Turn back the clock to 1953, and turn down the lights! Ricochet Silent Radio brings you Richard Lincoln, Hollywood’s savviest private eye in an adventure set in the glamorous and exciting world of television. This time we go beneath the surface. Radio’s boldest program confronts truths about race and Reds, modern jazz and Madison Avenue. It’s a Tales From The Pit production that stands apart, but maybe not as far apart as you’d think. With images you can’t see and sounds you can’t hear, we’ll conjure up people who live in the same country, even the same city, but live in different worlds. With the magic of silent radio we present–
(Announcer’s voice:) “Ladies and gentlemen! By special arrangement for the first time, over the facilities of the Columbia Broadcasting System and the National Broadcasting Company! Tonight … The Ford Motor Company Fiftieth Anniversary Television Spectacular for 1953!”
As an unseen audience applauds and the opening credits roll slowly, a line of shiny, brightly colored two-toned cars also roll slowly, through the 15-by-15-foot doors of a TV studio. Their chrome glittering under banks and banks of dazzling overhead lights, the cars appear on the round face of a color TV tube in a VIP viewing room next door. A burly man in a tuxedo and his black tie entourage are watching. Through a glass wall in the back of the room, you could see the control technicians racing around, putting on the show. Next to the color monitor, a plain black and white TV shows the picture as the rest of the country sees it.
Henry Ford II waved his hand. “Look at that. There’s just no comparison. Everything’s better in color, period. As an advertiser, I would pay a lot of extra money for a picture like that. The cars look great, don’t they?
“Mr. Ford, when a guy who spends $30 million a year on TV advertising says he’s ready to spend a lot more, I assure you CBS is listening. And as you know, we have an FCC monopoly on broadcasting color television.”
“For now, yeah.”
The CBS man smiled nervously. “It’s still ours, Mr. Ford.”
Ford looked at the man, decided not to get mad, and shrugged dismissively. “Until the General takes it away from you. I know how your business works. Truman’s people gave you the color TV license. Well, he’s gone.” He turned back to watching the program he was sponsoring.
I drifted to the back of the room. When business deals get up into the tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars, businessmen like to know their phones aren’t tapped and their offices aren’t bugged. That’s where I come in. I’m Richard Lincoln, private investigator, the wiretapper that rich clients call when they want to be free of wiretappers. It’s a living, an honest trade that Uncle Sam taught me. Call me Linc.
Randy Weivoda, the car executive who recommended me for the job, broke off from the group and also drifted back. We shook hands cordially. When I last saw him, a couple of months ago, he was in Frankfurt, running General Motors Europe.
“Randy, my friend. So you’re in Dearborn now? Does that mean I don’t get to buy a Corvette right off the line?”
He laughed. “Forget about the Corvette. Wait a year or so. We’ve got something better on the way. Nicer. A real boulevard cruiser. Made of metal, not plastic.”
“Oh, so now it’s ‘we’, huh? They paying you good over there?”
“I do all right,” he said modestly.
“So what’s at stake tonight, Randy? What’s the big deal?”
Advertisers—like us, Ford—are pushing for color. We’ve demanded it for years. It just makes the products so desirable. The delays have been insane.”
“But CBS already won. It’s working right in front of us. Why don’t we have color TV yet?”
“The set manufacturers are refusing to build for CBS. The CBS system is much cheaper and has better color, but regular black and white sets can’t receive a picture. That’s a lot of sets. With NBC—or I should say, RCA—the existing sets do get a picture, but the color sets cost a fortune. So many tubes. Guess who makes the tubes? RCA. Whichever technology wins, it means profits forever to the winner, and patent payouts forever for the loser. There’s not much middle ground.”
“So you won’t give me a hint about the Ford two-seater?”
“Who said it was a two-seater?”
“You told me not to spend my money on the Corvette. I know what that means.”
Then Ford caught Randy’s eye, and he prudently moved back over to the boss.
In the next control room, I was surprised to see Matt Balzer, the Wisconsin Mining & Manufacturing Company president, the legendary hatchet man for the Great Lakes empire of the Rhody family. We’ve always gotten along great. We shook hands and shook our heads as well. I last saw Matt when he went off on a Frankfurt bar crawl. We all needed a drink that day. He was here wearing two hats: Rhody is one of the main sponsors here, entitled to the same VIP treatment as Ford. But Matt was also here selling CBS on television recording tape, developed jointly by the magnetic materials specialists at WM&M and a small California company.
Matt knew he had a winner. He enthusiastically demonstrated the refrigerator-sized television recorder. In the meantime, the ads for his programs were running in the background for products like Rhodium aluminum foil, “the housewife’s friend!” Royal Road facial tissues, and their Rhoda Roberts line of copper-bottomed pots and pans.
Matt pressed a button and the big reels of ribbon-sized tape stopped. They backed up at scary speed and stopped again. Then Matt pressed Forward, and waited to see our reactions. We were astonished. It was perfect; it looked just like the live TV he recorded only a moment ago. “Once they buy into this, no more film,” he said proudly. “From now on, the networks won’t have to do a second show three hours later for the west coast.” The CBS engineers standing around were eager. “How much, Matt?”
“This one’s $250,000.” The group laughed incredulously. “A quarter million!? Are you kidding me?” But an expensively dressed CBS executive in the background said quietly, “We’ll take 50 if we can get them before NBC.” The room instantly went silent.
The engineers went back to work. Matt said, “Linc, we’re not getting any younger. You ought to settle down. This detective thing is hard to outlive. There are real people in Wisconsin, not these Hollywood phonies. Get some fresh air in your lungs. Why don’t you pull stakes and join us?”
Balzer’s a fine man. I knew he meant it. I smiled and shook my head.
“I don’t spend all my time firing my .45 and caressing women; just enough of it to keep me in the PI racket. But if and when I get tired of it, I’ll drop you a line.”
The Ford TV show was entering a filmed commercial break. When Ford got up to use the restroom, everyone gratefully rushed off to do the same.
While the next part of the show was being lined up, a young model took her place in front of the color cameras so they could adjust to match her flesh tone. She held a rainbow-colored chart in front of her. She was a beautiful young woman with long dark wavy hair. An older, well dressed man stood off to one side, talking with her.
Matt said, “That’s Jade Green. She’s Miss CBS Color Television. She got discovered just by holding the test charts, and now she’s getting a break as a singer. We’re hiring her as a spokesperson for afternoon shows. Kitchenware.”
“She’s sure got all the right angles,” I said. She had an unusual look, as if she were part American Indian princess, part thin Russian ballerina, with high cheekbones and full lips.
“On that girl you just won’t find a wrong angle!” he said with a laugh. He was right.
The Deuce was right too; everything did look better in color. Why the hell was color TV taking so long to reach the public? When would they ever start actually selling the sets? I’ve read articles in the papers about it for years and years. Now that I’ve seen color television, I see why.
The surprisingly beefy looking scion of one of the world’s largest, best known industrial empires was walking back from the men’s room when he spotted somebody. He yelled out cheerfully.
“Hey! Pale Billy!”
The tall, elegant man he was addressing turned towards us with a look of annoyance that is possibly the coldest look I’ve ever seen on a man’s face. Then he recognized Henry Ford II and forced a smile. Now I recognized him: Bill Paley, founder and chairman of CBS. He was also the man who’d been chatting up the model on stage. Not inconsistent from what I’ve read about him in the gossip columns.
“Hello, Hank. Are my people taking good care of you?”
“They are, Bill, they are. Let’s see how General Sarnoff’s people do tomorrow.”
Paley nodded with a tight insincere smile at the mention of his archrival, David Sarnoff, founder and chairman of NBC. Roosevelt gave them both military rank during the War, but Paley never got farther than Colonel, and Sarnoff never let anyone forget it.
“Try the shrimp, Hank. The hostesses are friendly. We bring the food in from Chasen’s. And when you go up to Burbank tomorrow, make sure to bring a few dimes, because I’ll tell you something, nobody parks in David’s lot for free. Nobody.”
The program was going back on, live. The Color Girl model, her job done, left the chair and the cameras were re-positioned to resume the show. The music faded up.
While the announcer was extolling the virtues of Ford cars, the phone in the VIP lounge rang. An attendant handed it to Henry Ford II, who looked amused. He in turn called Randy over. They had a quick conference, looking at me. Randy wrote something down, walked over and handed it to me. He was—chagrined? Sheepish? Embarrassed? Anyway, he handed me the slip of paper. It was a phone number.
“Linc, could you please find that girl and pass this on to her? It’s for…a friend of Mr. Ford’s.”
The brunette beauty was already gone from the sound stages. I hurried eastwards across the vast building until I spotted her, a few hundred feet away, moving towards the main exits and the parking lots. That was pure luck. I followed Miss Color Television across the crowded, confusing studios. The dressing rooms were out this way and I moved through hall after hall of curious, resentful half-dressed dancers and actresses. But I wasn’t looking for a peek. I was in a hurry. I lost her in the farthest end of the maze. Black performers were stuck down here, a long walk from the studio.
I was stopped by a small mob of Negroes, suspicious bodyguards for Lena Horne, the celebrated Negro beauty who had just finished her stint on the all-American Ford show. Out of nowhere, this private eye was totally taken by surprise. There was some kind of mistaken identity or some other misunderstanding I didn’t get, and I wasn’t going to have time to get.
I yelled “Hey! Wait!” but they weren’t going to wait. Two black men about seven feet tall held me to the wall while a third one prepared to break me in half with a brown fist the size of a smokehouse ham.
Then a sharply dressed man stepped up and took charge. He was Negro when he was in the shadows, but as he came into the light, I caught an impression of medium brown skin, maybe mixed race, too—white, Mexican, Chinese? I couldn’t tell. All I knew was, right now he was holding off a beating I wanted badly to avoid. He peered at me carefully through wire-rimmed, military style eyeglasses. For a moment I felt like a bug under a microscope.
“I’m J. Lock. I’m in charge of security for Miss Horne tonight. Who are you?”
“My name is Richard Lincoln. I’m a private investigator working for CBS. I was asked to contact the young lady who was modeling for the color people.” That did not sound quite right so I hastily said “The ah, you know, video technicians doing the, um, adjustments to the color…”
He cut me off wearily. “I got it.” He nodded to the other men, who were already slackening their grip.
I composed my suit. “Thanks”, I said.
“Don’t mention it. I’m a licensed PI myself. The VP of Columbia Records got me this protection gig. So you see, we’re both working for Mr. Paley tonight.”
J Lock relished having the last word. With a sardonic smile, he said “Set Mr. Lincoln free. It’s the least we can do.”
(Ricochet network announcer:) You are listening to “Everything’s Better in Color,” this week’s Ricochet Silent Radio dramatic presentation of Tales from the Pit. We pause for station identification.
(Local announcer:) This is KMGM-AM, Hollywood 980 on the dial, MGM radio in sunny California. (Network announcer:) And now back to “Everything’s Better in Color.” (MUSIC bridge and then fade)
(Voice of Richard Lincoln:) “I was on right on the verge of being beaten to a pulp by three angry Negroes, and it wasn’t the Will Mastin Trio. I didn’t know why. A man named J. Lock stepped in and saved my neck. I didn’t know anything about him, either. I never did catch up with Miss Color Television that night. By the time I made my way back through the maze of CBS Television City, Randy was eagerly waving his bosses goodbye. Mr. Ford was off to the night clubs. My night’s work was done.
I found my bullet-nosed Studebaker in the parking lot. In the moonlight, there was no denying the sophisticated modern look of Television City. That was CBS all the way— tasteful and refined.
I live in the Hollywood hills just above the Chinese Theater, so the ride home was fast. I opened a beer and took out a hard boiled egg. Bachelor’s delight. There was nothing good on TV. It’s funny; maybe five years ago, TV was a special occasion, and now it’s on most of the time. The novelty has to wear off sooner or later. But wow, that color program looked great. It’s like another dimension you never noticed before.
The phone rang just before ten. “Hold the line, please,” a female voice said. I waited, wondering who’s secretary was still at work at this hour. A man came on.
Is this the private investigator?”
“Yes, this is Richard Lincoln. Who is this?”
“This is William Paley,” he said in an icy voice of command. I sat up straight. “Yes, Mr. Paley?” I asked.
“Henry’s—Mr. Ford’s staff tells me you have finished your assignment with them. I have an important matter that I would like you to pursue outside of official channels. It must be kept absolutely confidential. Will you do it?”
“If it’s reasonably legal, yeah, but I have to know what the case is before I agree”.
“Very well. Meet me at Columbia Records in 20 minutes.”
We both hung up. This was exceedingly strange. CBS has its own security force. But Paley wanted me. Well, he can afford it, I reasoned.
Traffic on Hollywood Boulevard was jammed up by a collision between a car and one of those worn out red trolleys. They’ve been talking about getting rid of them ever since the end of the War, but they’re still around. I got to Columbia Records with one minute to spare. A guard had my name and let me in. The floors were mostly dark. The night crew was cleaning. I walked briskly past wall-sized posters of Midge Reynolds and Cris Ebril, the Vinyl Contessa. Two girls who turned me down. There was still a poster of Frank Sinatra. Maybe he really is on the way back up. Paley was temporarily commandeering the top floor corner office while he was in town. I made my way into the inner office.
Paley was there, imperious as always. So, to my surprise and dismay, was J. Lock, looking polished, dapper, and to my eyes quite competitive, for lack of a better term.
Paley clearly valued his own time and wasn’t wasting any.
“Gentlemen”, he said, “The young lady who models for our color cameras is missing. We need you to find the girl. Whoever does will be paid ten thousand dollars.”
(Announcer:) You are listening to “Everything’s Better in Color,” this week’s Ricochet Silent Radio dramatic presentation of Tales from the Pit. Please tune in tomorrow night for the next episode. Until then, this is your announcer Johnny Donovan wishing you a happy and holy Easter season.
Three chimes mean good times. This is the Ricochet Silent Radio Network, your home of radio drama, comedy, sports, news, and public affairs, direct from the heart of Screenland.