Saturday, August 14, 2010

Uncle Lew on the air

Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine. 1938
 (center in civilian clothes)

Grandma McNally's brother Lew Valentine was Police Commissioner of New York City from 1934 to 1945. He moved up from patrolman to chief inspector to Commissioner under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

Above a photo of him in 1925 from the Brooklyn Eagle. He is on the right in the derby hat with a star.

Above is some publicity about his move to Chief Inspector from the New York Times.

Watch a few short video clips of the Police Commissioner from 1939 by clicking here:  
In the center with LaGuardia on the left

This article from Time magazine in September 17, 1945, summarizes his career:

"Radio: Gang Buster"
Lewis Joseph Valentine has a sweet-sounding name, but he is a tough man. He joined New York's Finest in 1903, at 21, and quietly became an outstanding cop for his day: he was honest. As a result, Valentine's lot was not a happy one.

He pounded a beat for ten years. Then he did such a good job on the "shoofly" squad, routing out grafters among his fellow cops, that he won promotions and made many a political enemy. Not until 1934 did his stubborn honesty pay off; then reforming Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia made him the $10,000-a-year Commissioner of New York's 18,000-man police force.

In his first six years in office, icy-eyed Commissioner Valentine fired some 300 men, officially rebuked 3,000, fined 8,000. He was even harder on the crooks.

Once he took offense at a natty, well-manicured prisoner in the police lineup, issued a famous order to the 200 detectives present: "He's the best-dressed man in this room. . . . Don't be afraid to muss 'em up. Blood should be smeared all over that velvet collar." Under Valentine (and, of course, with the help of LaGuardia and Tom Dewey) the slot-machine gangs, gambling rings, white-slavers, "popes and rabbis" (meddling politicians) were largely driven out or undercover. New Yorkers boasted, for the first time in memory, of the most honest police force in the land.

Last week hardboiled, honest Lewis J. Valentine at 63 was entitled to his reward. He stepped down from the police force and announced that, starting Sept. 15, he would become "Chief Investigator-Commentator" for radio's Gang Busters Salary: $25,000 a year. Said Mayor LaGuardia, an old dragonslayer on the radio himself: "Busting gangs on the microphone, Lew, is going to be real easy. . . . Give them the works."

Gang Busters was a weekly radio program in which actual cases were recalled and dramatized. Uncle Lew retired to become the announcer who introduced the program and interviewed the lawman (or an actor playing the lawman) from September, 1945 to December, 1946. A quote from the New York Times:

“This is not just a story program,” he said in explaining the move. “It has authentic facts. I feel this will serve as part and parcel of my continuance to serve the people of these United States to the best of my abilities on this nationwide radio program.”
During his career as radio announcer he also went to went to Japan under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur as a post-war advisor to help the army reorganize the Japanese police, fire and prison systems in March, 1946.  His health was failing and he soon returned to New York. After his death on December 16th the radio program broadcast a memorial with a dramatization of his life.

Many episodes of Gang Busters are available online. Listen to replays of those featuring Uncle Lew as narrator. He had an impressive voice that seemed perfect for radio.
Click here:
Scroll down to "The case of Henry 'Red' Beaver" and "The Case of Al Simione."

Try this site:
Click on
"The Case Of The Red Evening Dress".
"The Case Of John K Giles, Escape Artist"

I could not find a copy of episode #83434, the memorial program from December 21, 1946, which also included Fiorello La Guardia and the Benedictine Choir.

Gang Busters was adapted to the movies, television, comics and Big Little Books.

Here a list of Gang Busters programs with Lewis J. Valentine listed as announcer.

50421. September 22, 1945. Program #400.  "The Case Of The Red Evening Dress".
83831. September 29, 1945.  "The Case Of John K. Giles, Escape Artist".
11850. September 29, 1945. Program #401.  "The Case Of John K. Giles, Escape Artist".
81092. December 22, 1945. Program #413. "The Case Of Al Simeone".
81093. December 29, 1945. Program #414.  "The Case Of Red Coleman".
81094. January 5, 1946. Program #415.  "The Case Of The Rumbold Vault Robbery".
81095. January 12, 1946. Program #416. "The Case Of The Texas Killer".
81091. December 14, 1946. Program #464.  "The Case Of The Elusive Bandits".
83434. December 21, 1946. Special memorial to Lewis J. Valentine with dramatization of his life.
Includes... Fiorello La Guardia, The Benedictine Choir.


  1. Hi Barbara,

    I found this blog while searching online for information about Commissioner Lewis Valentine, and find the family information here to be really interesting, and (some of it) surprising! My father was Valentine Joseph Curley, the third son and sixth child (of seven) of Frank Curley and Elizabeth (Bess) Valentine Curley. As you can see he was given the Valentine family name as his first name (which caused some issues in the schoolyards of Brooklyn when he was growing up!). He was born in 1926, and died in 1999. So I guess we are second cousins through the Valentine great-grandparents?

    The information on the Valentine family roots in Alsace is very interesting. I had always wondered where exactly they came from, thinking perhaps Bavaria or some other Catholic area of Germany. I also remember hearing about “Uncle Lew” – his role as NYC Police Commissioner, and later as host of Gangbusters.

    I e-mailed links to this blog to my five brothers, and family members who are all connected through Bess Curley. You may be seeing comments from some of them soon as well. There is so much good information here, well organized, and often related with good humor. I have subscribed as a follower. It’s good to know that I’m related, however distantly, to such nice people!

    Mark Curley

  2. I was refered to this site a while ago, but managed to lose the address. My grandfather was Ed Valentine, son of William and Cecelia and nephew of Lewis. I found this site today while looking for some cd cover ideas, and thought I'd drop a line. It's nice to see there are more relatives out there!

    Kay Valentine