Merry Christmas from Superman, 1945

Cover of Supermancomic39-1“Christmas today is very extra-special,” the Man of Steel announced to listeners seventy years ago, at the start of the “Adventures of Superman” episode broadcast on the first Christmas Day after the end of World War II.

With Germany and Japan defeated, the holiday message set the stage for later “Adventures of Superman” public-service messages and storylines encouraging young listeners to view hate and intolerance as their real enemy.

Actor Bud Collyer, whose own identity was a bigger secret than Clark Kent’s, stayed in character to deliver Superman’s “personal message” to listeners, opening the daily program. Superman was speaking, he said, on behalf of the Daily Planet’s Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White: “Once more ‘peace on earth, good will to men’ is more than just a beautiful phrase…” (His speech filled the time slot usually allocated to a promotion for some “mail in your boxtops” Kellogg’s premium.)

“On this Christmas Day, let’s all determine to do everything we can to see that this remains  a lasting peace on earth, through the everyday practice of ‘good will to men.’ You see, wars grow out of misunderstanding, hate and intolerance, all things that were preached against by the Prince of Peace, whose nativity we celebrate today. Now, if we try to understand our fellow man, if we avoid hate and banish intolerance, we would do away with the cause for war and this scourge would forever disappear from the earth…”

“Regardless of race, creed or color, we’re all humans, entitled to the same respect and privileges. Here in America, all of us — black and white, Catholic, Protestant and Jew — are all Americans, and we must live together peaceably at home if we are to live at peace with the world.”

Unfortunately — holiday deadline pressure on the radio program’s script writer? — in another part of his speech, the refugee from Krypton managed to attribute the phrase “all men are created equal” to Abraham Lincoln, instead of the Declaration of Independence. I wonder how many young fact-checking fans of the Daily Planet journalists caught the error?

Although reporter Kent conducted a few interviews as part of the plot, there wasn’t much journalism practiced in this episode, day 16 of a 25-episode continuing story, “Searching for Kryptonite,” in which he enlisted the help of his pal Batman to track down stolen chunks of the radioactive element that could kill Superman.  In the past few months, Nazis had used kryptonite to create a powerful Atom Man who almost destroyed Superman in story lines that ran from September through November of 1945. Before the tale was over, Superman would face another echo of the war, in the form of an evil Japanese scientist.

But with the real war against Germany and Japan ended, where could radio script writers find forces of evil for Superman to fight? The opening three episodes of “Searching for Kryptonite” hinted at a possible enemy — one that would have fascinated Edward Said, author of the book “Orientalism“: One of the Nazi Atom Man’s associates left behind a coin or seal marked with a star and crescent. After discovering it, Kent and Olsen were attacked by a swarthy, sandal-wearing, knife-wielding assassin who wore the same symbol as a brand on his heel. Kent subdued him without even changing to Superman, but the “Arab” — as Jimmy identified the man to an Irish-accented policeman — killed himself while in police custody.

Did the post-war spirit of brotherhood squelch some writer’s original idea for the villains in this plot? In another episode, the Daily Planet’s expert on symbolism, Harry Goldman, gives Kent and Olsen a lecture on crescent and star symbols, finally assuring them that “there’s nothing distinctly Turkish or Moslem in the combination.” Keeping only a vague xenophobia alive, a “Hindu” boy is identified as part of the gang later, but other members have American or European names like “Sydney,” “Smith,” “Jones” and “Phillips,” although they also have connections with former Nazis and that the Japanese scientist. (The character “Sydney,” killed in an earlier story, was reminiscent of the mysterious world-traveling conspirator played by Sydney Greenstreet in the movie The Maltese Falcon.)

Ultimately, the radio serial dismisses the evil-doers as just “spies and crooks,” the “Crescent and Star mob” and “one of the worst confidence rings in the country,” with no national or religious significance in its membership symbol. And within a few months the “Adventures of Superman” radio series would be fully committed to fighting intolerance,  taking on “The Hate Mongers’ Organization” in the spring and, famously, “The Clan of the Fiery Cross” in the summer, and characterizing these domestic villains as echoes of the defeated Nazis for preaching hatred and intolerance.

If the one 15-minute episode has you curious, all 25 parts of “Looking for Kryptonite” are downloadable from page eight of the Internet Archive’s Superman collection, complete with Kellogg’s commercials and daily plot summaries. For a quick read, James Lantz’s plot summary and review are available at the Superman Homepage.

Posted in 1940s, adventure, Superman, World War II | Leave a comment

Hate mongers vs. refugees and minorities

In the wake of World War II, radio’s fictional journalists were defenders of immigrants and religious and ethnic minorities. A Big Town Christmas episode about a Polish refugee newspaper editor, and Superman and The Daily Planet’s fight against “The Klan of the Fiery Cross” are examples I’ve written about before. Here’s another, with the refugee from planet Krypton taking on “The Hate Monger Organization” in 1946. 

This story of Superman’s battle against intolerance took 25 days to tell in 15-minute weekday episodes, April 16 to May 20, but they are all in the Internet Archive at

It takes a couple of episodes to reveal the evil force at work, starting with arson and an assault on an Irish newsboy, a friend of Jimmy Olsen’s, who witnessed the fire. Superman has support from a Catholic priest, who tells Clark Kent about an interfaith meeting to launch a “Unity House” open to youngsters of all races and backgrounds. The hate campaign seems to be targeting the community brotherhood movement.

“Why, it’s the Nazi method,” Jimmy observes in episode two, after the priest warns him and Kent of a group trying to pit people of different nationalities and religions against one another.

By episode ten, Kent has Jimmy risking his life working undercover — risky journalistic practice — to find the evil mastermind manipulating a youth street gang in its campaign of bigotry and intolerance. Meanwhile, even the opening commercial warned children not to waste any of their breakfast cereal because America needed grain to send to European war refugees.

While the message is one of racial tolerance, today’s listeners may get a chuckle out of an episode ten actor’s stereotypical “Irish cop on the beat” accent, which was also a staple of “The Green Hornet.” You also get to hear an Italian organ-grinder before long, another part of the cavalcade of radio stereotypes.

By episode fifteen, a rabbi has been assaulted, a Methodist minister has been threatened, and Kent has gotten other newspapers to keep quiet until Jimmy gets the goods on the evil mastermind manipulating a gang of pool room street toughs. 

As in many of these stories, Clark Kent and his pals at The Daily Planet are the heroes. Superman’s muscle isn’t the right weapon to use against hatred. That’s mostly a job for a mild-mannered reporter or two, who eventually uncover a hate group calling itself “The Guardians of America.”

“I was only trying to protect Americans from foreigners!” the penthouse-dwelling chief hate-monger says when Superman is about to turn him over to the police. It’s a liars excuse, of course, and the evil manipulator’s true identity is revealed in the end. (Hint: That Jimmy Olsen was a pretty sharp kid. See his quote near the top of this article.)

O.K., so Bud Collyer, who played Clark and Superman, does get to drop his voice into Superman’s lower register and take to the air before the end of the story, rescuing Jimmy from what looks like certain death at the hands of “the so-called Guardians of America.” But you have to give the fans what they came for!

Note: Superman set the tone for these post-war peace, tolerance and brotherhood messages a few months earlier in a speech at the start of the Christmas Day 1945 broadcast.

Posted in 1940s, Brotherhood, Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, Superman, World War II | Leave a comment

Calling Clark Kent — not Superman — to the rescue

A frightened Jimmy Olson on phone

Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, calling an older and more experienced, if supposedly mild-mannered, reporter for help on a story about a mysterious lighthouse — and more. (A screen capture from one of the TV episodes based on the earlier radio Adventures of Superman, a broadcast you can hear below.)

News stories about the death last month of Jack Larson — “Jimmy Olsen” on the 1950s Superman television series — often mentioned the actor’s dislike for story-lines that repeatedly had “Jimmy” dripping wet, threatened by rising tides or torture-rooms filling with water. Superman may have rescued Jimmy, but Larson tended to catch cold from all those soggy re-takes, he told NPR’s Terry Gross in a charming 1993 interview, rebroadcast as a memorial.

That interview reminded me of a similar plot in a Superman radio episode, more than a decade before Superman and Jimmy took to the television airwaves; a little research revealed more than a coincidence.


This six-part Adventures of Superman radio story (combined into one big MP3 file at the Internet Archive), the Lighthouse Point Smugglers, was broadcast in the summer of 1940, then rewritten a decade later for TV. In fact, it became the first TV tale to put Jack Larson in that soaked-to-the-skin condition he disliked. It is a fine example of some difference between the early radio or TV incarnations of Superman and more recent Superman comics and feature movies.

Most obviously, the basis for the story is not a “superhero” in pursuit of a “super villain”; it’s a reporter after a story. This cliff-hanger radioplay, like many others in the radio series, is as much an “Adventures of the Daily Planet reporters” as a super-hero story. It opens with editor Perry White calling in Clark Kent to talk about his annual vacation; a phone call from Jimmy interrupts, and we’re off in pursuit of a story, and smugglers, and more.

The plot: Cub reporter Jimmy Olsen — played by an unidentified radio actor — comes up with a news story idea while on sick-leave. He contacts White to “pitch” the story idea and enlist the help of a more experienced reporter, Clark Kent.

Those who know Superman only through 21st-century films and comics may be surprised to find the plot has no threat to the city, nation or planet, and no airborne grand-standing by the guy with the red cape. It’s a mystery story — with an old house, secret passages and tunnels, a foggy sea, that lighthouse, and a hidden treasure.

This July 1940 story began only 70 days into the run of the “Adventures of Superman” series, which joined the Mutual network that February. In those early storylines, Superman tried to keep his very existence a secret. Having Clark Kent spend more time behaving like a reporter also suited the gradual pace of the brief daily serial episodes. Kent changed to Superman, signified by actor Bud Collyer dropping his voice an octave, only when necessary to fend off a gunman, break through a stone wall, or get somewhere in a big hurry. Presumably, after the battered criminals were picked up by police, their wild stories about a flying man in red and blue would sound like attempts at an insanity plea.

Kent to the Rescue

Clark and Jimmy in MaineIn this story Kent manages to smash down a door or two on his own without raising suspicion. And he gets full credit for rescuing Jimmy, and the boy’s cousin, and his aunt in three separate near-drowning incidents. The three are conveniently unconscious at the key moment and don’t see the literally superhuman effort involved in their rescue. They just figure Clark did it.

While Superman gradually revealed himself to the world in later episodes of the series, Kent became more “mild-mannered” as part of his disguise. Still, the newspaper focus of “The Adventures of Superman” continued through most of its daily-serial years, with some combination of Clark, Jimmy, Lois Lane and Perry White accomplishing some feats of journalism in almost every episode. That is, they tracked down facts, discussed story ideas, interviewed people, went to the scene of the story. The same was true when the radio series gave way to the George Reeves television series. The television variation on the “Lighthouse Point Smugglers” script is an example. Retitled “The Haunted Lighthouse,” it was just the second TV episode, broadcast in 1952, and then in reruns for decades.

In the radio version’s six 12-minute episodes, the lighthouse story has time to reveal more about a newspaper reporter’s life than a half-hour TV story. We learn about what sound like progressive personnel policies of Daily Planet editor Perry White: In his opening banter with Kent about Olsen’s letters and calls, we learn Kent has three weeks’ vacation coming, pretty good for 1940! And although Olsen is just a cub reporter, he’s also the beneficiary of the enlightened Mr. White, who explains his absence from the newsroom to Kent:

“He got sick. You know he helped his mother in the store, he was going to night school, and we worked him pretty hard here at the paper… Oh he’s all right. He’ll be back at work in another month or so. We sent him off on sick leave… up at a place on the New England coast…”

Jimmy’s illness is never mentioned again, clearly just a plot device to move the story to an exotic locale. But it’s not hard to imagine young listeners thinking, “Three weeks of vacation? A month at the ocean to rest? I want a job like that!”

Screen-capture from the TV show, the Lighthouse in DaylightThe plot thickens when Olsen notices a light in an abandoned lighthouse owned by his aunt, does some investigating, writes to White, and finally telephones long-distance (at his own expense, he points out) while Kent is in the editor’s office. The dialogue showshis dedication to the paper — and perhaps some shaky ethics about reporting a crime to the proper authorities, but is well within the spirit of popular culture’s portrayals of journalists at the time:

“There’s a story up here, a big story, and I’m the only one who knows about it. Mr. White, it’s smugglers. That’s only part of it.
“I don’t want to tell the cops,” he tells his editor. “I’m keeping it for the paper.”

He begs White to send Kent to help him dig out the story. Kent quickly agrees when Jimmy’s phone call is mysteriously cut off. Their journalistic investigation eventually does lead to smugglers, along with danger in Jimmy’s sailboat at sea, a hidden family treasure, a plot to steal it by the aunt’s mortgage-holder (a natural villain), and a narrow escape from a underground chamber filling with sea water. They all give the tale its five days worth of cliff-hanger endings.

Kent’s Superman persona only appears briefly when super-feats are needed — rescuing Jimmy after a boating accident, confronting an armed smuggler and then rescuing him after he jumps 50 feet into the sea, and later saving both Jimmy and his aunt from that underground room. In all cases, he keeps his Superman identity hidden. They other characters are left thinking reporter Kent is the one who did the rescuing, a bit of a contradiction for the “mild Clark Kent” description spoken by an announcer in the program’s stock introduction.

Jimmy is a reporter, not just a victim

But, while Jimmy Olsen and, in other episodes, Lois Lane, often moved the radio and TV story plots along by needing rescuing at least once a week, they also behaved like reporters. In this tale, Jimmy’s own curiosity and eye for detail — good reportorial skills — uncover the possible smuggling plot in the first place, and later reveal secrets custom-printed onto some ancient Chinese wallpaper at his aunt’s house. The young reporter literally stands on his head to decipher the message! There are several more general lessons here for aspiring journalists hearing the program:

  • Reporters have adventures, even when they aren’t super-heroes.
  • Reporters are never off-duty. Good stories can happen anywhere, even on vacation or sick-leave.
  • Curiosity and good observational skills go a long way.
  • Be suspicious of mortgage lenders who make house-calls.
  • If you find a story too close to home — at your aunt’s house, for instance — get another reporter involved. He may see details you might miss, and perhaps his involvement will help you avoid being accused of conflict of interest.

Alas, the radio show never lets us hear whether Clark and Jimmy shared a Daily Planet byline, or how the story handled Jimmy’s relationship to the aunt and cousin — who apparently enjoy quite a windfall in the end.

Clark’s last speech to Jimmy’s aunt is:

“And Jimmy and I have a tremendous story for the paper, don’t forget that! Come on there, young fellow, get a move on… We’ll go find the nearest telegraph office.”

The announcer picks up from there:
“Everybody safe and sound… and another scoop for the Daily Planet is delivered by Clark Kent. But what’s coming next? Already, back in the Planet offices another adventure is waiting. Thrilling! Incredible! Tune in next time…”

The television story a decade later — the “Haunted Lighthouse” — kept some characters’ names and parts of the plot, but dropped others and added a pretty housemaid, a ghostly voice, some impersonations, a fight with a smuggler, and help from the Coast Guard. It sacrificed a few secret passages and the hidden family treasure, but it was still Jimmy’s tip about strange doings at the lighthouse that brought CLark to help. And the story opened with Kent literally acting as a reporter — delivering a voiceover narration to set the scene a Jimmy’s aunt’s waterfront home.

And, as in most of the television episodes, the Jimmy Olsen portrayed by Jack Larson is more of a comic character, perhaps not as sharp as his radio predecessor. As Larson himself observed, it was amazing how Jimmy never commented on the similarity in appearance of the bespectacled Kent and the costumed Superman. Even his aunt notices that in this episode. The TV plot also left Jimmy with plenty of things to be curious about — but he wasn’t: How Clark got to the island so fast, why Superman also showed up to help, and why Clark disappears whenever Superman is around. Those factors might not speak well for a young man’s future as a journalist, and may account for “Clark Kent’s” occasional wink at the camera.

But the TV team-up of George Reeves and young Jack Larson was a hit for six years — more than 100 episodes as Superman and Jimmy Olsen — with immortality waiting in reruns and on DVD. (The “Adventures of Superman, Season One,” Warner Brothers DVD set includes a commentary track on “The Haunted Lighthouse,” one of 26 first-season episodes. No mention is made of the story’s radio predecessor.)

Note: In addition to the full-story version of “Lighthouse Point Smugglers,” the Internet Archive has the individual episodes, numbers 74 through 79, on the first of 15 pages of Superman radio episodes uploaded to the archive by oldtime radio researchers:

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Two-fisted editor KO’s reform school scandal

News about a real-life judge sentenced to jail for taking kickbacks from a for-profit jail reminded me of this Big Town episode, with its crusading newspaper editor sending a 17-year-old copyboy undercover to expose a corrupt and barbaric reformatory.

“A hell-hole under the control of a political grafter,” is how editor Steve Wilson describes the reform school.

The Reform School recording, stored at the Old Time Radio Researchers’ site, is apparently a rehearsal for a 1939 broadcast, with Hollywood stars Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor as editor and star reporter.

Along with the investigative reporting plot, there’s a sexism subplot: Prison officials open doors for Trevor’s reporter Lorelei Kilbourne simply because of her good looks… and underestimate her journalistic abilities in the process. Trevor, playing a social worker turned reform-minded journalist, delivers great sarcastic dialog with the sleazy warden and fine angry speeches to her editor, including the crusader’s line, “If that’s true something ought to be done about it!”

Result: Editor Wilson gets a 30-day contempt-of-court sentence for a crusading editorial.
Wilson eventually gets full cooperation from the prosecutor and judge; he even has himself deputized to go undercover at the school, posing as an official bringing back a runaway inmate — and apparently is  empowered to sock the corrupt school superintendent on the jaw.

Especially during its early years, “Big Town” was a great example of an effective, reform-minded newspaper — while its star reporter helped the editor reform himself from his sensational tabloid past. In this case, after  the presses roll, the result is better public funding for the juvenile detention system. The judge not only drops Wilson’s contempt charge, but gets the alderman to double funding for a gentler orphanage-type facility.

And Wilson announces that he’s taking all the paroled kids to the Illustrated Press’s own summer camp, in a speech that hints this was to be the last broadcast of the season before its summer vacation. With Claire Trevor as the co-star, that places the episode around July 4, 1939, even though the opening commercial touts a “new 1940 Rinso.” Ona Munson replaced Trevor when the program resumed in September 1939, according to news clippings unearthed by the Digital Deli radio research blog.
I wish the radio collectors’ website had some history on this recording, possibly from Robinson’s own archives. An announcer jokes, “This is the Edward G. Robinson broadcasting system,” instead of “Columbia…” at the end, and there is one “retake” for the star to correct his reading in a courtroom scene.

Few recordings of Robinson’s actual live broadcasts exist. He played Steve Wilson for the first six seasons of “Big Town,” then left the show — which ran another nine years with Ed Pauley as its star. There were comic book, movie and TV spin-offs from the radio hit. For more about the series, see the links on the JHeroes Big Town page.

Note: Thanks, as always, to Jim Beshires, the Old Time Radio Researchers Group and other collectors for organizing and uploading the MP3 files of classic radio series where they can be heard, downloaded or embedded in this podcast.

Posted in 1930s, Drama, newspaper crusades, newspapers, undercover | Leave a comment

Custer’s stand in the Pacific: An injured Soldier of the Press

This episode of the United Press World War II radio series Soldiers of the Press covers reporter Joe James Custer’s service from Pearl Harbor through the sinking of a U.S. Navy cruiser he was assigned to in the Solomon Islands — and leaves him in a hospital bed after being injured in the story’s climactic August 1942 sea battle.

Custer may have been back in the hospital at the time of the November broadcast. A newspaper clip shows him smiling with nurses between surgeries in September, but he apparently never regained the vision in that eye. He was eventually awarded the Purple Heart, according to a 1945 item in the Pittsburgh Press.
“With my good eye I saw a great deal of courage and grit,” the actor playing Custer in the radio play says, describing a captain wounded 11 times who continued to command the evacuation of his ship, the Astoria. It sank Aug. 9, 1942.

Dated Nov. 30, 1942, in the Internet Archive’s Old-Time Radio Researchers Soldiers of the Press collection, Custer’s dramatized biography is listed as the fourth broadcast in the United Press series. It went into details on the motivation, preparation and outfitting of a war correspondent, as well as making clear the courage it took to volunteer for dangerous assignments.

A veteran newspaperman in San Francisco and Hawaii, Custer joined the United Press wire service in Honolulu shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Well, I’d asked for action and action is what I got,” he says, describing being introduced to his first incendiary-resistant flame jacket, goggles,  gas-resistant outfit, gas mask, tin hat and life jacket.

Custer covered the U.S. bombing of Marcus and Wake Islands in February and March, 1942, before heading to the Solomon Islands, where his ship, the cruiser Astoria, was crippled and sank. In addition to Custer’s own reports, the radio drama quotes a Honolulu Star Bulletin story about the injured reporter, and the courage and commitment of war correspondents in general.

As is usual with Soldiers of the Press episodes, the cast, producers and writers are not identified, including the narrator and the actor voicing Custer’s descriptions of battle scenes.

Custer told the story of that Solomon Islands fight in his 1944 book, Through the Perilous Night: The Astoria’s Last Battle. He returned to United Press after his hospitalization, working both in the Pacific and in New York, where he did some sports writing as well as finishing his book, judging by his United Press bylined stories in the Google archive of scanned newspapers. He later wrote for the Honolulu Star Bulletin, then joined the staff of a USS Arizona memorial commission, according to his obituary, published in 1965.

Newspaper clips via Google archive:

Writer finds sailor’s slang has undergone streamlining, early UP story by Custer

Wake and Marcus islands story, by Custer

Solomon Islands story filed the day before his injury

Admiral Nimitz visits Custer at hospital

Operation may save eye, Sept. 23, 1942

Custer dispatch from his hospital bed

Custer’s injury and disappearance of INS reporter share AP story

Custer filler feature on aircraft carriers, October 1942, Victoria Advocate

Custer to receive purple heart, 1945

Death claims correspondent, 1965 obituary

Posted in 1940s, Soldiers of the Press, true stories, United Press, World War II | Leave a comment

The typewriter, and the woman who invented a career

The Reluctant Pioneer isn’t specifically about journalism, but it certainly is related — the story of the invention of the typewriter, told in traditional “who, what, when, where” order by the woman who first made it run.

book cover -- Woman's PlaceThis radio drama — part of a series that romanticized American invention and ideals — features the creation and marketing of the first model Remington. Entrepreneur James Densmore is also a focus of the story, cajoling inventors Christopher Latham Sholes and Carlos Glidden into changing the world of communication, and pitching the invention to the Remington company.

The fact that Sholes started out as a Wisconsin newspaperman is mentioned early in the radioplay, but his daughter takes center stage, while Sholes is portrayed more as an eccentric who undervalues his own invention. Vivacious June Havoc narrates the story in the role of Lillian Sholes, who became the first star demonstrator of the typewriting machine. The perhaps not terribly suspense-filled climax of the radio story is her 1870s competition with the “hand-writing champion of America.”

“A woman operating a machine — that’s very unusual,” Mr. Remington comments. And the first typewriter advertisement, at least as read during the program, promotes the completed machine as a device that will open a new occupation for women.

You also get to hear some of Remington customer Mark Twain’s early comments on using the machine, and Densmore’s pitch to Remington for the speed-writing competition.

“This contest will either put the typewriter across — or bury it so deep the devil will start typing his diary.”

The Cavalcade of America broadcast was recorded in 1951. For a more modern and scholarly treatment of the sociological and cultural impact of the writing machine, see Woman’s Place Is At The Typewriter (1984) by Margery W. Davies. Skill at the keyboard was not all it took to put women in the newsroom as reporters and editors, not just typists, but it certainly played a part. For more about two women who found their way in the turn-of-the-century newspaper world, see the Newspaper Heroes on the Air entry about former newspaper-woman Edna Ferber’s novel “Cimarron,” and its movie and radio adaptations.

Interesting footnote: Documents unearthed by radio historian Martin Grams reveal that an actual Remington #1 was used for typewriter sounds during the Sholes broadcast.

For a more comprehensive view of the many inventors of typewriters, see the Library of Congress article and links, The Typewriter – “that almost sentient mechanism” by Ellen Terrell.

Business and public relations researchers also might note that Cavalcade’s sponsor, DuPont, had more than a passing interest in the Remington name. While the Remington company sold off its typewriter business in the 1880s to a new firm that still used the name, the original Remington had continued its focus on weapons-manufacturing in 1933, when historic gunpowder-maker E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., Inc., purchased a 60% share of the company.

(For more about the DuPont-sponsored radio series episodes that featured journalists, I have separate Newspaper Heroes on the Air: Cavalcade of America pages in the works, including a version of this item that may be edited or expanded in the future.)

Posted in 19th century, cavalcade, historical figures, technology | Leave a comment

Hey Lucky, get me rewrite!

My cousin in Memphis just told me she heard an episode of the classic series called “Night Beat” recently on a satellite radio show made up of golden age broadcasts.

I told her she’d found one of my favorites, and pointed her to my Night Beat page, where I’ve been aggregating my blog posts and notes about individual episodes. In the process,  I noticed that tomorrow is the 65th  anniversary of the first dated episode in the Internet Archive collections, one that I hadn’t written about before.

So here it is:

Sometimes identified as star Frank Lovejoy’s “audition” recording, it’s the only episode where his newpaper-noir columnist is named “Lucky Stone” instead of “Randy Stone,” and his paper is “The Examiner” instead of the “Chicago Star.” In the archives, it’s called 500113_Elevator_Caper.mp3

The title is from a dramatic scene that finds the hero playing cat and mouse with a killer in a Chicago skyscraper.

The series got rolling with the permanent names on Feb. 6, according to collectors logs, with another Chicago skyscraper playing a featured role memorable episode titled “Zero.” I will write something about that one later. (In it, an announcer introduces Lovejoy’s character as “Rudy,” but he’s agreed on “Randy” by the closing credits. Yes, radio drama was live, transcribed to discs, not to more editable audio tape.)

The “Lucky” audition — was it ever aired, or just recorded for prospective sponsors? — was eventually rewritten to change the names of reporter and paper.That version was broadcast a few months later; one archive copy calls its recording

The “Lucky” script explains his nickname. The Randy script does not. We will assume it is just short for Randolph. The other kind of randiness was not a regular feature of the program. On the other hand, some listeners might have been amused by an adaptation of the original name passage:

“Lucky Stone is the name. I’m the guy that writes that column that’s buried somewhere in the middle of your Examiner, called Night Beat.
“They call me ‘Lucky’ for the same reason they call a fat man ‘Slim.’ Because the best you can hope for on a job like this is chronic bronchitis, rings under your eyes, and the fact that you’re awake when regular folk are asleep.
“Sometimes the worst happens to you, a story grabs your heart and shakes it until you holler uncle. A corpse in a dark alley is the business at hand… ”

Students of script-writing might want to carefully compare the two versions of the programs to see how the writer eliminated the “Lucky” references and generally tightens the script. They might discuss the half-hour-broadcast economy of giving the newspaper a name of one syllable instead of three. Acting students might listen for differences in interpretation. English majors and other students of writing will enjoy the colorful writing, with echoes of the more poetic pulp fiction.

For journalism students, Night Beat is sometimes interesting as a “newspaperman procedural,” good for classroom discussion of Stone’s work process, his professionalism, his personal life, and the changes in the business over more than a half century — assuming that the radio drama had some relationship to reality.

Whether the hero is Lucky or Randy, this first script is more detective story then some later Night Beat melodramas. The police aren’t very interested in the murder of a 28-year-old they brand as a hoodlum.

The reporter has his own motivation for investigating the case. The dead man is an old friend, whom he had convinced to go straight. As part of his investigation, partly fueled by guilt over putting his friend on the wrong side of the mob, he eventually uses his column to publicly identify the gangster he thinks is responsible.

Could a reporter, even in 1950 Chicago, get that libellous an attack past the copy desk and keep his job? Could he survive mob retaliation?  For the answers to those questions, you will have to listen to the episode — either version — and maybe dig into a media law history book or two.

Movie fans will probably have a crooked smile on their faces when one of the villainous gangsters in this episode is mentioned. In the first version of the boadcast, his name is repeated several times in a conversation between Stone and a cop, “George Bailey,” like the troubled hero of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Maybe someone noticed. The revised script takes out the “George.”

The revised May broadcast is still a detective story, but the rewrite also gives Stone an introductory speech that sets the tone for later episodes, far from the crusading crime-busting reporters of “Big Town,” “Crime Photographer” and similar radio series.

In 21st century marketing parlance, this passage from “The Elevator Caper” sounds like an “elevator pitch” proposal for the entire series:

“They call my Night Beat stories human interest, which means after you’ve struggled through the latest atom bomb scare, the latest spy scare, the latest murder, the latest slaughter on the highway, you come to page 17 and Randy Stone.
“I’m supposed to give you a little breather, some nice simple human story to make you believe no matter how tough things are, the world has a heart. Only once in a while it doesn’t always work out just  that way. Human interest. Hmm. Oh yeah…”

Posted in 1950s, adaptations, Chicago, columnists, Drama, ethics, reporters, writing | Leave a comment