The Bootleg Files: Ship’s Reporter

BOOTLEG FILES 763: “Ship’s Reporter” (1948-1952 celebrity interview television series).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: A few episodes have turned up as special features on VHS and DVD releases, but the complete series has not.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Fell through the proverbial cracks.


Jack Mangan’s name is mostly unknown to today’s entertainment news aficionados, but back in the day he was a pioneer in television’s celebrity interview genre. Mangan’s specialty was not a studio-bound tête-à-tête or an on-location chat. Instead, Mangan brought his camera crew to New York City’s piers and on board the luxury liners traveling to and from Europe, where he would seek out prominent passengers for quickie interviews.

Mangan’s show “Ship’s Reporter” was broadcast on New York’s WJZ-TV between 1948 and 1952. (The station later changed its call letters to WABC-TV.) “Ship’s Reporter” ran 15 minutes and was shot on 16mm film – this was before the age of videotape, and the lightweight 16mm cameras enable a quick set-up with minimal fuss. Having a show on film also enabled the program to be easily syndicated to other television stations – remember, this was back in the days before videotape.

The surviving segments of “Ship’s Reporter” shows a wildly eclectic range of notables who agreed to appear on camera for a fast conversation. Some of Mangan’s subjects were major stars who enjoyed the adulation, particularly a fun discussion with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall who were snagged on the Queen Elizabeth prior to setting sail for Bogart’s role in “The African Queen” – and their flippantly funny responses suggested the wise-cracking personas they essayed in “To Have or Have Not” and “The Big Sleep” were not invented for the screen.

And some subjects were fading stars who appreciated the camera’s focus and Mangan’s flattery, particularly a gracious Bela Lugosi who was just returning from eight months in England for a theatrical tour in “Dracula” and a romp in the zany “Mother Riley Meets the Vampire” and a jolly Oliver Hardy who was setting sail to France in June 1950 to join partner Stan Laurel in what would become their final endeavor, the ill-fated “Atoll K.” (Mangan’s time with Hardy included mention of an earlier interview he did with Laurel, but no copy of that has been located.)

By contemporary standards, one of the most fascinating aspects of “Ship’s Reporter” was Mangan’s decision to equate novelists, playwrights and historians on the same celebrity level as entertainers. One of the most celebrated surviving segments of the program is an outtake with Mangan interviewing Graham Greene – Mangan initially flubs the introduction by referring to his guest as “Gordon Greene” and then conducts a three-minute conversation on the making of the film version of “The Third Man” with Greene barely concealing his nervousness for being on-camera. As the surviving footage is an outtake, one can assume the interview was reshot – but if it was, that clip is also considered missing.

Other “Ship’s Reporter” interviews with literary figures that survive include very rare conversations with Carson McCullers, Robert Sherwood, Will Durant, Tennessee Williams, Moss Hart (with his glamorous actress/singer wife Kitty Carlisle) and W. Somerset Maugham. It is a shame that Mangan’s interviews are on the brief side, but even a micro-exchange with these notable figures provides a marvelous filmed record of these celebrated wordsmiths in their own words.

Also of interest to today’s viewer was Mangan’s ability to look past the color line. During the time Mangan was on the air, it was extremely rare for a notable Black figure to have any interaction with their White peers on-camera – Black entertainers were usually restricted to standalone segments where they either sang or danced and then exited with nary a word to their White co-stars.

Two fascinating segments where “Ship’s Reporter” integrated interview television involved the arrival of the expatriate cabaret icon Josephine Baker back to her homeland – the star is glamorous, charming and dynamic, and Mangan clearly loves being with her. Mangan also sought out Lena Horne on the SS Queen Mary after she returned from a European tour and lavishly complimented her Paris fashions while standing extremely close (maybe a little close for comfort – but can you blame him?).

Mangan was not the most well-researched or well-rehearsed interviewer, but he would happily stumble his way through his errors while his guests good-naturedly corrected him – particularly when he incorrectly stated the Andrew Sisters of their breakthrough song “Roll Out the Barrel” and the three siblings laughingly corrected them by citing “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön” as their initial hit.

As its name suggested, “Ship’s Reporter” concentrated on celebrities on cruise ships. Air travel was still relatively uncommon in the years the show was produced, but there is one bit of outtake footage with Mangan cornering Harold Russell, the Academy Award winner from “The Best Years of Our Lives,” as he emerged from an airplane as LaGuardia Field (the forerunner of LaGuardia Airport) in the late 1940s.

To date, the surviving films in the “Ship’s Reporter” series have never been compiled into a single anthology. The Bela Lugosi and Oliver Hardy segments have turned up as special features on several VHS video and DVD releases featuring the respective stars. Mercifully, a film collector has uploaded a healthy number of these clips to YouTube, where they can provide a wonderfully insightful glimpse into yesteryear’s star power.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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