Elmer Davis with the News: The City of Flint is Still Missing (CBS, 1939)
“I have hopes,” Edward R. Murrow once told Elmer Davis in a letter, “that broadcasting is to become an adult means of communication at last. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to broadcasts from many countries . . . and yours stand out as the best example of fair, tough-minded, interesting talking I’ve heard.”
High praise, indeed, to the already-veteran reporter/commentator who once shuddered at his own decision to leave The New York Times for the life of a freelance writer, only to find himself joining the CBS News family when then-chief Paul White tapped him to stand in for H.V. Kaltenborn, after the latter was off to Europe covering an increasingly tense transnational situation.
Elmer Davis would prove an unflinching reporter and less flinching analyst, given perhaps more weight by his nasal Hoosier vocal tone, as though you were hearing it on the money from a neighbor. Politically he inclines toward liberalism but his, in retrospect, would prove a rather conservative strain of the breed, even if he is positioned in many minds as the counterweight to the unapologetically conservative Fulton Lewis, Jr, “an early trusted Walter Cronkite, with Walter Lippmann’s insight,” Gerald Nachman would remember him.
Davis’s little-nonsense tone and prose—like Eric Sevareid to follow, he considers himself a writer first—would get Davis a rather impressive new job during World War II—his call for the government to organize war news and information under one group was taken up by Franklin D. Roosevelt—who promptly named Davis himself to head the new Office of War Information. Davis would operate the OWI until the war’s end prompted the OWI’s end, and Davis would return to network broadcasting with the freshly-minted ABC.
Tonight: It isn’t the Michigan town but the American ship, The City of Flint, that collides with an Italian ship not long after the U.S. Senate repeals an arms embargo. Davis will also discuss the early weeks of what was to become World War II; rumoured activity by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union; and, the annexing of three more territories as Soviet Socialist Republics.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Fred Allen Show: A Prize for Listeners Missing Any Contest (NBC, 1948)—The planned sketch for the evening—Fred (Allen) accepting a psychiatrist’s suggestion to read Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living for insomnia relief—is damn near superceded by the infamous offer (intoned by Kenny Delmar, who also plays music critic Stroganoff) to make good on any prize missed by any listener who tuned into the Allen show rather than listen to giveaway shows in the same time slot. Not to mention the Main Street demimonde (formerly Allen’s Alley: Delmar, Minerva Pious, Parker Fennelly, Alan Reed) answering Fred and Portland’s (Hoffa)questions about the giveaways. Even with the acidic bitterness slipping through, this is still Fred Allen and still trenchant satire, though it proved less than a grand idea to fight fire by starting another one on the next block. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra, the Five DeMarco Sisters. Writers: Fred Allen, possibly Nat Hiken and Larry Marks.
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: The Live Steer (NBC, 1948)—There’s no such thing as a sacred cow when Alice (Faye) frets over rising food costs, at least until Phil (Harris) lets Remley (Elliott Lewis) talk him into a way to supply steak on the cheap without running up the butcher bills any higher. It sounds like a lot of bull until you get a good listen to these pros giving it a grilling. Willie: Robert North. Julius: Walter Tetley. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Bill Forman. Music: Walter Scharf, Phil Harris Orchestra. Director: Paul Phillips. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.
Quiet, Please: The Good Ghost (ABC, 1948)—The ghost of a murder victim (Ernest Chappell, who narrates) wants not revenge but motive, when returning to the city and trying to speak to the man who killed him. Schuster: Murray Fogg. Ada: Ruth Latt. Rollo: Arthur Cole. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.
The Great Gildersleeve: The Water Works Breaks Down (NBC, 1943)—Commissioner Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) learns about horrible timing the hard way, after offering to show Marjorie (Lurene Tuttle) and Leroy (Walter Tetley)—whose homework involves writing about what Uncle Mort does for a living—exactly how the water works works. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Hooker: Earle Ross. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Music: Claude Sweetin. Director: Possibly Cecil Underwood. Writers: Sam Moore, John Wheedon.