Flying reporter & a woman in charge

“What a story! Boy this is great!” — reporter Jimmy Gifford

Here’s a mystery from 1932, the days when radio drama was relatively new, when flying the air mail was still an adventure, and so was newspaper reporting.

The broadcast presentation on these original syndication company transcription discs includes no opening title or theme music, just the buzz of an airmail plane and some filler music that presumably could be covered by a local announcer introducing the program. The cast and crew are never identified.

The plot: Irene DelRoy, “clever girl operative of the Department of Justice,” arrives to investigate three mysterious crashes of a private contractor’s airplanes carrying mail and government securities.

Did the Department of Justice have women agents back when this was originally broadcast in 1932? I should check. And would such an agent be called on to investigate someone stealing from airmail planes? It certainly makes a good radio story, which was told in thirteen 15-minute episodes of which 12 have been posted at the Internet Archive by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group.

Reporter Jimmy Gifford of The Star, who we learn has a romantic history with agent DelRoy, is introduced in the second episode “Andrews Accused,” making a good showing as an investigator himself. Irene and Jimmy’s cop-and-reporter buddy-romance is a mirror image of the”Torchy Blane” reporter-and-cop movie serials, but not played for cuteness and laughs. In a later episode, Jimmy even carries a gun, and at one point Irene tells him to be prepared to shoot-to-kill.

That reminded me of an episode of “The Big Story,” supposedly a true story, in which a police investigator asks the reporter whether he is carrying a gun as they approached what may be a murderer’s hideout.

Later in the Air Mail Mystery, Irene mentions that she and Jimmy have worked together before, and tells others that unlike some other reporters, he can be trusted. That kind of camaraderie might be closer than most editors would like to hear about, but it makes me wonder if there were plans for more Irene-and-Jimmy stories. So far I have found no information about whether this one 13-episode serial, which could have run daily for two weeks or so, was part of plans for a continuing series back in 1932.

Coincidentally, there was also a movie serial titled Air Mail Mystery that year, but the plot summaries and cast list I have seen online have nothing much in common with the radio story.

Here is Jimmy, making his appearance in episode 2…

The third episode, “At the Crash,” finds newshawk Gifford asking more solid questions and unmasking an undercover federal agent working for Irene. (Later, I think he’s the one who produces a whiskey flask right when needed to help revive a tear-gas victim. Some reporter stereotypes are forever, I guess.)

Before the end of the tale, Gifford is being a daredevil, first in a gunfight, then risking his life flying after a mysterious plane on his own…

(It’s interesting that in 1930s fiction, newspaper reporters were sometimes able to fly their own planes. In one of the first Superman radio adventures, Clark Kent piloted a plane on a flying rescue when he was still keeping the existence of Superman a secret. And I remember Lois Lane donning a leather flying helmet and taking off on a solo flight to track down the bad guy in one of the early Superman cartoons.)

Back to the Air Mail Mystery, even with just 12 episodes, the story is very listenable, well-acted and reasonably mysterious. The summaries at the beginnings of the episodes make it easy enough to follow the tale if you weren’t paying close attention, or without the missing chapter seven.

I’ve already updated this post once, and will do it again if I find more information about this intriguing series.

Many thanks to the Old Time Radio Researchers group and Jerry Haendiges of otrsite.com, who digitized transcription discs of the series and provided them to the group for uploading to the Internet Archive by the group’s Web coordinator Paul Kornman.

Here is the full set…

https://archive.org/details/OTRR_Air_Mail_Singles

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A bit critical

“I can save time if I write my review on the way to the theater.” –Mortimer Brewster

Arsenic and Old Lace (IMDB), a hit play and Capra film, was done by several radio anthology series.

Here it is by “Best Plays,” from July 1852, with Donald Cook as theater critic Mortimer Brewster, and Boris Karloff, from the original Broadway cast, as family psychopath Jonathan Brewster. (Capra had Cary Grant as Mortimer and settled for Raymond Massey as Jonathan, but kept the original play’s line saying Jonathan “looked like Boris Karloff.”)

Are theater critics “journalists”? They certainly were on the minds of playwrights and film-makers, as I’ve discussed here before.

While they may not be “journalists” in a hard news sense of the word, some of them do work for newspapers, as appears to be the case here. Mortimer Brewster says he is off to “cover a play,” so he might consider himself a reporter, even if his powers of observation and deduction leave much to be desired.

And his dedication to his craft gets shaky when he discovers that his aunties have a cadaver in the window seat. Perhaps he does sound like a newspaperman, when in an attempt to deal with the crisis at home, he tries to find a last-minute substitute to review the play.

His suggested candidates include an office-boy and one of the printers at the newspaper… with a joke that his substitute might turn into another John Chapman — the New York Daily News critic who was the host of “Best Plays.”

(If an audio player is not visible, click the program name above to download or stream an mp3 from the Internet Archive.)

Posted in 1950s, adaptations, Capra, critics, movies | Leave a comment

Not a Christmas Musical — Media Madness

“America’s most modern fashion magazine,” complete with background clicking typewriters, is the scene of the story “Lady in the Dark.” (I stumbled on it earlier this week while researching the much different drama “Lady in the Lake.”) Long before “The Devil Wears Prada,” this 1940s Broadway musical explored the pressures of the fashion magazine business and a woman’s career decisions — enough to drive an executive editor to a psychiatrist.

You can guess what the conventional Hollywood psychiatric diagnosis for a powerful woman executive was back then. If I were teaching, this period romance would be great for class discussion. The “business woman” versus “glamour girl” costume changes in the movie may tell more of the story on screen than the songs and dialogue did on radio. Liza, the editor, and business manager Charlie (who wants her job) are the main characters… along with the older publisher and a handsome movie star who both want to marry her.

She’s indecisive about romance and about what to put on the next magazine cover, and “in the dark” on the psychiatric couch, sorting out what she really wants in life.

“You married that desk of yours years ago and you’re never going to get a divorce,” says Charlie, who calls her Boss Lady. “You’ll have magazines instead of babies.”

So Charlie wants to run things. The movie star seems to want her as his own boss lady, while the psychiatrist suggests she wants to marry her publisher as a father figure. Maybe a Psych 101 class should be a prerequisite for that class discussion. Liza’s preparing a spring Easter issue and Charlie wants to give it a Circus theme to sell more ads. That editorial decision could be worth some analysis, when Charlie appears in one of her dreams as a ringmaster…

In Technicolor, her psychiatric dream-analysis led to costume-fantasy musical production numbers that were probably the best thing about the movie, but not the most radio-adaptable feature.  Lux Radio Theater tried twice, in 1945 “Lady in the Dark” with movie version stars Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland, and again with Judy Garland and John Lund in 1953. (That MP3 unfortunately is archived with the first half of the program missing.)

In the film, the circus dream includes “The Saga of Jenny” song and dance sequence in extravagant circus costume, a hint of change from editor Liza’s usual demure business dress.

The original Broadway show was a Moss Hart play with Kurt Weill music and Ira Gershwin lyrics, filmed for theaters in 1944, for TV in 1954 with Ann Sothern and James Daly, and recorded on video again in 1990, according to Internet Movie Database.

For some hint of the role of costumes (and Ginger Rogers’ legs) played in promotion of the film, see the IMDB image archive.

Theatre Guild on the Air also produced a radio adaptation of the play, in 1947 with Gertrude Lawrence, star of the original Broadway show, and a useful technique of having the psychoanalyst’s description set the stage and transition more smoothly into the dream-musical sequences.

Here’s what we have of the Judy Garland Lux version…

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Pre-Christmas Noir

I was so happy when I hit the point in Lux Radio Theatre’s February 1948 production of “The Lady in the Lake” when detective Philip Marlowe needs some information, picks up the phone, calls a friend at the newspaper, and gets the facts he needs. And it’s right around Christmas.

That’s enough of an excuse for me to include the story here today, in a blog ostensibly discussing the portrayal of journalists in radio drama. We don’t get to hear much from the reporter, but he delivers the information needed at a key point in the case. Speed, efficiency and facts, what more do you want from a reporter?!

A lot of radio stories throw reporters fully into the role of detective, or have detectives impersonate reporters to get information… Or have detectives investigate reporters getting killed — or, less often, killing someone. It’s enough to have one just getting some for a change and then disappearing out of the story without as much as a byline.

Another thing reporters and detectives have in common, besides working on holidays, is that the daily job of drumming up facts can convince them they have enough of a story to twist some of those facts into a semi-autobiographical novel and maybe make a little more money. And that gets us back to The Lady in the Lake.

In this Raymond Chandler novel, detective Philip Marlowe has decided to write a detective novel. The first femme fatale is the publisher’s agent… who offers to buy the novel, but also wants to hire him to investigate the disappearance of her boss’s wife. He suspects that she has her cap set for the millionaire publisher.

The hour-long Lux Radio Theatre production stars Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter, both from the original 1947 motion picture. ( IMDB Lady in the Lake page ) In an interesting twist, the Lloyd Nolan bad-cop role in the movie is played in the radio adaptation by Gerald Mohr, who later in 1948 got to play Philip Marlowe as star of his own radio series. It must have been challenging to deliver the Raymond Chandler style detective story complexity in a half hour weekly format. Lady in the Lake has enough plot twists to fill the Lux hour.

The movie is a curiosity, in that Montgomery directed and starred, but didn’t spend a lot of time on camera. The film was an experiment in narrative form, with the camera taking the detective’s point of view, as shown in this IMDb still, showing Montgomery’s hand in the foreground and his reflection in a mirror behind his seductive costar. Think video game or virtual reality. So Montgomery’s radio performance may not be that much different from his mostly voice film performance.

It will be interesting to see Audrey Totter in the film version, which is available on Turner Classic Movies. It may have been more difficult to convey the different aspects of her character in a voice-only role.

I think Montgomery does a respectable job, functioning as both hero and narrator, although sometimes I got the feeling he was channeling Bogart.

As usual, the audio file playable above is from the collection of the Old Time Radio Researchers group, stored at the Internet Archive. I have had a few articles published in the group’s newsletter, and may compile my last few Philip Marlowe posts into another one. Browse back through the blog for a couple of examples of the half hour Adventures of Philip Marlowe radio show, on those occasions when he ran into newspaper folk, for better or worse.

Posted in 1940s, adaptations, detectives, magazines, movies, reporters | Leave a comment

Detective as fact-checker versus libel case

Detective Philip Marlowe meets a whole Hollywood trade paper crew in “The Green Flame” from March 1949 …

It’s a colorful tale. We get matches that burn with a green flame, a note in blue wax pencil, and various red herrings.

The opening blurb mentions a “ghostwriter with ambition,” but that didn’t make me think newspaper. However, the detective’s client proved to be the publisher of a movie industry daily paper… making this the third Marlowe episode I have encountered with journalists in the plot, although not necessarily as a hero.

The publisher offers the detective five times his usual salary to fight a libel suit, so this is detective in the journalistic role of fact-checker instead of the more common radio story where a reporter gets to be a detective. The publisher also owns six screen magazines and a radio station — Quite the media mogul!

The “ghost writer” phrase doesn’t just have the usual meaning … The gossip columnist who wrote the allegedly libelous story has died of a stroke overnight while his column was in the mail.

Marlowe’s assignment is to find the ghostly columnist’s source and prove the story was true.

The columnist did have a less literal ghost writer, a “legman” who along with fact-gathering claims to have written a lot of the columns, including that last one, except for the offensive item.

We also meet the fast-talking editor of the newspaper, “anybody’s Napoleon,” says the publisher, who apparently trusts him.

The columnist’s home holds clues to his career, an autographed photo of Teddy Roosevelt, a 20-year-old tarnished loving cup for excellence in reporting, and a tip about a fiery redhead who might be the story’s anonymous source.

She’s the actor’s ex-wife and the essential femme fatale for this radio noir half-hour, which sadly has some shaky acting, and only a few passages of faux Raymond Chandler writing. (“You handle a spiked heel like Babe Ruth handled a bat.”) We don’t even get a description of the lady publisher, except that she doesn’t like cigars, thinks her gossip columnist was “a thorough man and never heard of the word ‘rumor,'” and that she is old enough to call Marlowe “boy.”

The “Green Flame” of the title is a nightclub, and one of its matchbooks is the big clue. And although the columnist appears to have died of natural causes, of course there’s a murder and the threat of another to complicate matters.

The main “Newspaper Heroes on the Air” messages here are that publishers weren’t always men (even in the Truman years), gossip columnists weren’t always rumour-mongers, and maybe journalists weren’t always heroes, despite the title of this blog.

Newspaper movie fan trivia: actress Fay Baker, who I thought played the publisher here, was in the journalism classic Deadline USA with Humphrey Bogart — but as one of the deceased publisher’s alienated daughters who sell the newspaper out from under editor Bogart.

However, after looking up both actresses in the RadioGoldIndex and Internet Movie Database, I think Baker played the redhead and the publisher was the older actress, Myra Marsh, better known for playing the mother of the teenage lead in the series “A Date with Judy,” which I will have to go listen to to be sure.

Oh, look, in one of the first episodes I listened to, Judy got to interview movie star Charles Boyer for the school newspaper! I do find journalism plots everywhere. It’s a wonder she got her article written for all the eyelash fluttering, but it’s a charming mistaken identity tale from 1945, when having a non-celebrity character from France also made this a wartime refugee-immigration story.

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A case of mistaken identity

In Raymond Chandler’s novels or the 1947-51 radio series they inspired, Philip Marlowe wasn’t the kind of detective who plays for the headlines.

“What’s the news in that?” he asks at the end of this 1950 adventure titled “The Big Book.”

It took a while to find episodes of his radio adventures with newspaper reporter characters. I had just started on the 105 half-hour tales available at the Internet Archive’s Old Time Radio Researchers collection when I wrote this. I had found an adventure in which he looked for a newsboy’s missing uncle, but there wasn’t enough newspaper to it.

So why is “The Big Book” here in a blog about newspaper reporter and editor characters? Because, in it an Italian shoemaker — who once was an artist and also can bind large volumes in leather — easily mistakes Marlowe for a newspaper reporter, and their dialogue is interesting.

Given the location of Marlowe’s office, I suspect there are episodes with Hollywood publicity agents, but I’d rather stick with the working press.

Update

Oops… In the background while I was editing this, my playlist of Marlowe episodes got to a new story, and I heard the phrase “a Tribune reporter dodging bullets” while Marlowe was investigating the disappearance of a diner owner’s wife. I’ll be back to write about “Friend from Detroit” if I can do it without plot spoilers. Feel free to jump in and listen.

Next discovery, Marlowe meets a whole Hollywood trade paper crew in “The Green Flame” … which I will write about next.

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, detectives, reporters | Leave a comment

A cemetery scoop

It’s October, and as Halloween approaches, I am reminded that I have not posted many stories from radio’s always popular macabre or thriller series… Might as well start early.

“Scoop,” the December 8, 1942, episode of the scare-filled late-night radio show Lights Out must not be confused with the amusing Evelyn Waugh novel by the same name.

As it opens, a 40-year-veteran newspaper columnist is called into the office of a heartless and clueless new publisher. To save his job and keep serving his readers, the columnist even offers to continue working for no money.

The columnist sounds a bit like Boris Karloff, which should be a warning that the publisher’s end will not be a pretty one.

The story is by Arch Oboler (1909–1987) one of radio’s most creative writers and producers. At the end of the wartime program, he delivers a personal war-bond sales message about a real terror, preventing “the horror of a Jap-Nazi world.”

Archive.org has separate sections headed “LightsOutOTR” and “LightsOutoldTimeRadio,” each with a version of this program, so I will include a link to the duplicate copy here, just in case one or the other is, like the old man in the story, declared redundant.

Pioneer radio collector and historian J. David Goldin reports that the later syndicated episode was also known as “Cemetery.”

Posted in 1940s, adventure, Drama, publishers, reporters, suspense | Leave a comment