“Broadway. It’s a swamp that’ll drag you, breath by breath, into its shadowed pools. Or it’s a meadow shining with golden light. It’s a place and a time and a loneliness that reaches out for you, then beckons you into an airless room and locks the door. You get out or you don’t. Either way, it’s Broadway, my beat.” That was the opening of the final episode of Broadway Is My Beat, which ended its run as a summer replacement for The FBI in Peace and War on this day, 25 August 1949. Final episode? Not in hindsight, of course.
The series (which I previously discussed here) would return to CBS radio, eventually, and run for another five years; but most of the listeners tuning back on that evening in August had no clue. “You get out or you don’t.” Was detective Danny Clover going to get out of the black hole of summer, the “airless room” that was the slot allotted to programs on probation while the shows that sold were on hiatus?
A man dies in silence and in dark, and a city sets up a shrieking clamor, and you’re part of it. You ride a scream through the crowded, heat-heavy streets. And then you hit a dead end, and it’s a building, and a room at the top of the building. And it’s a man lying in the center of the room while other men take notes on the history of his dying.
Executives, no doubt. Is Danny Clover to vanish into the dark of the city, to be silenced in the shrieking clamor of the network schedule, hard hit as it was by the coming of television, on which sponsors were ever more likely to lay their bet. It is hardly a coincidence that writers Morton Fine and David Friedkin concocted for their final outing that summer a story involving the death of a popular yet generally despised author—a murder perpetrated in a locked room, bolted from the outside.
To eat or not to eat. That was the question in the “Val Dane Case.” His room was “like a tomb,” Clover comments; except that it was “loaded with food, all jarred.” Canned food, waiting to be consumed. Food, food, everywhere, but the author “died of starvation.” Even his ghost has to laugh at this irony. Dane’s ghost writer, Lyle Brooks, that is, who is in “convulsions of hilarity” about the conclusion of the whole rotten business of penning The Great Fake, Dane’s latest piece of fiction, without receiving the credit promised to him. “What does it matter if his exact words are remembered?” a yogi observes with a equal lack of remorse about the dead man’s career.
The shady mystic who was Dane’s titular Fake is mum about the outcome of the case, a case of a murder whose victim was not blameless in the death of his own child. Only the ratings could tell whether the Beat should go on; and when the less-than-neat case is considered done and dusted, the narrating detective muses: “How do you fill it in reports, how do you make statistics out of it and file it in a ledger? How do your write sorrow as a number? How?”
Fine and Friedkin’s Broadway Is My Beat was known for its fanciful rhetoric; but “The Val Dane Case” was all metaphor . . .