by Bob Stepno
The radio series known as “Flashgun Casey,” “Casey, Crime Photographer,” or “Crime Photographer” is well represented in online archives — the third incarnation of a character who had already been featured in short stories, novels and films. Before his retirement after a dozen years on radio, Casey also would make his way into comic books and television.
In an early scene from the 1938 film Here’s Flash Casey, a crusty editor greets the recent college grad with “Not THE Flash Casey!… Never heard of you.”
But Casey became radio’s best-known news photographer (1943-1955), the classic wise-cracking, fedora-wearing newspaper cameraman. In the film clip, he’s right out of college, hat-in-hand looking for his first job. His attitude, camera and sense of a humor already show promise, even if it is only a B-movie. (Camera fans interested in “new technology,” watch for the appearance of a pre-war Leica 35mm camera later in the film, along with several scenes worth discussing in a media-ethics class.)
During his long run on radio, Casey was the old pro, not the young graduate. (In a 1936 movie, “Women are Trouble,” also credited to author George Harmon Coxe and set a newspaper, the lead character “Matt Casey” is an older reporter, not a photographer.)
The radio series name shifted over the years, but Casey remained the “ace cameraman who covers the crime news of a great city,” usually with the help of reporter Ann Williams and the regulars at the Blue Note Cafe. Most of the plots involved more crime-solving than reporting, often with very good jazz piano in the background.
This second episode, also thanks to the OTRRG collection at Archive.org, is Source of Information, in which Casey has a visit from a down-on-his-luck former reporter who has been sitting on a big expose for, perhaps, too long.
The Old Time Radio Researchers collection of Casey is huge, divided into several zip archive files, some of which include comics as well as the radio shows. While crime was almost always part of the plot, it wasn’t originally part of the name of the series, Which began as “Flashgun Casey, Press Photographer,” with this introduction:
“Out of a big city’s roaring life out of a great newspaper’s pounding heart come the exciting adventures of a man with a camera, Flashgun Casey, Press Photographer…”
“Tough, daring, typical of the men who often risk their lives so that you may see the news as well as read it. Their salaries are not large and they seldom get much credit but their lives are packed with danger and thrills.”
“Flashgun Casey and the people who pass in swift moving parade before the shutters of his camera.
A Speed Graphic and Glass Plates
Casey entered the radio world in 1943 carrying a plate-case full of breakable Speed Graphic glass exposures, after grudgingly covering a movie star’s wedding for The Morning Express. “I was knee deep in celebrities… White satin and orchids fairly dripped from the lens,” he says. It’s “The Case of the Switched Plates.
When those plates are developed, fewer wedding photos appear than expected, along with some surprising exposures taken inside of an inventor’s private laboratory, including a shot of a surprised security guard. While Casey, reporter Ann Williams and their editor are puzzling over the photos, a police reporter calls in a story about a guard being murdered, which sets Casey off investigating a murder by one of his fellow shutterbugs.
Along with the crime plot, the standard press camera and plate case mixup take the plot into some discussion of press reporters’ lifestyles, including the need to moonlight — and the temptations of hanging around with nightclub entertainers and fashion models with too-expensive tastes. And shooting “glamour” photos on the side.
Casey also established the tradition of newspaper folks having a favorite tavern hangout, in his case, the Blue Note Cafe, also an after-hours musicians’ hangout.
Editor: They have a piano player there who soothes his nerves.
Casey: …and sometimes helps me solve a problem.
Other forties’ stereotypes include things like eavesdropping on calls from bank of payphones, reporter Ann Williams “just one of the guys” status, and Casey’s banter with editor Burt. An example:
Casey: I just got some shots for the morning paper and if I were you I’d leave plenty of space on the front page
Editor: Well you better get back with something soon or I’ll hold a four line spread in the obituaries for you.
Old Grove, “Headed for the Bingeville Bugle”
While Casey and Ann spent a lot of time at the Blue Note, they were sober. But this 1954 episode, Source of Information, focuses on a classic newspaper-movie stereotype, the alcoholic reporter.
With a hint of Joseph Mitchell’s classic New Yorker piece, “Joe Gould’s Secret,” Casey’s old pal Grover Cleveland Snyder is a 40-year veteran crime reporter who tells Casey he’s written his life’s work, an expose-filled memoir that he would never publish because it would mean revealing so many sources. But now that manuscript has been stolen, so he turns to Casey for help.
Grove: “I was once a great newspaperman, one of The greats. You know I could write an expose that would put a lot of this towns bigshots behind bars.”
Casey: “Sure but because you were a great newspaper guy you’d never write the kind of stuff you’ve been threatening it would be ratting on a whole lot of people who gave you their confidence you’d be divulging your sources of information and drunk or sober, no top banana in our racket ever does that… You’re a newspaperman and you wouldn’t betray your source of information.”
The old reporter says he really did write it all down, even though he’d never print it. But then he backs off and claims he was just spinning a yarn to get Casey to give him a handout. Casey does, with mixed feelings. He even has to defend giving him money to the bartender, Ethelbert, who calls Grove “an old bum.”
Casey: “People like you and me, Annie, and you too, Ethelbert, we should be proud to know a guy like Grover Cleveland Snyder. You know, his byline was once the most famous in this country.”
Ann: “Sure. And then he drank it up. For the past five years at least, he couldn’t have held a job on The Bingeville Bugle.”
However, within an hour of telling Casey about the manuscript, Grove is murdered, execution style.
Casey has a hunch, and with the legendary Teddy Wilson at the piano improvising on “Sunny Side of the Street” and segueing into “Stardust” in the background, he eventually figures it all out. We also hear a hint of his investigative techniques, some better than others. In one scene, Casey tries to sweet-talk Grove’s Irish landlady. Despite all his old-country references, she winds up dismissing him as “Blarney Boy,” and talking to the police instead, much to reporter Ann’s amusement.
But Casey gets even, by drafting Ann to help him search through 20 years of newspapers at the Express morgue, looking for a story that may have led to Snyder’s murder. The morgue research comes through — they find a “Valentine’s Day Massacre” style Prohibition-era gang slaying, a case that Snyder had broken wide open, winning a journalism prize for his stories. His reporting ended the career of a political boss, sent three men to the chair and three more to prison for life, but one has been paroled.
Later, Casey bluffs the murderer by telling him that all writers make carbon copies, suggesting that there’s a duplicate of the missing manuscript. While carbon-packs were used in newsrooms, Casey later explains the bluff to his pals. An old-time reporter like Snyder never would use carbons, Casey says, he would just bang things out on one sheet of paper the way he did when he had a copyboy at his elbow.
Tools of the Trade
As a newspaper photographer, Casey’s main tool isn’t a typewriter, but the Speed Graphic, starting when a case full of glass plates was still part of a photographer’s gear. And the camera wasn’t just a prop — sometimes his crime scene photos helped him solve a murder, as they did in “The Red Raincoat” case from 1946, by which time he probably had film packs for the camera. He shoots the body, the snoopy neighbor, even interiors of the murder victim’s apartment while questioning her husband.
(Police not only let Casey have the run of the crime scene, Captain Logan lets Casey and reporter Ann Williams help him interrogate witnesses and suspects in that episode.)
A 1947 “Crime Photographer” episode put the camera itself in the headline: “The Camera Bug.” It opens with a grumpy Casey trying to warn a young photo supply shop employee away from a photojournalism career, since he already has a wife and a regular job…
Casey: “My advice is forget it. This is the lousiest game there is. You’re out at all hours. People shove you around. You can risk your hide to get a good shot, then the city desk may stick it on page 10, if it’s used at all. This is a dog’s life, kid; keep out of it…”
The Kid: “Yeah, but you get around. And you see things!”
Casey: “I guess you believe all you hear on the radio. Well, OK camera bug, here’s the only way I know how to break in. You put in about 12 hours a day on the streets, with your eyes open and your camera ready, and occasionally you’ll get a news picture you can sell. If you’re lucky, you may get a real hot shot you can trade to a city editor for a full-time job. But you’ve got to be lucky. That’s all I can tell you.”
Right after his speech about how demanding news photography can be, Casey heads off to meet Ann for a mid-afternoon beer. But by the end of the half-hour, it’s depth of focus, a small f-stop, and fine grain developer that help Casey find photographic evidence of another murder.
Casey, Crime Photographer was a weekly fixture on CBS radio from 1943-55, and listeners probably felt they were dropping into the Blue Note Cafe along with the hero and his reporter friend Ann Williams — even on the holidays.
That included the Thanksgivings of 1947 and 1948, one of which is here for your after-dinner listening. It’s not the greatest half-hour in radio history, but it has a couple of good scenes for fans of old newspaper dramas.
Family holiday or not, this 1947 “After Turkey, the Bill,” is about people who dine out on Thanksgiving: reporters, news photographers, restaurant workers, police… and stick-up artists.
A couple in a restaurant open the story, talking about their problem romance, which builds a little tension; then the story shifts scene to Casey and Ann at the Blue Note — their regular bar — having dinner with their bartender pal Ethelbert, who has to work on the holiday.
When they try to convince him that their great act of friendship (dining with him) deserves a free meal, the hard-to-snooker Ethelbert points out that Casey and Ann are also working on Thanksgiving Day, with just enough time for dinner at their usual place.
Almost on cue, the editor calls with an assignment. It’s a seemingly routine filling station holdup. Casey launches into familiar reporter-editor grumbling, but they are really just pro-forma complaints. He’s on the job.
“For a run of the mill story like that we have to leave our dessert? Well, OK Bert, alright, goodbye…
Why I have to stick to this newspaper racket, I don’t know…
Just one of those inside-page fillers. Bert says news is light and we have to cover it…”
For a “family holiday” story, the episode features a rather dysfunctional family. It includes cousins accusing each other of a frame-up, and a girlfriend caught between them and a father who doesn’t want her to marry the one she thinks she loves most, criminal record or not. Before the story ends there are three suspects.
Casey and Ann visit the crime scene with one of their police friends, as usual, full of the banter and close camaraderie common between radio dramas’ policemen and newspaper reporters.
Police sergeant: “Why don’t you two get jobs that won’t make you work on holidays?”
Casey: “Why don’t you?”
Ann: “You mean like Captain Logan?”
Sergeant: “I’ve been thinking about it for 25 years.”
The 1948 Thanksgiving episode, “Holiday” has the photojournalist crime-fighter sacrificing part of his (and Ann’s) holiday celebration to help someone in trouble, solve a crime, get a story, and wish their bartender friend Ethelbert a Happy Thanksgiving. The real suspense is whether Casey will finally pay his October bar tab. (That episode is part of the sixth CD of the Internet Archive — Old Time Radio Researchers collection of Casey episodes, available only in six big “zipped” CD-length downloadable collections, not one of the “single episode” pages I use for embedding here.)
The 1946 and 1949 Thanksgiving week episodes also had the holiday’s name in the title, but copies aren’t present in the Old Time Radio Researchers’ Group collection at the Internet Archive for comparison. Researcher Joe Webb estimates that collectors have identified only 78 circulating recordings of Casey shows out of 431 broadcasts.
His 13-page “Casey, Crime Photographer — Random notes about the series” and many other documents are included with the OTRRG collection at the Internet Archive, along with two “Casey” films from the 1940s, pulp magazine covers, and several comic books.
MP3 collections also are available online from other sources, including Radio Mick Danger and on CD from OTR Cat: Casey, Crime Photographer
While Casey was more crime-solver than storyteller, the dialogue and the annual repetition of this “must work holidays” theme did emphasize that fact of daily newspaper life.
Along with Thanksgiving, there were Christmas and New Year’s editions.
I mentioned these Christmas episodes in my other blog even before starting JHeroes.com.
In this episode, pickpocket Fingers Fogarty is the one doing the Christmas Shopping… not exactly a case of journalistic detachment in the way Casey goes after a criminal in this 1946 episode, but at least a little bit of Christmas cheer.
A favorite line… even if it perpetuates a newspaper-drinkers stereotype:
Annie: Maybe you need glasses.
Casey: I do; several glasses.
Next, this 1947 episode opens with the journalists and their bartender friend Ethelbert commiserating about working on the holiday. Later, there’s some depressed-at-the-holiday talk between Casey and Ann — perhaps even a bit of hard-bitten cynicism from Casey — on everyone’s way to a homily-filled Christmas story about faith and renewal, “The Santa Claus of Bums Boulevard.”
More Casey episodes: OTRR_Casey_Crime_Photographer_Singles
Arson, Kidnapping and a Headache
The episode titled Hot New Year’s Party is really a “morning after” story — one that just happened to be broadcast on a New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 1948.
The story opens at 9 a.m. in the Blue Note Cafe, with bartender Ethelbert delivering a hearty “Happy New Year” to a moaning “Flashgun” Casey and reporter Ann Williams, who both order coffee and aspirin.
That’s all a tease. Casey and Williams are suffering from smoke inhalation, not hangovers. They’re just back from covering an early-morning fire, an example of a rough newspaper workday. But they do make New Year’s resolutions — about staying out of trouble in the coming year — before going out to cover a missing-person story. No rest for the working press.
As is sometimes the case in “Crime Photographer” episodes, Casey doesn’t do much reporting or picture-shooting. He does get to throw a few punches, and he gets a tip on the missing person case from a mob connection who owes him a favor. But despite the stay-out-of-trouble pledge, it’s not long before Casey is sapped from behind, thrown unconscious into a ditch, and apparently about to be cured of hangovers for good — by a man with a gun.
If there’s a “journalism ethics” issue involved, it has to do with the perils of becoming too identified with the forces of law and order, which was often the case for radio’s version of newspaper reporters. Casey is always helping the authorities solve crimes, whether they like it or not, but this episode makes it clear that the adversarial aspect of his relationship with the police may not be obvious to the crooks.
Here’s what happens when he looks up a confidential source at a bar frequented by mob characters.
“You still runnin’ with the cops, Casey?” the mob’s favorite bartender asks him.
Casey’s reply is, “I don’t know what you mean. I’m a newspaper guy.”
However, the bartender puts in a call to a gang boss, who slips in and eavesdrops on Casey’s interview with his source. As a result, both Casey and his source land in that ditch with bumps on their heads and a gun aimed at them. (To find out what happens next, you’ll just have to listen to the program, linked above thanks to the Internet Archive and the Old Time Radio Researchers Group.)
An intriguing bit of journalism-education background from this episode: When a secret code turns out to involve Greek characters, it’s Ann Williams who recognizes the alphabet.
“Ann knows — she’s been to college,” Casey tells the police.
Is that supposed to imply that Casey got his photojournalism training on the job (or the street), while women journalists might be more likely to take a collegiate route into the racket? Was Ann supposed to be special, or a typical case? I can’t be sure.
The movie “Here’s Flash Casey” starts with our hero in a cap and gown, having used his camera to work his way through college, but I don’t know whether the two-fisted radio version or his pulp-magazine first incarnation ever admitted to earning a degree. I’ll keep my ears open while I listen to more episodes.
It’s been a couple of years since I read the book Flashgun Casey, Crime Photographer: From the Pulps to Radio And Beyond, but I’ll go back and see if it reveals anything about Casey’s or Ann’s education before I declare my Crime Photographer page finished.
Insurance in the News
“Twenty-minute Alibi” almost makes me wonder whether the script was originally an idea for “Your Truly, Johnny Dollar,” the hit series about an insurance investigator. I even checked Radio GoldinDex’s credit list for author Robert Sloane, but Johnny Dollar wasn’t there. In any case, the always-suspicious Casey and reporter Ann Williams do a fine job of figuring out the insurance-related mystery, looking for a murder in a suspected suicide. The reporter and photographer even being allowed at the scene of the crime are quite a contrast with 21st century police-media relations. We get some solid 1940s pay-phone culture, when there were live operators on the line. And Casey gives a hint of an alleged old newspaper-photographer technique — bribing someone with the promise, “Look, if you do this little job for us, you’ll get your picture in the paper!” (“See, he’s got a camera and everything,” Annie adds.) This episode also has a good plug for the regular piano player, Herman Chitterson, who played himself at the fictional Blue Note lounge.
We also get a “door knock after a death” classic reporting scene, in which the father-in-law of the deceased mentions that Casey and Ann aren’t the first journalists to visit. But the widow is quite willing to talk. And her father is quite willing to speak ill of the dead. Reporter Ann also seems to take a bigger part in the sleuthing, telling a doorman, “But we’re practically policemen. Show him your press badge, Casey.” And then doing some quick mental arithmetic to figure out the whereabouts of a suspect, and joining Casey in tailing a suspect by car and on foot.
For more about the episode, see Casey chronicler Joe Webb’s “Blue Note Bulletin” for “The Twenty-Minute Alibi.”
The radio series star for most of the run, Staats Cotsworth, who also played a newspaper reporter in the soap opera, Front Page Farrell. The voice of Ann Williams may be even more familiar: Actress Jan Miner was active in radio, films and on Broadway, but is probably most recognized as “Madge the manicurist” from a series of Palmolive TV commercials with the tag line, “You’re soaking in it.”
- The Red Raincoat, 1946
- The Duke of Skid Row, 1946
- The Camera Bug, 1947
- Santa Claus of Bum’s Blvd., 1947
- The Demon Miner, 1947
- Photo of the Dead, 1947
- Bright New Star, 1947
- Source of Information, 1954, an old crime reporter’s confidential sources are suspected when he is robbed of a manuscript — and murdered.
- Hot New Year’s Party, 1948, mentions that Ann Williams is a college grad, and the plot suggests that Casey’s sometimes-adversarial relationship with the police doesn’t look adversarial enough to criminals.
- The Wolverine, includes some references to competition between Casey’s paper, The Morning Express and another paper, The Standard-Bearer.
- The Fire, 1950. In this episode, Ann Williams almost quotes Hildy Johnson from “His Girl Friday,” in a little speech to Casey:
“You know, someday I’m going to quit this newspaper racket and get married. And live like a human being… I’ll take the first one who slips a diamond on my finger.”
Casey also makes reference to another newspaper legend, using the phrase “pull a Brodie” to mean “take a long fall,” a reference to one of the newspaper era’s first major “media celebrities,” bartender Steve Brodie and his jump off the Brooklyn Bridge — also mentioned in Samuel Fuller’s classic newspaper movie, “Park Row.” (Thanks to Dr. Joe Webb for noticing the “Brodie” line in the program.)
- OTRR_Certified_Casey_Crime_Photographer collection and OTRR_Casey_Crime_Photographer_Singles
- Also at archive.org, FreeOTRShows.com collection
More about Casey:
- Digital Deli Too’s Definitive Casey Page (Internet Archive copy)
- Wikipedia’s Casey page
- Casey page at Darren McGavin.net (McGavin played Casey on TV, briefly; not to be confused with the unrelated and longer-running “Man With a Camera” starring Charles Bronson, a few years later.).
- Here’s Flash Casey, the character’s 1938 movie debut, available as full-length download at the Internet Archive.
- Thrilling Detective page on Flashgun Casey stories, begun in Black Mask magazine in 1934 by George Harmon Coxe.
- Book: Flashgun Casey, Crime Photographer: From the Pulps to Radio And Beyond. by J. Randolph Cox, David S. Siegel and William F. Nolan. Yorktown Heights, NY: Book Hunter Press.