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Happy Birthday, Jay Jostyn!

In 1975, actor Jay Jostyn related an amusing anecdote to author Chuck Schaden (Speaking of Radio) about an event held at New York’s famed Stork Club to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the popular radio program Mr. District Attorney, on which Jostyn starred.  Former GOP Presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, the one-time New York City district attorney (and governor of the state) who inspired the titular character of the show, had been invited to the party and offered some words of wisdom to the actor: “Jay, you’ve been successful.  Let me give you a little advice.  You’ve been successful as a district attorney.  My advice to you is not to try to advance politically!”

Jay Jostyn—born Eugene Jostyn in Milwaukee on this date in 1905 (some sources say 1901)—played the prosecutor who had no official name on Mr. District Attorney from 1940 to 1952, and kept busy on other radio series as well.  He was more than just a radio thespian, however; he began in show business as an actor working in stock companies after graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in dramatic arts.  (Jay also attended Marquette University briefly, before transferring to the University of Wisconsin’s dramatic school.) Though Jostyn broke into radio on the West Coast (California), it was on Cincinnati’s WLW that he received his earliest exposure as a cast member on Moon River, a poetry program.  Jay also worked on such shows as Lives of the GreatSalute to the Cities, and Smoke Dreams.

While at WLW, Jay Jostyn was a cast member on a daytime drama entitled The Life of Mary Sothern—on which he portrayed Max Tilley, one of the heroine’s many suitors.  The show was heard over the Cincinnati station from 1934 to 1936 before moving to Mutual in 1935 and then CBS by 1937.  (The series finished out its radio run as a syndicated program, finally calling it quits in 1943.)  Jostyn went with the show when it relocated to New York, and began getting gigs on other soap operas as well, including Hilltop HouseOur Gal SundayThe Parker FamilySecond Husband, and This Day is Ours.  A July 29, 1940 edition of The Time Recorder noted that Jay was one of the industry’s most in-demand performers, appearing “in 35 script shows in one week, portraying 45 different characters.”

It was as Mr. District Attorney that Jostyn scored his greatest radio success, portraying the “champion of the people, defender of truth, and guardian of all fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” after a brief stint as the show’s “Voice of the Law” (the individual who spoke those preceding words).  He was really the third actor to play Mr. D.A.; it was Dwight Weist who originated the character in the show’s early fifteen-minute serial days. Future Inner Sanctum Mysteries host Raymond Edward Johnson inherited the part from Weist, and Jay took the baton after that.  Jostyn would star on Mr. District Attorney until 1952; he reprised the role in a 1951-52 TV version (and the prosecutor finally got a real name, Paul Garrett).  However, when the program returned as a 1954 syndicated series, the district attorney’s job went to actor David Brian (who had played the part when the radio series also went into syndication from 1952-53).

Jostyn’s other radio work includes a 1943-44 Mutual series, Foreign Assignment. He played Brian Barry, a foreign correspondent for the fictitious The American Press, and actress Vicki Vola (who played his faithful secretary Edith Miller on Mr. D.A.) emoted alongside him as assistant Carol Manning.  Jay made the rounds on the likes of Dr. ChristianGreat PlaysListen CarefullyNBC Parade of StarsNew World A’Comin’, Phyl Coe MysteriesPopeye the SailorQuick as a FlashRadio GuildThe Radio Hall of FameThe Radio Reader’s DigestThe Raleigh RoomRubinoff and His Musical Moments Revue, Secret Agent K-7 ReturnsThe Silver Theatre, and The Top Guy (a 1951-53 series starring J. Scott Smart).

His TV stint as Mr. District Attorney may not have caught fire…but Jay Jostyn would eventually find small screen stardom as the star of a KTLA series called Judge Jay Jostyn of Night Court.  (Well, with all those years as a district attorney—he was destined to become a judge eventually.)  The show would eventually go national as the syndicated Night Court, U.S.A., and he would score an additional gig on the daytime soap The Secret Storm as well.  Jostyn eventually made the rounds in a guest star capacity on such popular shows as Alfred Hitchcock PresentsCar 54, Where are You?The Felony SquadThe Lineup, Maverick, Mission: ImpossibleTales of Wells FargoThriller, and The Wild Wild West.  His motion picture turns went mostly uncredited, but you can spot him in such fine films as Love Me Tender (1956), A Hatful of Rain (1957), The Hunters (1958), and Never Steal Anything Small (1959).  Jay Jostyn passed on in 1977…although, like the disagreement on his birth date, some sources report that he died in 1976.

Here’s one thing we can all agree on: Mr. District Attorney was one of radio’s most popular crime dramas (with ratings that matched many of the top comedy programs of that era) and was also a series that did not know the meaning of “summer vacation.”  (It’s true—while most of the top radio series got a break during the summer months, Mr. District Attorney was still trying cases on the docket.)  Our birthday celebrant appears on a first-rate collection of Mr. D.A. broadcasts, which also features two other thespians to tackle the part, Dwight Weist and David Brian.  (There’s even a 1939 promotional show, which throws the spotlight on District Attorneys from around the country!)  You’re going to want to add this to your bookshelf as a tribute to a hard-working actor…and remember: “…it shall be my duty, not only to prosecute to the limit of the law all those charged with crimes perpetrated within this country, but to defend with equal vigor the rights and privileges of all its citizens…”

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