World News

International News and Foreign Correspondents in Old-Time Radio

By Bob Stepno

(Another draft-in-progress page; the series mentioned here also can be found with a site-search from the home page.)

Radio drama, of course, shared the adventures of the most adventurous reporters — war correspondents and international columnists, both real and fictional.

Even series that normally had a domestic focus sometimes sent their lead characters abroad. The entire cast of “The Adventures of Superman” spent many weeks in foreign lands, from the Caribbean and Central America to Europe — solving mysteries and bringing back stories — as well as giving Clark Kent an excuse to announce “This is a job for Superman!” and take to the air with his trademark  “Up, up and away!”

Chicago “Night Beat” columnist Randy Stone didn’t get to leave town, but fell for a visiting  foreign correspondent in a whirlwind romance in the episode “The Old Itch.” Orson Welles, reviving his con-man “The Third Man” character character in radio’s “The Lives of Harry Lime” had at least one episode where Lime impersonated a foreign correspondent to get closer to stealing a treasure.

In 1942, Edward G. Robinson took his “Big Town” editor character and reporter sidekick to Lisbon, where they were hijacked by Nazis and eventually connected with the underground in occupied Paris. Other Hollywood stars became foreign correspondents in radio’s various “anthology” series that reworked feature movies for live radio — sometimes giving them a chance to try on another actor’s starring role. (See pages for Foreign Correspondent, Woman of the Year, Penny Serenade, Blood on the Sun and other film adaptations in which international reporting as at least part of the plot.)

The United Press put radio script writers and actors to work dramatizing the lives of its 1940s war correspondents, in action-packed 15- minute episodes of the series “Soldiers of the Press.”  (As a result of my blog postings about the series, I have been contacted by children or grandchildren of several of the World War II reporters I’ve written about, and I plan to expand that chapter accordingly.)

Foreign correspondent series, both World War II and Cold War, dramatized “real adventures” and fictional ones. Individual foreign correspondents from the 19th and 20th centuries had scenes from their lives acted out by radio stars in historical/patriotic series like DuPont’s “Cavalcade of America,” dramatized the lives — and sometimes deaths — of famous 19th and 20th century reporters abroad.  (Cavalcade was started in the 1930s in part to redeem the chemical company sponsor’s reputation from its image as a WWI war profiteer.)

Margaret Fuller, Henry (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume”) Stanley, Nellie BlyRichard Harding Davis and more — all turned up on Cavalcade. See my mini-essays about them.

A series set in the late 1800s took a novel “foreign correspondent” approach — making its lead character a Times of London reporter, exploring the American West with his refined ways as “Frontier Gentleman.”

Internet collections include a few digitized episodes of “Douglas of The World, ” a short-lived production of Armed Forces Radio in the early 1950s that put its fictional correspondent in world trouble spots — from Tehran to Moscow — presumably with stories carrying messages for U.S. military personnel. He also filed one story from the United Nations.

Another 1950s series I’ve written about here, “Europe Confidential,” has been left out of most earlier histories of radio drama. It’s about an American reporter in Paris, but was produced in England and sold in Europe, Canada and Australia, possibly never heard in the U.S. before the Internet, which would explain why usually America-centric media writers didn’t know about it.  A Canadian radio station employee found a stack of old transcription discs, digitized them and posted them in his blog. They have been copied from there to the Internet Archive and other sites (some by dealers hoping to make money on collectors’ work). I think I’ve solved a couple of mysteries of the UK production, which involved recycling scripts from an earlier series, using the reporter character as a storytelling or “framing” device.

Other wartime and post-war series with an international focus included “O’Hara,” “Foreign Assignment” and “Foreign Correspondent.” A few episodes of each turn up in “singles and doubles” collections at the Internet Archive, suggesting they were short-run series whose transcription disks were not preserved.

Last, but not least, long before “Star Trek,” radio dramas were able to send foreign correspondents where they had never gone before: Outer space. “Inside Story” by Richard Wilson, an episode of the science fiction series “X-Minus-One,” put an investigative reporter for “Galactic News Service” on a colonized planet, where his job was to investigate a mysterious epidemic. Other radio stories, including the most famous “War of the Worlds,” let the aliens come to the waiting reporters here on Earth, for better or for worse.

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