“You know, the greatest thing in the world is to have freedom of the press, and we have freedom of the press here in America.
In this country, you can write anything you want. The only trouble is getting someone to read it.”
— Will Rogers Jr., Rogers of the Gazette, “That Taylor Boy” episode
by Bob Stepno
note: this is a work-in-progress. For example, the earlier blog posts are included here, but will be edited with smoother transitions.
For a warmer and lighter look at journalism than the sometimes dark and violent stories of crime dramas and adventure series, try a few MP3 episodes of “Rogers of the Gazette,” including the small-town editor’s encounters with student reporters in the episodes “The Investigative Twins” and “C.J. Griffith, Journalism Student,” mentioned below.
You can play any of the Rogers episodes from archive.org using the links on this page, or download them to a laptop and transfer to iPod or CD.
The “Rogers” in question is Will Rogers Jr., sometimes confused with his father, the Oklahoma-born cowboy-humorist, partly because Will Jr. played his father in a few movies. In his “secret identity” the younger Rogers really was a journalist, Stanford journalism graduate, a war hero and a U.S. congressman. He was the host of “The CBS Morning News” briefly (1957-58), and was publisher of The Beverly Hill Citizen newspaper, for which he covered the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent during 1936 and 1937. The name on his office door was “Bill,” not “Will,” according to this 1948 newspaper story. Said the Associated Press, “Will Rogers Jr. is not an actor, and admits it. He’s a publisher.”)
The “Radio: The New Shows” column in Time magazine, Aug. 03, 1953, described the series this way:
Rogers of the Gazette (Wed. 9:30 p.m., CBS Radio) is Will Rogers Jr., who is shown as the friendly editor of a country newspaper, struggling against the pressures and prejudices of small-town life. Homespun, slow-spoken Will (who used to be publisher of California’s Beverly Hills Citizen) drops pearls of wisdom in the quizzical voice, if not the skeptical manner, of his humorist father. Says Will: “This is a good, sensible little program. I may not feel at ease yet, but I think I’m getting there.” Unsponsored.
In real-life Will Rogers Jr. was not in Illyria (as I’m told it’s spelled in the scripts) or similar-sounding places named Elyria in Ohio and Kansas.
I suspect listeners were supposed to make an association between Rogers’ Gazette and legendary country-editor William Allen White’s Emporia Gazette, long a model of an influential local paper.
The PBS American Experience series on the holocaust has a Web page telling more about Rogers, including his support in 1943 for the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, along with another one of Hollywood’s former journalists, Ben Hecht (co-author of “The Front Page,” and “His Girl Friday”). Rogers resigned from Congress to be a tank commander in World War II, then was active in politics for a few post-war years before playing his father in a couple of films launched his acting career.
“Rogers of the Gazette” was a 1953-54 CBS radio situation comedy that may remind you of television’s Andy Griffith Show, which came along a half-dozen years later. Instead of “Mayberry,” Rogers gives you “Illyria.” And instead of a single-Dad small-town sheriff full of common sense and homespun wisdom, Rogers played a single-Dad small-town newspaper editor with similar qualities. At least one cast member appeared in both series — Parley Baer, who played Illyria’s doctor and Mayberry’s mayor. (Baer and co-star Georgia Ellis, who plays assistant editor Maggie Button, were reunited on radio’s Gunsmoke as Chester and Miss Kitty. John Dehner, star of the Western newspaper series “Frontier Gentleman,” appeared in “Rogers of the Gazette” frequently as the newspaper’s printer, among other parts.)
The Illyria Gazette is a whole other journalistic “myth/reality” than Hollywood movies and New York radio gave us most of the time, with more echoes of William Allen White and the wisdom of smalltown editors than the adventurous Richard Harding Davis or Nellie Bly. (White’s Emporia Gazette was also the model for a Pulitzer-winning country paper in the Doris Day and Clark Gable feature, “Teacher’s Pet.”)
My blog posts:
- Control of the Press Hits Elyria
- Editor’s help from investigative twins
- Journalism students cause trouble
Control of the Press
This “Rogers of the Gazette” episode from January 1954, titled “Something’s Going On,” has a terrible pun in the first line and a hint of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” terror in the plot. (Of course, given that it’s “Rogers of the Gazette” the odds anything bad happening are terribly thin.) The friendly newspaper editor encounters an unfamiliar phrase: “No comment.” He hears it enough times to wind up asking a very un-Rogers question:
“What the devil is going on in Illyria all of a sudden?”
Pillar of his Mayberry-like town of Illyria that he is, editor Will Rogers Jr. is usually a tougher critic of the chief of police’s golf game than he is of any government activities. This story begins with the police chief and the editor on the golf course, something they apparently both have time for quite frequently.
Journalism students could have a good time discussing the proper relationships between newspaper editors and civic officials, whether the size of the community makes a difference, etc. In this case, even the police chief recognizes that taking time for a mid-day golf break might raise some eyebrows.
“A really smart newspaperman’d probably expose the whole soft setup. It’d be a big story, too, ’cause it’s the same way in the county. We’re just too blamed law-abiding around Illyria to need sheriffs and deputies and police chiefs and like that,” the chief says.
But that’s early in the story. Suddenly, the chief gets a phone call at the clubhouse. Next thing you know, the chief is not talking to the editor, other than to say “This is big.” Eventually he says he’s refusing to talk for “security reasons.”
The plot thickens with a mysterious stranger in a gray suit in town, and a secretary blocking access to the police chief.
“Most especially he is not seeing the press,” she says.
Even the town switchboard operator keeps telling the editor that all long-distance lines are busy every time he tries to call the wire services to find out if there’s a regional manhunt on or something. It’s amazing how isolated one town could seem in the 1950s, with only one national phone company and no Internet!
Suspense was not the most common element on Rogers of the Gazette, but this episode actually manages to create some, even if the friendly theme music assures you everything will be fine in the end, with some sort of O.Henry plot twist and a happy ending.
For a while, though, Illyria seems to have become a police state. The guy in the gray suit, a Mr. Adams, finally talks to Rogers, if enigmatically:
“Well I don’t mind telling you who I am, Mr. Rogers, but I get the impression that your chief of police and your sheriff would mind very much. Sorry, but any statements will have to come from them. And if I were you, I wouldn’t plan on any.”
He vaguely discusses “the public interest” and how it’s being served by keeping the local editor in the dark. He even hints that Will plays too much golf.
“It’s like the Martians or Venusians had taken over,” the Gazette’s assistant editor says.
Considering that this broadcast was in January of 1954, it would be interesting to research the level of paranoia in the nation. It was still two years before Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and a few months before the Army/McCarthy hearings. The “Red Scare” that resulted in Hollywood writers and actors being blacklisted was already several years old. The UC Berkeley library has a good list of blacklist references. Or see the timelines at Wikipedia and elsewhere for more “red scare” and “flying saucer” news.
This 1954 timeline mentions Eisenhower being accused of being soft on Communists, the CIA tunneling under Berlin, the first nuclear submarine being launched, Puerto Rican nationalists opening fire in House of Representatives, and Ed Murrow’s “Report on Senator McCarthy” coming up in a couple of months.
But that’s about all the suspense-building context I’ll risk here, to avoid spoiling the “Something’s Going On” story for anyone who wants to listen through to the thrilling conclusion. (Listeners in 1954 — and Americans over age 65 — may catch enough hints to guess the outcome. I’ve stowed away an extra one in the text links above.)
The Investigative Twins
From Dec. 30, 1953, here’s what was regularly billed as “another heartwarming story of a country newspaper and its friendly editor.”
The series is “Rogers of the Gazette,” starring Will Rogers Jr. This episode starts with the editor giving a perhaps too-inspiring speech about journalism at the local high school:
“A newspaper does more than just print the news that’s turned into it. It has to go out and dig for stories and develop them. That’s why things like freedom of speech and responsibility to truth come to mean something to us.
“And we learn to fight for those principles. And in a way, that’s what journalism is, a fight. But it’s a good fight and a good profession and that’s why we love it.”
This story has more newspaper jargon, more suspense and more action than most “Rogers of the Press” episodes, along with lessons in reporting and newspaper economics.
The reporters mentioned in the title are high school students, twin sisters who start asking nosy questions around town, and telling people they are writing for Rogers’ paper. He complains to his assistant:
“Those kids have descended on this town like a plague of locusts. They managed to work their way into every nook and corner from the mayor’s office to the back room at Hogan’s Grill.
“You know what they asked Mayor Berkeley? How much graft he made on that West Side paving contract! He’s ready to run me out of town…”
Meanwhile, Rogers’ has spent his available cash on a new Linotype and is facing trouble meeting a payment on his building’s lease, and his landlord is one of the local residents the twins are “investigating.”
As a result, the editor also gets to deliver speeches on the right to privacy and the difference between big city newspapers and his community weekly. It turns out Rogers’ speech wasn’t the sisters’ only inspiration about being reporters:
“We’ve seen it in the movies,” the girls tell him, before turning their attention to crime reporting.
For more about the role of movies in shaping people’s perceptions of the press, see the Image of the Journalist in Popular Culture project at USC.
Encounters with Journalism Education (part 2)
My “Portrayals of the Journalist” class is watching the 1958 Clark Gable and Doris Day film “Teacher’s Pet,” in which a young journalism professor spars with a tough city editor who invades her class to expose what a waste of time journalism courses are. (He brags about learning on the job and not finishing high school himself.)
For another 1950s view of journalism education, here are two episodes of “Rogers of the Gazette,” in the first of which small-town editor Will Rogers Jr. finds his newsroom invaded by a student intern with big-city ideas about exposing personal scandals. Rogers sits her down for a lecture on “facts, truth and ethics, and the responsibility of the press.”
In both “Teacher’s Pet” and these two Rogers episodes, you’ll also find the common theme of the changing role of women in journalism. (In fact, “Teacher’s Pet” was co-written one of the authors of the Academy Award winning “Woman of the Year,” yet another variation on the theme.) The cantankerous printer back in Rogers’ press room is especially against the idea of a woman setting foot in his territory. Ironically, the creators of “Rogers of the Press” have named him “John Reed,” the same as the American journalist whose progressive ideas sent him to Russia to be part of the revolution.
In this next episode, a speech by Rogers inspires enthusiastic twins from a high school journalism class, 531230_024_Investigative_Reporters — 6.9 MB
As usual, these MP3 files are from the Internet Archive, which has more:
Additional info about the series: Jerry Haendiges’ log of Rogers of the Gazette episodes and the MyOldRadio.com Rogers of the Gazette collection
While not exactly Mayberry, the series makes me imagine Andy Griffith’s Sheriff Andy rewritten as a small-town editor. It’s a whole other journalistic “myth/reality” than the big-city newsroom Hollywood movies and New York radio gave us most of the time. Students should do some background research on real-life Kansas editor William Allen White, a national legend when these fictional tales — including “Teacher’s Pet” were written. He is a clear model for the Doris Day character’s editor-father.
More “Rogers of the Gazette” information is available from old-time radio collector/historian websites. Collectors seem to be uncertain of the spelling of “Illyria.” I originally followed the “Elyria” spelling of the Ohio city by that name, and of a canyon across Los Angeles from Rogers’ real newspaper in Beverly Hills. Some MP3 files use “Ellyria” or “Illyria” in their episode names.
They also frequently misspell “cornet” — the horn — as “coronet” in the name of one episode. And some pages claim that Will Rogers Jr. was “playing his father” in this series, even though his character is far from the Oklahoma rope-spinner, and was introduced from the start with the “Jr.”
In April 2013 Stewart Wright posted a six-page pdf log of the program with updated titles (confirmed from the scripts) and other information sources: http://www.old-time.com/otrlogs2/index.html
I haven’t seen a script of the program myself, but there is a collection of them at Wichita State in the papers of writer Kathleen Hite.
- Will Rogers Jr., obituary in The New York Times, July 11, 1993.
- Jerry Haendiges log of Rogers of the Gazette episodes
- MyOldRadio.com Rogers of the Gazette collection
- David Goldin’s RadioGoldIndex.com page on Rogers of the Gazette
- Additional sources are mentioned in the OTTRpedia entry for Rogers of the Press
- Will makes room at home for an news intern from the university, not expecting a someone with a “big city” attitude, CJ Griffith, Journalism_Student
- Inquisitive twins from a high school journalism class are The Gazette’s newest and most aggressive staff, even if Rogers didn’t plan it that way. Investigative Reporters
- Will considers selling the paper to a chain in the final episode of the series: Something’s Troubling Will
- Calling an Illyria-born artist a distinguished citizen offends a too-proper woman who threatens to take over the newspaper, in the episode titled “Newspaper Takeover” or “Lance O’Neil Troublemaker” in various collections, including a Radio Spirits set and the selections at MyOldRadio.com.
- Those sources also show the usually establishmentarian Rogers having a difference of opinion with local law enforcement in the “Second Hand Suit” episode (Radio Spirits calls it “Jimmy Reynolds.”)
|530722_003_Dirty_Politics — 6.8 MB|
|530729_004_Surprise_Engagement — 6.8 MB|
|530730_005_That_Taylor_Boy — 6.4 MB|
|530805_xxx_That_Taylor_Boy — 12.9 MB|
|530812_006_Land_Deal — 17.1 MB|
|530826_008_CJ_Griffith,_Journalism_Student — 17.1 MB|
|530916_011_Illyria_Box_Lunch — 17.1 MB|
|530923_012_Farm_Sale_Day — 17.1 MB|
|531008_013_Leah’s_Eudora_Notes — 17.1 MB|
|531015_014_Maggie_and_Barbara — 17.1 MB|
|531022_015_Eula_Horner_and_the_County_Fair — 17.1 MB|
|531029_016_The_Old_Coronet — 17.1 MB*|
|531105_017_Toast_of_Vienna_-_Gretc — 17.1 MB|
|531111_018_The_Town_Clock — 17.1 MB|
|531118_019_Do_It_Now — 6.9 MB|
|531125_020_The_Princess_Theatre — 6.9 MB|
|531202_021_Longest_Week_of_the_Year — 6.9 MB|
|531209_022_Pastel_Christmas_Trees — 6.9 MB|
|531223_023_White_Christmas_in_Elyria — 6.8 MB|
|531230_024_Investigative_Reporters — 6.9 MB|
|540106_025_The_Novelist — 6.9 MB|
|540113_026_Something_Going_On — 6.9 MB|
|540120_027_Something’s_Troubling_Will — 4.1 MB|
* Note: As is often the case, the MP3 files donated to the Internet Archive have numerous spelling errors in their file names. “The Old Coronet” is not about a crown; it is about Will being asked to play the cornet (horn) in a town band. There is little or no journalism in that episode.
Spellings of the town name also vary, including the more common “Elyria.”
Coincidentally, The New York Times explored the real city of Elyria, Ohio, in an October 2012 “This Land” feature.