13 November: Manhattan requiem

Godfrey (left) asked LaRosa to sing "Manhattan" for him . . . right before firing him on the air. (Photo: CBS.)

Godfrey (left) asked LaRosa to sing “Manhattan” for him . . . right before firing him on the air. (Photo: CBS.)

Richard Rodgers once said “Manhattan,” often known colloquially as “I’ll Take Manhattan,” was the song that “made” himself and Lorenz Hart as a songwriting team once and for all. The song also helped make the atmosphere of one of latter-day network radio’s most respected crime dramas in a time when it also helped break singer Julius LaRosa.

LaRosa had just finished singing “Manhattan” on the 19 October 1953 Arthur Godfrey Time radio show when Godfrey told his listeners and (it was simulcast on television) viewers, “That was Julie’s swan song with us. He goes out now on his own, as his own star, soon to be seen in his own programs, and I know you wish him Godspeed the same as I do.”

The firing made immediate headlines in the afternoon press and launched what proved the six-year suicide of Godfrey’s folksy image. Making it worse was LaRosa—whom Godfrey had the temerity to accuse of lacking humility—being the very essence of humility, refusing to bite when given every known chance to hit back.

Even as LaRosa’s head unwittingly went into Godfrey’s guillotine, “Manhattan” had long become the haunting introduction and conclusion to Broadway is My Beat.

The show opened with a somewhat routine, fanfare-like statement of “Manhattan,” followed by a deceptively jaunty trumpet soloist hailing star Larry Thor (as Detective Danny Clover) as he introduced the evening’s story in somewhat Runyonesque prose. But it was the show-closing version that would stick in the minds of listeners to this unusually nuanced crime drama, as an unknown pianist punched “Manhattan” out over almost muted strings, the passion of a bull muffled by the soiled glamour of a city dweller bitterly humbled on a boulevard of broken dreams.

You could practically see the walls of a tiny side street bar nearby, taste the beer from the tap, feel the breath on your neck of a macho man bumping into a party dame, both stripped bare by betrayal or abandonment, hunching together around this airy piano, holding hands while crying softly into each other’s cocktails. You might even envision Julius LaRosa—who’d go from the Godfrey camp to prove himself a saloon singer at heart, even if he’d never achieve quite the bigger success he looked to face after his inglorious firing (though he’d enjoy a respectable career singing, acting, and disc jockeying)—wandering into the joint, hovering nearby.

You could see LaRosa cradling a microphone the way he cradles a lyric to tell his version of its story. Waiting to sing to the macho men and the party dames that New York’s contradictions, not unlike those that tossed LaRosa from the show that made him famous, won’t leave even the most fragile souls broken very long. Maybe, even, itching to tell them they’ll find love no matter the depth of their immediate dessication. Even on the gaudiest, the most violent, the lonesomest mile in the world.

TUNE IN TODAY . . .

Broadway is My Beat: The Donald Jordan Murder Case (CBS, 1953)

Almost a month after Arthur Godfrey executes Julius LaRosa on the air, Frank Taylor (Lamont Johnson) returns home from an abrupt night out badly beaten and in shock, unnerving his wife (Cathy Lewis), especially when Taylor refuses to talk about the assault, his business partner Jordan seems nowhere to be found, and his wife turns out to have her own interest . . . involving Jordan, who turns up dead the morning after.

Harry: Tom Tully. Grace: Irene Tedrow. Clover: Larry Thor. Dennison: James McCallion. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Announcer: Bill Anders. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.

Further Channel Surfing . . .

Lux Radio Theater: The Magnificent Obsession (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1944)
The Whistler: Beware the Bridegroom (crime drama; CBS, 1944)
Academy Award Theater: Night Train (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1946)
The Jack Carson Show: The Meat Shortage (comedy; CBS, 1946)
The Clock: Eddie; Or, Exclusive Story (crime drama; ABC, 1947)
Suspense: Ria Bouchinski (mystery/thriller; CBS, 1947)
A Day in the Life of Dennis Day: The Advice Column (comedy; NBC, 1948)
My Favourite Husband: Learning to Drive (comedy; CBS, 1948)
Our Miss Brooks: The Elephant Mascot (comedy; CBS, 1949)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Duck Hunter McGee (comedy; NBC, 1951)
Life With Luigi: Mrs. Spaulding is Off For a Week (comedy; CBS, 1951)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Leaving for Lake Wapahokey (comedy; NBC, 1953)
Gunsmoke: The Wrong Man (Western; CBS, 1954)
Gunsmoke: The Preacher (Western; CBS, 1955)

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One Response to 13 November: Manhattan requiem

  1. mikehobart says:

    I was listening to an episode of Broadway Is My Beat once and after it finished, my sister raised an eyebrow and commented “Hard to believe that was made in the same decade as Dragnet!”