Well, Broadway is no longer the stuff of romance; having cleaned up its act in the dull spirit of corporate greed, it no longer is the “gaudiest, the most violent, the lonesomest mile in the world,” as it was once eulogized in hard-boiled and slightly over-cooked prose on the US radio thriller series Broadway Is My Beat (1949-54). Still, since I am returning to the Big Apple next month, having just booked my flight, I am going to rekindle my own romance with Manhattan by following Detective Danny Clover on his beat somewhere between or around Times Square and Columbus Circle.
On this day, 14 October, in 1953, Clover walked once again past “the hawkers, the gawkers, the ‘hurry up’ boys and the ‘slow down’ girls” to find himself confronted with some suitably sordid business of jealousy and murder—the “Cora Lee” case.
It’s “party time” on East 63rd. The shrill laughter of a drunken woman and the breaking of glass tells us at once that this ain’t a black tie affair. College graduate Cora Lee is in hot water; anyway, her head’s in a tub filled with it. The young woman very nearly drowned, and the bruise on her head suggests that she didn’t take the dive on her own free will. Now, the woman who reported the incident resents being thought of as a suspect. “You’re a stinker,” she tells Clover’s assistant. “And that’s the word I use in mixed company.” Cora comes to, eventually; but everyone around her, including her husband and her father, is too drunk to be of any use to her or the police.
A few days later, the “wild dame” celebrates her recovery with a few drinks in the company of husband and friends, party people who keep living it up while Cora is stretched out dead on the floor with a knife in her heart. Good-natured bunch, ain’t it?
“I was in college with Cora,” one of the drunken guests, a gal with feathers in her hair, tells Clover without a hint of compassion. “I knew her for two weeks, and I said to myself: there’s a classmate who’ll never see thirty. One way or another, she’ll never make it.” The deceased, she claims, was “the most, jealous, vicious, detestable, beautiful girl in the class of 1950.” Who might have killed her? Well, “anyone with a knife,” she sneers, especially the young woman who is so eager now to take Cora’s place as hostess of the merry gathering, offering highballs and sandwiches to the detective while threatening to do “damage” with her “high heel” if the feathered one doesn’t keep her mouth shut.
With all that talk going on, there isn’t time left to weave much of a mystery; but the thrill of listening to realist crime dramas like Gangbusters, Dragnet, or Twenty-first Precinct is not generated by suspense or surprise anyway. The criminal, whoever it happens to be, will in all likelihood be apprehended somehow. The excitement lies in going along for the ride, in the privilege of being in the presence of criminal elements, of witnessing the tawdry and treacherous, the vile and violent from a comforting distance.
With a dash of purple prose and a helping of humor, Broadway Is My Beat is as gaudy and violent as the formerly “lonesomest” mile it evokes in word and sound. As white as the Great White Way is nowadays, you just won’t get that kind of kick out of strolling past the Olive Garden or watching the out-of-towners going around on the Toys “R” Us ferris wheel. Let Detective Clover take you on a tour . . .