Press, police & femme fatale

It has been a while since I have written about old-time radio’s portrayal of the relationship between newspaper reporters and police officers.

This 1944 Green Hornet episode goes beyond the series’ usual scenes of camaraderie between the cops and former policeman Mike Axford — who was part reporter and part bodyguard for Daily Sentinel publisher Britt Reid without being sharp enough to figure out that Reid was also the Green Hornet.

This time the Sentinel’s star reporter Ed Lowrey is at center stage, not through any reporting skill. A gang of bank robbers recognize that Lowrey is known and respected by the police. So they set him up with a pretty girl who plays a key role in a bank robbery, having conveniently planned to meet Lowrey at the bank — where he arrives just as the police are beginning to suspect she might have been an accomplice.

“Sure I know her… She’s O.K.,” he tells the police.

“As long as Lowrey says you’re okay, you’re alright with me,” the sergeant tells the woman, sending her on her way.

But, after Axford describes the whole scene to Reid, the publisher get suspicious about Lowrey’s girlfriend, and plants some seeds of doubt.

Meanwhile, her real boyfriend, the head of the bank robber gang, begins to get jealous…

Let’s just say that the episode also continues the frequent Hollywood theme of newspaper careers being risky for romantic relationships.

The episode “Lowrey’s Big Moment” was originally broadcast on January 15, 1944, and is available at the Old Time radio Researchers Library,

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Ghostwriting for equal rights

“Ghost Editor” is a well-dramatized biography of Roscoe Dunjee, who founded the Black Dispatch, the first African American newspaper in 1915 Oklahoma City.

Actor Fred Pinkard narrates the series as Dunjee in this episode of the “Destination Freedom” African American history series, which was created by journalist Richard Durham at WMAQ in Chicago in 1948-50. (Remarkably, that was also the station that introduced the long-running African-American dialect comedy hit “Amos and Andy,” started by two white actors.)

As the episode title suggests, Dunjee began working as a ghostwriter, going back and forth between white papers and a previous black paper in Tulsa — until it was blown up while campaigning against a voter suppression bill.

In a particularly dramatic scene, Dunjee fights off a group of assailants, with a last-minute assist from some oilfield workers. “The Klan’s against some of us too,” a big red-haired worker with an Irish accent tells the editor, which helps convince him not to leave Oklahoma.

In another scene, a federal agent encourages Dunjee to go undercover to investigate a Texas lynching — a dangerous reporting technique. But he manages to get key evidence by impersonating the brother of the hanged man, and letting a key figure in the lynching leap to the conclusion that he had the right to sell the murdered man’s land.

Obviously a 30-minute radio drama had to pick and choose action scenes to tell a life story, and may have taken poetic liberties, but I have not read Dunjee’s biography (beyond, I will admit, Wikipedia) to see how close the script came to real events. My project here is just to explore how journalists were portrayed in radio dramas, and this episode does make its points about the editor’s independence, initiative and courage.

Dunjee was one of the first dozen black leaders, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass, recognized as “giants in American journalism” by the National Newspaper Publishers Association, and was profiled in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly in 1992.

(Douglass was also profiled by Destination Freedom, in a two-part story, but with so much to say about his escape from slavery, his oratory and leadership, the dramatization didn’t do much more than mention his newspaper editorship in passing.)

There also has been a doctoral dissertation about Dunjee:
The Little Caesar of civil rights: Roscoe Dunjee in Oklahoma City, 1915 to 1955,” by John Henry Lee Thompson, Purdue University.

Finally, if you are intrigued by the series and can’t wait for me to get around to listening to more episodes and writing a more in-depth discussion, see the Digital Deli Destination Freedom page for an overview, or listen to any of the dozens of episodes of the Destination Freedom series available at the Internet Archive and on the Destination Freedom directory list at the Old Time Radio Researchers Library.

Posted in 1900s, 1940s, 1950s, civil rights, editors, historical figures, newspaper crusades, newspapers, racial justice, reporting, undercover | Leave a comment

Mann of the Press at Bay

From November 1952, this is no Thanksgiving story… A San Francisco newspaper columnist gets involved with bad Italian accents, puns on his name (“Mann”), a picture postcard and a mystery.

Supposedly based on a true story, this episode of the long-running series “Suspense” has an assault on a ferryboat concertina player, a redhead with a mysterious parcel, a word that sounds like “cuspidor,” and a doctor who says he charges wealthy customers more so he can patch up the occasional concertina player for free… and the doc has a neat trick smoking two cigarettes a yard apart.

It would be too much of a coincidence to have one of those 1950s medical doctor cigarette advertisements in this episode. But the sponsor is the Autolite spark plug company, not a tobacco manufacturer.

The real reporter and newspaper the story is supposedly based on are not identified, unlike the series the Big Story, which you will find elsewhere on the menu above, and which did have a tobacco sponsor. Or perhaps the reporter character is entirely fictional, added to frame the story, while the only “true story” aspect involves that postcard. Seems to me that I would have heard about this reporter in the Pulitzer Prize archives if his part in the story was as advertised.

If you know the inspiration for this episode, please drop me a note in the comments below.

Titled “Mann Alive” or “Man Alive,” it could have been “Man Overboard” for part of the plot.

In my collection of radio portrayals of journalists, this is both reporter-as-narrator and the detective-reporter, complete with foghorns and overcoat, putting himself in harm’s way, turning a small local story into something of national significance. The question of whether he will survive a life threatening situation is somewhat spoiled by the fact that he is the narrator.

Actor Paul Douglas delivers the dramatic dialogue. William Conrad is a familiar voice in the cast.

Today’s coincidence is that I had car trouble this morning and it really did turn out to be the sparkplugs.

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A Gentleman and Lady of the Press

The 1940 CBS radio series “Forecast” was a summer showcase for ideas for new series… what television later called “pilots,” and a drama about an Indiana newspaperman was part of the series’ first edition.

However the newspaperman story wasn’t the series idea: It was to be called “The American Theatre” and would produce a new radio drama each week based on a different American work of fiction.

The pilot episode July 15, 1940, used Booth Tarkington’s 1899 novel “The Gentleman from Indiana” as its source, with John Houseman doing the adaptation and directing… shoehorning the tale into a half hour.

The husband-and-wife team of Frederic March and Florence Eldridge starred, and apparently were to continue in new “American Theatre” episodes if the series idea had been accepted. Perhaps they were to become the core of a repertory company like Houseman’s and Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater.

Instead, Academy Award winner March made three films in 1941, and next played a (sometime) newspaperman in the title role of the 1944 “Adventures of Mark Twain.”

Houseman became active and the United States government propaganda effort during World War II. But in 1941, he also found time to direct an episode of another CBS anthology series, The Columbia Workshop production of”The Trojan Women,” according to radio historian J. David Goldin’s

“The Gentleman from Indiana” already had been adapted for a silent film in 1915, but the radio production makes no reference to that version.

The novel fleshes out the characters quite a bit more, but even in Houseman’s half-hour we still get the crusading –perhaps reckless — newspaperman taking on corrupt politicians and gun-slinging white-capped vigilantes. And we get a valiant woman editor taking over for him when he is hospitalized.

Houseman had been associated with not only Mercury Theatre, but also — for a while — Welles’ film newspaper-related film project, “Citizen Kane” until he and Welles parted company. Coincidentally, another Tarkington novel was the basis for Welles’ film “The Magnificent Ambersons.”

I haven’t looked at Houseman’s autobiography yet to see whether he reveals more about this radio production. Something for the to- do list.

For more about “Forecast,” see DigitalDeliToo’s guide to the series.

Posted in 1940s, adaptations, editors, newspaper crusades, novels, romance, women | Leave a comment

Two Reporters Conspire in Moscow

RIAN archive 11591 Galina Ulanova and Yury Zhdanov in the ballet Radio’s dramatic adventure series like “Suspense” and “Escape” sometimes relied on journalist characters as narrators, doing what reporters do — telling a story mostly from the outside.

In “Two If By Sea,” the derring-do is their own. Even in peacetime, it suggests, the life of a foreign correspondent can be “high adventure” too.

In this 1950 Cold War story — which takes the series title “Escape” literally — a London newspaperman’s Russian ballerina bride is forbidden to leave Moscow. The reporter plots a rescue.

What role will an American radio newsman’s way with words play in reuniting them? And do many journalists become skilled yachtsman, or is that just a British thing?

John Dehner, in the role of the Englishman, played a London reporter from a different century, as star of his own Western series “Frontier Gentleman,” which has its own JHeroes page.

The excellent Escape-Suspense blog has additional writing and cast information on the “Two If By Sea” episode.

The Old Time Radio Researchers Group, meanwhile, provides 250 episodes of the 1947-54 series for download at the Internet Archive Escape page.

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Her guy Friday? What a Woman!

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:

(The audio files are from the Old-Time Radio Researchers collection of Lux episodes at the Internet Archive. The screen capture of Russell and Aherne is from a clip of the movie posted to YouTube.)

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Love is News for Valentine’s Day

180px-Love_Is_News_Poster“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.

(See my overview page on radio adaptations of newspaper movies for more.)


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