I could tell things wouldn’t go my way today. The evidence was right there on the carpet, and next to it, with a wet cloth, was I, trying to ameliorate the situation. Jack Russell terrier Montague, who has been our companion for a week now, has finally made his mark. I guess I should be thankful that it was only exhibit number one, not number two. Then was the computer giving me grief by making it impossible for me to access my own homepage. Now, I am no fastidious Phileas Fogg; but such vagaries are the antithesis of an orderly, well-structured existence.
In old-time radio, there was little tolerance for anything amounting to chaos, be it disorder or nothingness. The broadcast schedule was tight, and any deviance from it meant to alienate both the listening public and the corporate sponsors who footed the bills. On this day, 28 June, in 1937, millions of Americans expected to meet on the air the leading lady in it. The famed aviatrix (pictured above, right, next to screen stars Ruth Chatterton and Kay Francis) was scheduled to appear on the Lux Radio Theatre; not as an actress in a play, but as an added attraction, a latter-day Phileas Fogg whose life in flight was the very stuff of melodrama.
Announcer Melville Ruick was forced to offer tuners-in the following apology: “We had hoped at this time to bring you Ms. Amelia Earhart. However, she has not yet completed her sensational around-the-world flight; so, will be heard instead next Monday evening from the Lux Radio Theatre, will she have arrived by that time.”
Ms. Earhart, who was on her way to New Guinea, would not appear in the following broadcast. In fact, a few days after her delay was announced, she would disappear altogether when her plane was lost somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, more than 6000 miles from her destination. During the subsequent Lux broadcast, the last of the season, host Cecil B. DeMille read the following statement:
Somewhere in a distant corner of the South Pacific is Ms. Amelia Earhart, who had planned at this moment to be on the stage of the Lux Radio Theatre. I know everyone hearing me now joins in our hope that the rescuers of Ms. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, will reach them swiftly and find them safe. I’ve just spoken with George Palmer Putnam, husband of Ms. Earhart at Oakland. Considerably more encouraged than he was yesterday, Mr. Putnam says that after a careful check of all reports, he believes the fliers are on land believes. He adds that they have adequate supplies, which will last Ms. Earhart and Captain Noonan until the arrival of rescue ships or planes.
You might say that Ms. Earhart was done in by radio; radio navigation, that is, which let her down in the clouds. To find her turned out to be the most costly mission yet undertaken by the US government. It was an effort to no avail. Her body vanished into the thin air that had failed to carry her, the air that did not transport her into millions of homes as publicized. The rest, speculation about her reappearance or her being killed by the Japanese, is legend. Within days after her final scheduled appearance on the radio, such speculations would be all over the front pages of the world’s newspapers.
The Front Page—that was the name of the play heard on the Lux Radio Theatre on the night she was originally slated to speak. At hand to lend realism to the role of unscrupulous newshound Hildy Johnson was one of America’s most celebrated and controversial news columnists, Walter Winchell. He was meant to have met his match not only in Hildy but in the living news story invited to relate her own tale. While he performed admirably in the Hecht/MacArthur comedy-drama staple (previously discussed here), the real scoop was beyond his reach.