by Bob Stepno
Despite the title of this blog, not all newspapermen (or women) in radio’s popular culture portrayals were heroes, although I think they were generally played more favorably on radio than in Hollywood movies.
“Laura” only loosely fits my category of “newspaper films” adapted for radio, but the 1944 20th Century Fox film featured a powerful, smug and self-important newspaper columnist as a major character. He narrates part of the movie trailer above and helped tell Laura’s story in flashback in several radio adaptations. Most are available via the Old Time Radio Researchers group collection at the Internet Archive.
1945 Lux Radio Theatre:
1945 Screen Guild Theatre:
Laura herself is in advertising, not journalism, but “bigshot columnist and radio spieler” Lydecker (Waldo in the film, Paul in some radio versions) helped launch her career. He tells her life story to a detective, establishing both characters.
“I am the most widely misquoted man in America, and I resent it,” Lydecker tells the detective, by way of explaining his insistence on writing down his statement in one production. In flashback, he also tells Laura his philosophy as a writer: “Sentiment comes easy at 50 cents a word.”
The radio adaptation by the Screen Guild Theater also gives us a few bars of the memorable title tune, but hardly does the film justice.
Although several of the original stars appeared on the broadcast, the half-hour format didn’t leave much time for mystery and romance, the two things the film is about.
We do get to hear original stars Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews as the detective, and Clifton Webb as Lydecker. But while Laura’s murder is investigated, the plot revolves around Tierney’s haunting beauty in a large portrait that captivates the detective. It’s hard for radio to compete with that picture on the wall. But perhaps listeners had already seen the film and these radio versions just help them replay the story in their minds.
For Screen Guild, Webb does his best as the aloof, manipulative Lydecker (“I write with a goose quill dipped in venom”). Some characters were cut or reduced in the abbreviated script, most notably the tall and easily suspected boyfriend played by Vincent Price. Along with reducing the number of murder suspects, there’s not as much time in this radio production for the detective to obsess over and fall in love with Laura’s portrait, and the script’s word-pictures don’t do Ms. Tierney justice.
For the first version, Clifton Webb’s role as Lydecker went to Otto Kruger, no stranger to smug journalist roles. Tierney, Andrews and Vincent Price re-created their original film roles well, and both the mystery and the romance come through a bit better with the full Lux hour to do the job.
But the unflattering picture of the columnist’s ego still comes through in Webb’s abbreviated Screen Guild performance. Lydecker is a bit reminiscent of another venomous columnist (and narrator) on a classic film: Addison DeWitt in “All About Eve.” Radio adaptations of that film increased the role somewhat. A journalist — even a snide drama columnist — easily fills radio’s need for a narrator. (Reginald Gardner was DeWitt for Lux; Alan Hewitt for US Steel Hour-Theater Guild on the Air.)
In both cases, newspaper and radio columnist or critic positions have made Lydecker and DeWitt powerful enough to shape the careers of beautiful women. So, although they are not likeable characters, perhaps their role in these films and the radio adaptations helped support the public perception of the power of the press.
My advice about these multiple productions of “Laura”: Watch the movie if you haven’t seen it, then come back and listen to the radio versions, mostly to envy the live audience that got to see the program on stage. In the case of Screen Guild, it was a benefit for the actors’ home charity. In fact, Screen Guild put the script to work again in 1950. Lux Radio Theater also produced the story twice, in 1945 and 1954.
Tierney also played her famous role for Hollywood Star Time in 1946. (The performances were easy to track down by searching for her radio performances with J.David Goldin’s RadioGoldindex.)
The Ford Theater, another anthology series specializing in movie adaptations, added its version of “Laura” in 1948, with a new script and all new cast including, Virginia Gilmore as Laura, John Larkin as the detective, Ivor Francis as Lydecker.