1 – Select episodes of “The FBI in Peace and War” are available online from various sources, among them the Old Time Radio Network (http://www.otr.net, accessed 5 July 2009) and the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org, accessed 5 July 2009). The broadcast history of the show—including the list of sponsors—is found in John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 245.
2 – On the Crime Records Division, see in particular Richard Gid Powers, “The FBI in American Popular Culture”, in The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide, by Athan G. Theoharis, Tony G. Poveda, Susan Rosenfeld, Richard Gid Powers (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1999), 271–72.
3 – Ibid., 272–74. See also Powers, Richard Gid, G-Men: Hoover’s FBI in American Popular Culture (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983).
4 – Powers, Richard Gid, “One G-Man’s Family: Popular Entertainment Formulas and J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I.”, American Quarterly Vol. 30, No. 4 (1978), 478.
5 – See “The Long Reign of J. Edgar Hoover”, Time, 15 May 1972, available online at http://www.time.com, accessed 5 July 2009.
6 – Powers, “One G-Man’s Family”, 478.
7 – Collins, Frederick L., The FBI in Peace and War (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1943; repr. 1962).
8 – Fowler Hill, “An Alert Nemesis”, New York Times, 14 November 1943, 32.
9 – John Tasker Howard offers a very brief resumé of Amedeo De Filippi (1900–90) in Our Contemporary Composers: American Music in the Twentieth Century (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1941), 200. His obituary in the Los Angeles Times supplies no additional details, beyond the date of his passing (23 June 1990).
10 – CBS Radio Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York.
11 – Russian-born violinist and conductor Vladimir Selinsky (1910–84) came to the United States in 1925 and found work with classical orchestras as well as radio and television ensembles, including orchestras for NBC and CBS.
12 – Nabokov is quoted in Dominick Argento, Catalogue raisonné as Memoir: A Composer’s Life (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 2–3.
13 – George Dixon, “Washington Scene... Sinister, Naturally”, Washington Post and Times Herald, 21 December 1955, 13.
DRAMA. THRILLS. ACTION. So intoned the announcer of the weekly, half-hour radio show “The FBI in Peace and War” above the rousing strains of its theme music: the March from Sergei Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges. Broadcast on CBS radio from 25 November 1944 to 28 September 1958, the top-rated series comprised nearly 700 episodes; each opened and closed with Prokofiev’s music as arranged for small symphony orchestra by Amedeo De Filippi, with Vladimir Selinksy conducting. In the early years of the show, when Lava soap was a corporate sponsor, the plodding, foursquare bass accompanied the inadvertently ominous advert “L–A–V–A! L–A–V–A!” chanted by low male voices in strict time to the music. (1) The theme grew so popular (likewise the series) that Prokofiev’s music was recorded and published independently as “The FBI March”. An arrangement for solo piano by John W. Schaum was marketed by Belwin Publishers as suitable for Grade II performers – mere beginners who would encounter, and presumably come to master, the many grace notes and accidentals colouring the key of F major.
“The FBI in Peace and War” was one of two radio series that dramatised stories from the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the national law-enforcement agency of the United States. The other, “This is Your FBI”, aired on ABC radio from 1945 to 1953. Although Prokofiev’s March is frequently misidentified as its theme, in fact Frederick Steiner composed the fanfare-like signature (Steiner is best known as a composer for the television shows Star Trek and The Twilight Zone as well as for his contribution to the film score of The Color Purple). Only “This is Your FBI” was officially sanctioned by the Bureau, but both series brought to life actual cases compiled by the Crime Records Division. (2)
Formerly known as the Publication Section, the Crime Records Division was established in 1938 by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI from its founding in 1924 to his death in 1972. He not only renamed the office but also expanded its brief. Whereas the Publications Section had simply churned out obscure, factual reports for use by the law-enforcement community, the Crime Records Division became an instrument of public relations: its writers developed sensational stories that celebrated the Bureau’s successes. Magazine and newspaper articles, books, and even Hollywood films were written and ghostwritten (often to appear under Hoover’s own name) as propaganda glamourising the Bureau and its employees. In 1935, the FBI assisted in lifting the film industry ban on gangster films that had been in effect only since the previous year. The result was a series of movies that starred the sharp-suited, preternaturally poised FBI “G man”, or Government Man. James Cagney played the part in the fountainhead of such films: Warner Brothers’ G-Men (1935), which brought to life the still photographs of the Bureau’s buildings, labs, and firing ranges that the Crime Records Division had previously circulated in print. (3) The intent of such films, as with all media produced by the Bureau, was to elicit public sympathy and political support for the Bureau and its director. (4)
The crime wave that swept the United States during the Great Depression was taken to be a sign of moral decay that equalled the economic collapse. But President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had asserted in his First Inaugural Address that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, and so the stories spawned by the Crime Records Division reassured a skittish citizenry that the federal government was acting swiftly and surely to stem such lawlessness. In 1933 “Machine Gun” Kelly was brought to justice; the following year John Dillinger was felled by agents of the Bureau, along with “Baby Face” Nelson; that same year, the FBI captured Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was accused, tried, convicted, and executed as the kidnapper (and killer) of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., infant son of the famous aviator. In 1936, Hoover himself arrested Public Enemy Number 1, Alvin “Old Creepy” Karpis – a ceremonial gesture, to be sure, since Karpis was already handcuffed. (5) In turning these cases into dramatic stories, the Crime Records Division and the Bureau not only celebrated itself but also encouraged citizens to participate in the fight against crime by being ever vigilant and reporting whatever they might witness.
During the war years, however, the tone of FBI storytelling shifted. Historian Richard Gid Powers explains that as the Bureau turned its attention from domestic crimes of kidnapping, bank-robbery, and murder to international espionage, “Hoover’s public relations and officially sanctioned G-man entertainment tried to keep the public out of the spy hunt”. (6) In the 1940s, cases written up by the Crime Records Division were not meant to inspire the public to take up the cause on its own, but rather to demonstrate just how complex and difficult spy-chasing could be – and thus best left to professionals.
One such work of officially sanctioned propaganda was the 1943 book The FBI in Peace and War by Frederick L. Collins. (7) With the support of the Crime Records Division as well as J. Edgar Hoover himself, Collins documented the transformation of the FBI from a minor agency within the Department of Justice into a highly professional force of stellar agents working to keep America safe from internal and external threats. Collins wrote up a series of sensational cases, with special attention to the capture of Al Capone. “The order of succession in this hierarchy of demigods”, wrote a critic in his review for the New York Times, “was: Al Capone, Lindbergh, and J. Edgar Hoover. The book tells exciting stories about the fine work of Mr. Hoover’s tireless agents, to whom he may sometimes, and too often, seem to be a martinet. The director, indeed, comes in for a lot of fulsome adulation.” Hoover himself, who penned the foreword, noted that the account was not in any way “controlled or censored” but truthful. (8)
The FBI in Peace and War served as the basis of the CBS radio show by the same name; unlike the book, however, the series was not officially sanctioned – meaning that the federal employees of the Crime Records Division did not participate in writing or producing the show (in contrast, the ABC series “This is Your FBI” was officially sanctioned and authorised, with the full cooperation of the Bureau). Most scripts were authored by Louis Pelletier and Jack Finke.
The theme and other music for the show fell under the direction of CBS radio musicians. Prokofiev’s March was arranged by Juilliard-trained composer, arranger, and orchestrator Amedeo De Filippi for flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, strings, piano, and percussion plus optional trombone. (9) The score, which is preserved in the CBS Collection at the New York Public Library, bears the date of 12 August 1940 as well as the stamps of CBS and De Filippi (with his union number). (10) Filed with the arrangement is its source: the piano score, by Prokofiev himself, from 1922, published by A. Gutheil with Breitkopf & Härtel, edited by F. H. Schneider and distributed in the United States by Galaxy Music. The entire excerpt lasts two minutes and fifteen seconds. De Filippi added eight bars in 3/4 time by way of introduction: a quick, dramatic curtain-raising sweep of ascending scales leads directly into Prokofiev’s March. Vladimir Selinsky conducted the ensemble and likely supervised the selection of additional music for each show. (11) For example, an episode titled “The Silver Pearl”, which aired on 25 January 1956, used a brief quote from Aaron Copland’s orchestral fantasy El Salón México to introduce a scene in a Havana nightclub.
One can only imagine that Hoover, who deemed Communism to be “the greatest menace free civilization has ever known”, never knew that Prokofiev’s March was used to accompany the escapades of his agency. Others saw the irony. Nicolas Nabokov boasted that “his most significant contribution” as a part-time employee of the Voice of America “was unmasking the radio theme song for ‘The FBI in Peace and War’ as the work of a Communist”. (12) Likewise newspaper columnist George Dixon decried the composer in a 1955 article for the Washington Post that captures the anticommunist hysteria still prevalent, even after Senator Joseph McCarthy’s censure in 1954. “For a long time I have been following a heroic radio program called ‘The FBI in Peace and War’”, Dixon confessed, “because it has such stirring theme and background music.” Each episode opened “with the heart-swelling theme music” and closed in similarly rousing fashion. “To the accompaniment of this spine-tingling music,” Dixon waxed rhapsodic, “the FBI triumphed in time for the final commercial”. But he had discovered something about its composer: “Yes Sir”, Dixon revealed, “‘The FBI in Peace and War’ chases Communists and other misguided creatures to the tune of ‘The Love for Three Oranges’ by the late Soviet composer, Sergei Prokofiev!” (13) He drew no conclusion from this finding – nor, apparently, did anyone else, since the same theme was used throughout the entire run of the show without interruption. Indeed it continued to resonate long after the radio series went off the air: Prokofiev’s March can be heard as an influence on the iconic signature of American law enforcement. The theme from “Dragnet”, which aired first on NBC radio and later on NBC television through 1970, echoes the strains of Prokofiev’s popular “FBI March”.
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