She got her big break in the Valentine's Day Massacre.
'The Virginia Graham Show', a daytime chat show, was the direct ancestor of the Oprah Winfrey and Jerry Springer shows. However, it was less confrontational than either of those, partly down to the personality of its hostess. I say 'hostess' rather than 'host', because Miss (not Ms) Graham insisted on the female title. Intelligent and strong-willed in an era when women were allegedly neither, Virginia Graham was nonetheless insistent on being perceived as lady-like. Her show maintained a genteel tone, not merely because of its hostess's personality, but also because 'The Virginia Graham Show' was marketed for an audience of housewives.
Unusually, this show was produced in Chicago when most national TV fare in the U.S. came from either New York City or Los Angeles. Somehow Miss Graham, largely through her media contacts, managed to book a steady trickle of (usually minor) celebrities who were passing through Chicago. Another aspect of this programme which was unusual for its time -- though now commonplace -- was that 'The Virginia Graham Show' was syndicated, so that different markets transmitted it in different daytime slots.
I never liked Virginia Graham's on-air personality, even while respecting her achievements as a self-made businesswoman. In my opinion, the most intriguing thing about Virginia Graham is how she stumbled into the journalism career which led to her television success. Born into a working-class Chicago family, the teenaged Graham enrolled in a night-school stenography course. Equipped with a steno pad, she was given the assignment of picking a news event (presumably from the newspaper or radio) and writing about it. On 14 February 1929, the 16-year-old Graham was on her way to her day job in northern Chicago when she saw several police cars outside a Lincoln Park garage. By pure luck, Graham had stumbled upon the St Valentine's Day Massacre! Even luckier for her, no 'real' reporters had arrived yet. The teenager interviewed several police officers, then took their quotes to a newspaper and sold the story as her first scoop. From there, she never looked back.
'The Virginia Graham Show' aired five times a week (weekdays) in most markets, so there were more than 200 episodes in all. As I've seen tapes of only a handful of episodes, I shan't offer a rating for this programme ... which was groundbreaking in its day, but which inevitably seems sedate and boring when compared to the modern chair-throwing antics of Jerry Springer and company.
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