The film was based on a popular novel and won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Leading man Gregory Peck appeared in the first Lux adaptation. His part was taken by Ray Milland in the second production seven years later, with Dorothy McGuire recreating her original role, and radio’s ubiquitous William Conrad as the editor. Although the story is about anti-semitism, the level of racial sensitivity in 1955 is reflected in a between-acts discussion of a new film about South Africa that, an announcer mentions, features “tamed” Zulus in the cast.
  17. Gentleman from Indiana (Ford Theater 1949CBS Forecast 1940. The Internet Movie DataBase lists only a 1915 silent film adaptation of this Booth Tarkington novel about a crusading editor taking on a political boss, but radio collector sites indicate at least two adaptations for radio, neither of which is immediately available online. The novel itself is out of copyright and is available online: Gentleman from Indiana at Google Books; Gentleman from Indiana at Project Gutenberg
  18. Hands of Mr. Ottermole (Suspense, Radio City Playhouse). While this frequently anthologized classic mystery story by Thomas Burke has not been a feature film, it was produced for radio, and then for television by Suspense and by Alfred Hitchcock Presents (available via Hulu). The radio versions are listed in some “old time radio” logs as “Dr. Ottermole,” apparently through an often-copied typographical error.
  19. Here’s Flash Casey.” While this 1938 film wasn’t directly adapted to radio, the long-running radio series (1943-55) “Casey, Crime Photographer” was based on the same character, who began in pulp magazine stories by George Harmon Coxe. JHeroes page for Crime Photographer. A 1936 film, Women Are Trouble was based on a story by Coxe and called the character “Casey,” but he was a reporter, not a photographer. “Crime Photographer” also made it to television briefly in the 1950s.
  20. His Girl Friday (Screen Guild Theater 1941, Lux Radio Theater 1940). See the separate JHeroes page, Hildy Johnson & Walter Burns on the air
  21. I Cover the Waterfront was a series pilot, apparently never produced regularly; based on newspaperman Max Miller’s novel, which also inspired a much-recorded song and this film, a much different story, but with some of the same salt-spray and seagulls, and a slightly different ethical dilemma for the reporter:
    I Cover the Waterfront film (1933)
    https://youtu.be/JCgw3pNyqks
  22. It Happened One Night (Campbell Playhouse, 1940, Lux Radio Theater, 1939)
  23. It Happened Tomorrow (Screen Guild, 1944, with original stars Dick Powell and Linda Darnell;  Lux, 1944, Don Ameche and Anne Baxter; Theater of Romance, 1945, Ralph Bellamy and Joan Allison; Academy Award Theater 1946, Eddie Bracken and Ann Blyth)
  24. Johnny Come LatelyScreen Guild Theater, 1948, James Cagney in film role he originated; with Agnes Moorehead in Grace George’s original role; in 1906 a publisher’s widow has financial troubles. Itinerant reporter comes to her rescue.
  25. June Bride — Lux Radio Theatre adapted this romantic comedy about a magazine editor and her star reporter twice. He’s been fired from his foreign correspondent job and reassigned to the “Homelife in America” features for his former girlfriend. Can he be happy writing family-wedding features from Indiana instead of uncovering big news in Berlin? Can she forgive him for panicking at the prospect of marrying an ambitious female editor and walking out on her a few years earlier? In some ways it’s a flipside of “His Girl Friday,” with the woman on top. But she’s not interested in marriage, at least at first. “I’d wake up some morning and find you were in Afghanistan,” she tells him.
    The film’s original leading lady, Bette Davis, was in the Aug. 29, 1949 broadcast, with James Stewart replacing the movie’s Robert Montgomery as the reporter. Irene Dunne and Fred MacMurray, who had been playing a similar editor-reporter pair in their radio series Bright Star, made the second Lux version of June Bride, broadcast Dec. 28, 1953.
  26. Knickerbocker Holiday (Theater Guild on the Air, Dec. 1945). This radio adaptation is actually closer to the original 1938 play by Maxwell Anderson, with no newspapers in the plot. Both are true to the story’s  setting in 1647, when a town cryer’s “Oyez, oyez…” and the narration by Washington Irving is as close as things got to “Extra! Extra!” (Irving himself mentioned the lack of newspapers in the 1809 book, Knickerbocker’s History of New York,  the inspiration for the play.) However, a 1944 film adaptation made the romantic young troublemaker in the plot, Brom Broeck, into a journalist. Played on screen by Nelson Eddy, he was a “crusading newspaper publisher,” according to Turner Classic Movies. In this radio version, David Brooks plays Broeck as simply a man willing to speak truth about the powerful and go to jail for it, and entirely unable to take orders from anyone. That sounds enough like a journalist to suggest where the screenplay authors got the idea — and to include the broadcast here. However, Walter Huston steals the show as Governor Peter Stuyvesant, presenting the musical’s biggest hit — “September Song.” (The mature old governor sings the song while trying to persuade the much younger girlfriend of Brom Broeck to marry him.)  Huston, incidentally, was married to a newspaperwoman, Rhea Gore Houston, mother of director and actor John Huston. Rhea was later a reporter for the 1920s New York Evening Graphic tabloid, as was her son, but only briefly.
  27. Laura (1944 Fox film, radio adaptation by Screen Guild Theater , 1945) — (MP3 30 min) The columnist. Waldo Lydecker (“I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.”) is one of the detective’s first sources in the murder investigation with the memorable title tune. The suspense is over in a hurry in this half hour adaptation by the original stars, minus Vincent Price. There’s not as much time for the detective to fall in love with Lauea’s portrait, either, but the unflattering picture of the columnist’s ego comes through. Stars, Clifton Webb, Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney.
  28. Libel (Lux Radio Theater, 1941 and 1943, both with Ronald Colman; a 1935 play adapted for radio in ’41, for BBC TV in 1938, made into a feature film in 1959 — Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Haviland starred)
  29. Libeled Lady” may not have made it to full-length radio adaptation, or adaptations may not have made it into the online MP3 archives, but we do have a transcribed “Leo is on the air” MGM coming-attractions “air trailer” with bits of dialogue, including Spencer Tracy as the managing editor with a scheme to prevent a libel suit: 1936 Libeled Lady radio-preview.
  30. Love Is News (Romance with Dane Clark and Faye Emerson, Stars Over Hollywood, Screen Guild Theater 1946)
  31. Meet John Doe (Screen Guild Theater, Philip Morris Playhouse; mp3 versions are not in the archive, but the full-length film is: Meet John Doe 1941 film)
  32. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Campbell Playhouse, Lux Radio Theater 1937) 
  33. Next Time We Love, a 1936 “struggling marriage” melodrama with James Stewart as a reporter and Margaret Sullavan as his actress wife, was adapted for radio repeatedly.
    Stewart and Sullavan

    Stewart & Sullavan: Next Time We Love

    Ursula Parrott’s original story was serialized as “Say Goodbye Again,” then published as “Next Time We Live.” It became “… Love” in the Melville Baker film adaptation, although the original “… Live” title was used in foreign release of the film and in at least one of the radio versions. See a separate JHeroes page for its several adaptations.

  34. No Time For Love (Screen Guild Theater) Like the film, this radio version stars Claudette Colbert as a somewhat sophisticated photojournalist and Fred MacMurray as a working-class guy who gets in her way.
  35. Nothing Sacred (Screen Guild and Lux Radio Theater 1940); Lux production included Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as the reporter and Joan Bennett as Hazel Flagg, as the subject of his stories. The classic film, which is out of copyright and available for download on its title above, starred Fredric March and Carole Lombard. Jerry Haendiges log also lists a 1941 Screen Guild radio production with Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor and James Gleason.
  36. Penny Serenade (Lux Radio Theater, repeated in 1944), also at Hallmark Playhouse in 1948; General Electric Theater in 1953; Matinee Theater, Romance, Screen Guild in 1941. The original film is available at Archive.org.
  37. Philadelphia Story (Lux 1942 as Victory Theater, also Lux Radio Theater, 1943; Screen Guild Theater, 1947; Theater Guild on the Air , 1948 (James Stewart, John Conte and Joan Tetzel, according to Digital Deli Too); Best Plays, 1952. The latter production has plenty of journalism coincidences. It featured as Tracy Lord (the Katherine Hepburn role), Joan Alexander, who also was the voice of Lois Lane on radio and cartoons; as Liz, the photographer, Betty Furness, who later had a TV series called “Byline” or “News Gal” and also did some real consumer reporting, and as Mike, the James Stewart reporter role, Myron McCormack, who also played a newspaperman in State of the Union, according to the introduction by John Chapman of the Daily News. Strangely, Chapman doesn’t mention who plays the Cary Grant role as C.K. Dexter Haven, but popular radio actor Joseph Curtin is identified in the final credits. Incidentally, Curtin’s daughter, Valerie, had a role in the movie All the President’s Men, and his niece, Jane Curtin, co-anchored the “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live.)
  38. Remember the DayScreen Guild 1943
  39. Slightly Dangerous — Lana Turner (star of the original MGM film) appeared with Victor Mature in the Lux Hollywood version; Celeste Holm starred in an MGM Theater of the Air adaptation. The focus is on a newsmaker, with the newspaper in a peripheral role: Smalltown girl trying to start a new life in the city stumbles into a newspaper delivery truck. A big city newspaper editor takes her for an amnesia victim, probably an heiress, and sets the wheels in motion. Unlike the reporters in “Meet John Doe” or “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” no one at the newspaper lies or consciously manipulates reality. Later, the editor of her old hometown newspaper is the one who gets to the true story, but even he doesn’t manage to mess up the happy ending.
  40. State Fair had several variations in its stage, film and radio adaptations. On radio, the U.S. Steel Theater Guild on the Air produced it twice, focusing most strongly on the “reporter and the farmer’s daughter” aspect of the tale. It was broadcast first with Van Heflin as the reporter (and a whole lot of Lockharts as the farm family), then again with Van Johnson as the reporter. The story was made into a musical on Broadway and in 1945 and 1962 films, featuring the song “It Might as Well Be Spring.” The films gave the reporter role to Dana Andrews and Bobby Darin, respectively.
    Other radio productions, tracked down with RadioGoldIndex, include musical versions from Lux Radio Theatre, on June 24, 1946 and multiple productions years later on The Railroad Hour. The Lux edition featured Jeanne Crain in her film role as the heroine, but no Dana Andrews (whom newspaper film fans remember as reporter in “While the City Sleeps” and “Assignment Paris.”). Instead, “Mr. Radio” Elliott Lewis fills in as the non-singing reporter, diminished a bit in the plot and sounding a bit more insecure and conflicted about an out-of-town job offer than Dana Andrews did in the film. But he has a good line about a reporter having to be able to find the right people — Margie, for instance.
    “The Railroad Hour” specialized in half-hour summaries of Hollywood musicals, and did State Fair three times, starting in 1949. The two later versions are available, from 1951 and 1953. In these adaptations, the reporter gets to do more singing — and is played by series host Gordon MacCrea. The tension is between his hopes for a bigger out-of-town job and his sudden feelings for Margie.
    In these musical versions of “State Fair,” the journalist is, in his words, “Just a reporter for the local paper, but I’ll be a columnist someday” — quite a contrast with the older, world-travelled scribe of the Theater Guild productions.
    The story was also told with Ann Blyth as its star twice — first on Hallmark Playhouse on August 26, 1948 (I’ll add an audio if possible), and then on General Electric Theater, in a State Fair broadcast September 10, 1953. Blyth is both star and narrator of the latter program, which has a mature script by Kathleen Hite, a radio and television writer who showed a flair for journalist characters in several series, including “Rogers of the Gazette.” Her “State Fair” ending is more subtle and “writerly” than the others.
  41. Storm in a Teacup (Ford Theater, 1948). See the separate JHeroes blog post about Storm in a Teacup, the 1937 film and its transatlantic 1948 radio adaptation, plus the German and English stage productions that preceded it. Les Tremayne, “one of radio’s busiest performers,” was the star. (Among other things, he was flirting with real journalism as announcer for the Drew Pearson news program.)
  42. The Story of G.I. Joe wasn’t literally adapted for radio from the movie, but war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s stories, the basis of the film, were behind several radio dramatizations, including Here is Your War on Cavalcade of America, after Pyle’s book by that name, and Ernie Pyle, Typewriter in a Foxhole, a 1958 Biographies in Sound episode, more documentary than dramatization.
  43. Theodora Goes Wild (Campbell Theater, 1940 and Screen Guild Theater, 1943); while the subject is a novelist, the main plot is about the newspaper serialization of her novel scandalizing her hometown. Irene Dunne, who played Theodora in the 1936 film, did the Screen Guild radio version with Cary Grant, while Orson Welles enlisted Loretta Young for the Campbell edition.
  44. The Front Page (Academy Award 1946, Lux 1937, Ford Theater 1948, Theatre Guild 1946, no audio)  — separate JHeroes page, Hildy Johnson & Walter Burns on the air
  45. The Glass Key (Campbell 1939, Screen Guild 1946, Studio One 1948)
  46. The Life of Emile Zola Lux Presents Hollywood: The Life of Emile Zola (MP3) (1939) — The 1937 film about the French novelist and political journalist was produced for radio in 1939 with the original film star, Paul Muni, and an appearance by the movie’s director, William Dieterle. The film won three Academy Awards. A biography of Zola was also broadcast in 1944 by the Sears-sponsored NBC educational series “We Came This Way,” available at the Old Time Radio Researchers’ Library.
    Recent criticism: See David Denby’s Hitler in Hollywood: Did the studios collaborate? in the Sept. 13, 2013, New Yorker magazine.
  47. Trent’s Last Case (Suspense 1953, NBC University Theater, 1949). The book is out of copyright and available from Archive.org in a “Librivox” recording as well as in print: Trent’s Last Case (novel); filmed as a silent in the 1920s and in 1952 with Orson Welles.
  48. The Turning Point (1952) was broadcast by Lux Radio Theatre.
  49. Up in Central Park (Screen Guild 1948)
  50. Wake Up and Live was adapted by Lux Radio Theater in 1944 with a couple of casting twists from the 1937 movie. Instead of Wizard of Oz tin man Jack Haley as a nervous singer, Lux brought in a newcomer named Frank Sinatra, making “his first appearance in the dramatic end of radio.” Walter Winchell played himself in the movie version, but he didn’t get the part for the radio adaptation. Instead, the name is changed and Jimmie Gleason plays the part, doing a passable Winchell impersonation.
    Hollywood is on the Air produced a 15-minute “radio preview” of the movie “Wake Up and Live” in 1937, including the title song, a bit of Jack Haley in the starring role, and a few words from Winchell and Bernie.
  51. Woman of the Year (Screen Guild 1943) — see the separate Woman of the Year JHeroes page.

Other source pages on anthology-style radio series:

Theater Five at ABC was an attempt to revive anthology radio drama in 1964-65, after television had taken hold as the more popular dramatic medium. If there are any journalists portrayed in the series, I haven’t heard those episodes yet. Perhaps by then television had also squeezed the newspaper journalist out of the script writers’ consciousness.

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