Rosalind Russell, ace fast-talking newshound of “His Girl Friday,” was back in a journalism-related movie a few years later in “What a Woman!” — but this time she was the one under the reportorial magnifying glass.
“I’m not a cub reporter chasing headlines,” the dapper magazine writer Henry Pepper tells her, “I’m an associate editor; my assignment is you.”
Lux Radio Theatre brought Russell back to present the story as a one-hour broadcast in 1949 and again in 1954.
The journalist is from “The Knickerbocker” magazine, which sounds a lot like “The New Yorker,” and he practices an immersive, fly-on-the-wall style of reporting. He has already profiled her father, a senator, but she is something special — the nation’s top press agent, able to turn a shy professor’s first novel into a best seller, and planning to turn the tall, athletic and handsome literary scholar into a movie star.
Unlike most “newspaper movies” and their radio adaptations, this could be a textbook for both the public relations executive and magazine-writing majors at your School of Communication, as well as providing a 1940s caricature of the academic life.
The professor wrote the somewhat steamy novel “The Whirlwind” as a break from his serious literary studies. At first he says he values his dissertation and its three copies more than the thousands of sales of his novel, published under a pseudonym. He intended to keep his identity a secret — until Russell’s character came along, intent on making him a star, and collecting her 10 percent .
The movie — sometimes available on Turner Classic Movies or YouTube — does a good job of showing an immersive “‘New Yorker’ profile” style of reporting. That is, Pepper, especially in his opening scenes, mostly sits in the background with his hat, bow-tie and pipe, observing.
Erudite, insightful, confident and witty, he manages to get in wherever needed, but without being pushy or aggressive like his 1930s Hollywood newspaper counterparts, whose suits were never as well pressed. However, he shares their habit of wearing a hat indoors, even if his is in better shape.
Pepper is intent on learning what makes “the other 90 percent” of her tick — an unsubtle hint that 1943 Hollywood rarely portrayed a business career as fulfilling to a single woman, no matter how successful. Pepper literally takes his hat off to the publicist’s professional skills as a manipulator, but he immediately sees through her fake story about a supposedly tragic first romance, dismissing it so quickly that she begins to take him seriously. Later, she even likes the first installment of his article about her.
He has more in common with Hollywood’s “Front Page” style reporters when he employs an evening at a bar (and a hangover cure at a Turkish bath) to loosen up the professor and convince him that the movie-acting idea, and Russell, are worth pursuing.
The question is how long it will take Pepper’s in-depth reporting to convince himself of the same thing. Not long, it seems… as the professor starts to assert himself. It’s not one of Hollywood’s greatest romantic triangles, but it will do for light entertainment.
In the film, Pepper was played by Brian Aherne, with some of the wryness and understated efficiency of William Powell’s “My Man Godfrey.” In both the radio adaptations for Lux Radio Theater, Robert Cummings played Pepper, perhaps sounding more smug than insightful, without the non-verbal characteristics that help Aherne’s screen portrayal of the journalistic observer. (Or perhaps I can’t help hearing echoes of the ladies’ man photographer from Cummings’ TV days on “Love that Bob” — more “Look” than “The New Yorker.”)
In any case, the adapted script gets the story told, even if you have to read a lot between the lines.
The actor playing tall handsome Elizabethan scholar Professor Michael Cobb was Willard Parker in the film, Leif Ericson in the 1949 radio production. But the reporter is the real leading man, hence Ahearn’s and Cummings’ star billing. Russell and Cummings were about to release a new film together at the time of the 1949 broadcast.
Lux broadcast a remake of the radioplay in 1954, when the movie’s director William Cummings (no relation to Bob, he points out) was host of the series:
“He’s a newspaperman, he’ll ruin his career,” the leading lady observes, when Bob Hope, playing a reporter, threatens to go into show business.
“Love Is News” was a 1937 romantic-comedy film starring Tyrone Power, Loretta Young, and Don Ameche. But when Lux Radio Theater adapted it as an hour-long broadcast drama in 1940, they emphasized the “comedy” over the “romantic” by casting Bob Hope in the lead.
In short, it’s a tabloid tale about publicity and privacy — and 1940s radio loved it. The Lux production was only one of several broadcast adaptations by radio’s “anthology” series, including breezy half-hour versions at Theatre of Romance and The Lady Esther Screen Guild Players (or Screen Guild Theatre), which did the story three times.
The basic plot: Conniving newspaper reporter tricks heiress into an interview about her broken engagement; she gets even by announcing to all the other papers in town that she is marrying our reporter hero, making him endure the trials and tribulations of instant celebrity.
“I’ve put you in the headlines and I’m going to keep you there,” she tells him, as the obvious love-hate duel gets rolling. If there is any journalistic consciousness-raising about the ethics of fake news or invasion of privacy, it is probably lost in the meet-cute shenanigans and laughter. There was a war on, and enough serious news on other programs to justify some escape into silliness.
Director Cecil B. DeMille, the Lux series host, adds some comments on the “man bites dog” tradition of the press at the opening of the show, and admits that Hope took liberties with the script. Madeleine Carroll plays heiress Tony Gateson, the part Loretta Young created on screen, and Ralph Bellamy takes the Don Ameche role as city editor.
Newspaper movie fans will remember Bellamy from the classic newspaper screwball romance, “His Girl Friday,” as the non-reporter fiance of heroine Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russel), and victim of conniving editor and ex-husband Walter Burns, played by Cary Grant. This time Bellamy gets to be the unscrupulous toughguy editor trying to trick his star reporter into staying on the job by getting him to cover a big story — an echo of both “His Girl Friday” and its predecessor “The Front Page.” (Although comedies, those classics’ news story was a politically tinged hanging; in this lighter-weight film, its just a society-girl romance.)
Theater of Romance lived up to its series title in its half hour 1945 version, playing the story slightly less for laughs, with Dane Clark and Fay Emerson in the leads, Will Geer as a cantankerous country judge, Jack Hartley as the editor.
According to various oldtime radio websites, the Screen Guild program made three versions, in 1942 with Kay Kyser and Betty Grable, in 1943 with Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan, and in 1946 with Hope and Linda Darnell, who even got first billing in the broadcast. There also was tremendous live-audience response in her smooching scenes with Hope, who filled the show with Hollywood jokes and asides to the audience, like his familiar rascal character from the Hope and Crosby “Road to…” movies.
James Gleason, a frequent Hollywood choice for tough-editor roles, played the reporter’s boss in all three Theater Guild versions. The Benny and Hope versions are available in various online archives, although at least one apparently gives a copy of the Benny episode the 1942 date of Kay Kyser’s performance, cited as unavailable by another archive.
Comparing the Jack Benny and Bob Hope versions should be fascinating for fans of 1940s radio comedy… but it won’t add much to the journalism ethics discussion.
An editor and “ace reporter” debated the news value and audience interest in a sensational murder case — versus coverage of the Korean War — in this December 1950 episode of “The Guiding Light” soap opera.
I hadn’t listened to enough of this series to know how long the City Times newsroom characters were regulars, but the episode title “Newspaper has story about murder” caught my attention… and ethical details about interviews with the accused woman may be a plot point. Here’s a second 15-minute episode from the following day.
And the next day, the accused woman — suffering from amnesia, the soap opera curse — tells her lawyer that she talked to Roberts because she thought the former war correspondent was someone from her past, and she didn’t know he was a reporter.
“When a newspaperman is out to get a story, fairness doesn’t enter into his assignment. Get a story, by hook or crook,” the lawyer tells her, but Roberts isn’t that cynical.
The Guiding Light was created by Irna Phillips in 1937 and in the 1950s made the transition from radio to TV, where it continued until 2009.
From J.David Goldin’s radiogoldindex.com episode summaries and Wikipedia, it looks like the 1950 murder case courtroom drama continued for months — more than 100 episodes, with reporter Joe Roberts’ stories weaving in and out of the plot and leading to (in a triumph of soap opera plotting over journalism ethics?) love and marriage.
Roberts was played by several actors through most of the years that the program was on both radio and television. The radio series ended in 1956.
Goldin mentions that announcer Clayton Bud Collyer also played a radio news reporter in a later episode of the courtroom drama. The man of many voices was also both radio’s tenor Clark Kent and baritone Superman, but his name was not given on the air to maintain the Superman mystique.
In 1952, the first episode of the classic adult western “Gunsmoke” began with Marshal Matt Dillon dictating the text for a wanted poster to Mr.Hightower, Dodge City’s printer and newspaper editor.
The enterprising editor had already snitched a tintype of the wanted man and carved a woodcut for his front page. He offers Dillon the picture for the wanted poster.
The marshal (played by William Conrad, who, on radio, did not have to be as tall and lean as James Arness, the television Matt Dillon) laments the cynicism that makes the editor celebrate having a sensational story for his front page. But soon it’s clear the editor is not alone: The town doctor jokes about his profitable autopsy business, a killing suspect faces a lynchmob, and a runaway boy dreams of having a gun to carve notches on.
The story makes nice use of the newspaper editor’s professional cynicism to set the series’ general critique of the “wild west” cultural cliches — gunfighters, lynch mobs, six-guns, violent death as routine, and the era’s media stars, like the young man whose name is in the title of the episode, “Billy the Kid.”
I haven’t listened to all of them, so there may be episodes with editors or reporters or other journalists that I haven’t found yet. If this post leads you to discover more of them, please let me know in the comment box below.
The 1948-49 series Box 13 featured a former newspaper reporter, Dan Holiday, now a novelist. He had become a detective/adventurer, advertising for tips sent to his classified-ad box, to dig up plots for his works of fiction. The newspaper’s main role is carrying his classsified ad, but he stays in touch.
In a November 1948 episode titled “Suicide or Murder” in the Old Time Radio Researchers Internet Archive collection (although there is no hint of suicide in the actual story), writer Holiday finds a note in Box 13 from the mother of a recently deceased Evening Record reporter. He was a war veteran and Nuremburg Trials observer with a Distinguished Service Cross whose death was attributed to a drunken bar fight. The mother doesn’t believe it and neither does Holiday, played by Alan Ladd.
He finds out from the dead reporter’s editor that he was working on a “big story,” but had been secretive about it. Holiday and the editor, an old friend, search through the dead guy’s desk and begin to unravel the story. The young reporter, less than six months on the job, had been sent off to a Carribean island on a “Latin American neighbors” feature assignment. (Some budget that Evening Record had in 1948! But Holiday and the editor treat that much as routine. A waterfront bartender also is impressed by Holiday’s expensive suit and tie, so maybe journalist and novelists we’re making good money back then. Or at least radio script writers led the audience to believe such a thing.)
Eventually, after another murder, Holiday finds a war-criminals-escape-to-Caribbean clue in the reporter’s notebook and sets off on a search for missing film and the murderers… and the film turns up, quickly followed by a mysterious character with an accent and $10,000 to spend for negatives. The police and a happy ending can’t be far behind.
“Hurry up, newsman, get on with the fight,
Or Johnny dies with me before daylight.”
That’s the unmistakable voice of blues singer Josh White, added to the cast of “Big Town,” the adventures of fighting editor Steve Wilson, for this one prison tale.
In the 1949 episode, Wilson is out to free an innocent man from Death Row, and White provides the blues equivalent of a Greek chorus, urging the editor along from another cell.
Listen to “The Prisoner’s Song” episode of “Big Town.” (Click on the title to download the mp3 file from the Old Time Radio Researchers Library (OTRRLibrary.org) if a working audio player does not appear below. The long program filename seems to cause a page-coding problem that I will try to repair after the holidays.)
Josh sings an original blues that parallels the story of the radio play; to be part of the scene, he plays a prisoner on death row.
“He’s going to the chair…” the guy in the next cell says.
“They let him have his guitar. He wanted it instead of his supper.”
As was often the case, Wilson resorts to non-journalistic techniques to free the condemned man, this time browbeating the real guilty man, facing down the armed killer — until a last bit of subterfuge gets a confession, followed by a last verse from the bluesman.
Wilson, played by Edward Pawley, also delivers the episode’s final Lifebuoy commercial, and the announcer plugs an upcoming Josh White concert in New York.
Incidentally, Josh White’s song here is not the more famous “The Prisoner’s Song,” although it also might suit the “Big Town” episode by that title.
The earlier “The Prisoner’s Song” was a huge heart-breaking hit in the early days of recorded music, for country star Vernon Dalhart a Number 1 hit for 12 weeks in 1925-26.
Since then it has been re-recorded many times. I even remember my mother singing it, sometimes just the line, “If I had the wings of an angel…” when she needed a quick escape from whatever was getting her down.
(Sections of this post appeared several years ago in my music related blog. I just realized that a version of it I thought I had published here never got past the draft stage. A reprieve, of sorts.)