Detectives

This is a rough draft and may include notes-in-progress

See specific series pages: Big Town | Crime Photographer | Hot Copy

In pulp novels and movies inspired by them, “the reporter” was often a stand-in or sidekick to the other standard character, “the detective.” Sometimes the desired effect was comic, sometimes serious. Sometmes reporters or editors were murder victims in plots that gave another view of public perceptions of the press and media ethics. Of course, whole series were based on reporter-detective characters, “Casey, Crime Photographer,” “Big Town” editor Steve Wilson, “Front Page Farrell,” and more. Farrell and a few others may be found here in the Soaps & Romance department. A lot of real-life detective work by reporters showed up in a dramatized  series called The Big Story. And a series like Night Beat could and did mix detective-style plots with suspense and human interest dramas.

But reporters also showed up in the even more common detective series, like Sam Spade, Box 13,  Let George Do It, as well as sometimes detective-like juvenile adventure series from The Blue Beetle to The Lone Ranger.

Box 13 featured a former newspaper reporter, now a novelist, who became a detective/adventurer to dig up plots for his works of fiction. The newspaper’s main role is carrying his classsified ad, but he stays in touch.

Let_George_Do_It was similar to Box 13. Detective George Valentine advertised for clients in the personals, although that was usually the extent of his contact with the newspaper.

In one episode, he was hired by a public relations professional, with his business of deceiving newspaper reporters providing the major theme of the story, Sweet are the uses of publicity. The reporters stay mostly in the background, as the publicity agent hires Valentine to help him make a client disappear — a client the reporters don’t know is fictional. Before you can say “farewell party on a yacht,” a corpse turns up.

Off the Record — Dan Dana, a “brash and fearless” radio commentator of the “crusader type,” gets a death threat while preparing a political expose and hires George “Danger’s my stock in trade” Valentine to investigate. He’s murdered while on the air. A 1951 high tech tape recorder plays a role.


In the January 1950 episode “Mr. Victor’s Daughter,” wise-cracking detective Richard Diamond’s client is newspaper owner who wants to expose a numbers racket, but a gangster plans to use the publisher’s daughter for leverage.

Johnny Dollar

The long-running “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” series put the Hartford-based insurance investigator on the case of an old newspaper reporter friend in November, 1956. Called “The Big Scoop Matter,” it has a couple of common newspaper-drama themes: a reporter with a failed marriage, and a risky news assignment that puts his life in danger.

Unlike most reporters, this one has a $100,000 insurance policy payable to his estranged wife.

Dollar, “the man with the action-packed expense account,” goes to New York to offer his services as a bodyguard after hearing from the insurance company that his old friend has been beaten up once and that someone tried to run him down. He finds his friend in a bar, another frequent newspaper-drama scene, but the friend refuses to take on a bodyguard because he might scare away informants.

“It’s hot and big, real big,” reporter Art Wesley says of his story, “a national gambling syndicate and run by a guy here in New York.”

Wesley says his “real insurance” is a safe deposit box holding the syndicate boss’s name while he gets his last facts in order.

“Tonight could be the jackpot… I can take care of myself,” are his last words.

Reasons to kill an editor — at The Adventures of Leonidas Witherall

The Internet Archive doesn’t have a collection of this series, but David Goldin’s RadioGoldIndex.com listed seven episodes, including “The Corpse Meets A Deadline,”  April 22, 1945, which Goldin describes briefly as “Murder in a newspaper printing plant,” the only reference to journalism in his plot summaries of the program. I tracked down an MP3 of the Corpse Meets a Deadline episode at RadioLovers.com, and was surprised to find in it numerous newspaper-journalism stereotypes and memes — several of them providing possible motives for the murder. Here they are in roughly chronological order:

  • Readers’ expectations and “local news” standards for publicizing small-town events;
  • Sensationalism and the ethics of publicizing private citizens in embarrassing situations;
  • Editor’s attitudes toward reader complaints.
  • Readers’ threats to boycott a paper because of unflattering reports;
  • The allure of “fire” stories
  • The mechanics of a printing plant, from multiple editions to Linotype, the “hot type” process, conveyors delivering printed papers, etc.
  • Career frustrations: The lure of being a foreign correspondent, versus the frustrations of being trapped covering local news for an aggressive young reporter;
  • Unethical practices and violence in “circulation war” business competition between papers.

Born in 1879, the WOR radio series star, Walter Hampden, had been famous as a  Shakespearean actor and later manager of a Broadway theater. He was introduced as “the distinguished American actor,” and his character, Leonidas Witherall, was described as a “New England schoolmaster who looks like Shakespeare.” He also managed to work in a Shakespearean speech toward the end of the story. Hampden’s face may be familiar as another famous actor — the distinguished thespian delivering the award-dinner speech in the opening scene of “All About Eve,” which has its own journalist stereotype in the form of ruthless theater critic Addison DeWitt.

Characters in “The Corpse Meets a Deadline”:

Mr. Forrest the editor of the Dalton Herald

Jackie Bigelow, star reporter — stifled by Forrest in attempt to leave to become foreign correspondent with Cosmopolitan Syndicate (“You’re naturally a louse… You didn’t want to  lose a good man yourself… I couldn’t get into this man’s war the regular way, the army turned me down… That was my one big chance and you fixed it so I’d miss the boat… Maybe I can do something for you sometime, like cutting your throat.”)

Mr. Bennett — who attacks Forrest in an opening scene; he objects to picture of his daughter at a gambling house raid, threatens Forrest for ruining his daughter’s reputation
“Forrest, you’re a stupid irresponsible cheap yellow journalist.”
“I ought to thrash you, Forrest. I ought to treat you the way my grandfather handled a smartaleck newspaperman out west. He got a horsewhip and he whipped that editor within an inch of his life.”

The two grapple in the newsroom, but Forrest says Bennett will cool off. “I’m used to that… Sure, he’ll rave and rant for a while, write letters — and then he’ll calm down.”

Later Bennett tries to enlist Witherall to help organize a boycott of the newspaper

Pat Welsh, linotype operator, once a publisher himself; Forrest put him out of business. He’s also the one who explains the printing plant’s lead-melting cauldrons.
“You sort of went out of your way to take a few potshots at me…”
As competing newspaper owners 10 years before, now just an employee: “You weren’t making enough money; you had to squeeze the life out of any paper that tried to get started in the same town…. by having my delivery boys beaten up in dark alleys, by sideswiping my trucks so that two of my drivers spent a year in the hospital, by knocking over any stand that carried my papers, and by breaking that poor Italian peddler’s neck… I know you’ve got blood on your hands, Forrest, and you wrecked me. I lost every penny I had trying to buck you… All I remember is that you’re a crooked chiseler who ruined my business. You’re a gangster and a killer…

We hear the clatter of Linotype machines during a tour of the newspaper plant, urgent phone call to the editor from the fire scene, arguments between reporter and editor and other newsroom scenes.

In this 1944 episode, “The Four Killers,” Witherall faces another murder — this time involving a magazine and newspaper publisher, stabbed to death at an alumni event. The victim had been a campus newspaper co-editor and football hero — one of the “four killers” of the title. The other three all, it turns out, had motives to kill their old backfield partner.

One of the suspects is his former co-editor and publishing partner. He was swindled out of his share of the company, as he explains in a flashback while Witherall is waxing nostalgic:

“I built every magazine you own. I stayed up ’til two in the morning every night for months editing, developing ideas and making up dummies. Why, it was through me that you got control of every newspaper you have…

“You can’t take 20 years work from a man and then brush him off with a little check for a couple of shares of stock.”

The other alumni have non-journalistic reasons for wanting the man dead, and we don’t hear anything more about the journalism business — expect a brief  discussion among suspects and witnesses of what to say to the press after the murder story gets out.

Broadway Is My Beat is a series about Detective Danny Glover, not a news beat. However, the film noir toned
1949 Aug. 11 broadcast, The Jane Darwell (or Darnell) Murder Case, has a reporter — if not a great role model. When we meet, he’s withholding a murderer’s threats, until it’s too late.

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