Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why We Fought (and Fight): The Way It Was, 15 December

The story is that the author was completing the script when the news hit about Pearl Harbour over a week earlier. The legend is that there couldn't possibly have come a better time to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, the impetus behind what many will continue to consider old-time radio titan Norman Corwin's signature composition and presentation, from the moment it airs today.

Which is, when all is said and done, rather remarkable for a man who has just been sacked by CBS, because his work---though much heard, heeded, and honoured---has been, in effect, too "speculative [and] experimental" for a network in need of becoming more "competitive."

With poetic allusions, image, insight, Corwin exploited the attributes of radio in bringing to life the persistent, often painful course of constitutional development in the United States. He blended past with present and evoke aural excitement, which made history timely, relevant, rewarding. He melded an all-star Hollywood cast into a moving, compelling performance that transcended the identity of famous and familiar personalities.

Still, it was the program's uncanny timing---just eight days after Pearl Harbour---which gave it historic significance. Its nationalistic theme, intensified by the shocking attack and subsequent declaration of war, kindled within the people an indignant patriotism and renewed dedication. Its timely statement was heightened even more by a short, concluding talk by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was almost as if the broadcast had been created for the moment, yet it had been months in planning.

In the fall of 1941, Corwin had no way of knowing the ultimate importance of the endeavour. He could not envision the program's impact on the people---or, for that matter, on his own career. He was drained, exhausted, after the long and grueling 26 By Corwin. And when William B. Lewis, who now directed the radio division of the government's Office of Facts and Figures, asked him to develop the special, Corwin at first resisted. But Lewis was adamant. He finally persuaded Corwin that the effort was vital, that his participation was essential . . .

It was the first time in months the two broadcasters had seen each other, and Lewis asked how things were going at (CBS headuqarters at) 485 Madison. Corwin brought him up to date on developments at CBS, then told him of (Lewis's successor as CBS vice president of programming Douglas) Coulter's conversation the week before (when Coulter in effect fired Corwin). Lewis was surprised at the network's attitude, but told him not to worry. He would be getting in touch within the next few days "about something big," and several days later he telephoned Corwin to explain the plans at the Office of Facts and Figures to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the American Bill of Rights . . . The director of OFF, Archibald MacLeish, had named a planning committee . . .

Lewis had urged the committee to think in terms of radio. In fact, he proposed a monumental media effort that would be aired on all national networks in prime time. Moreover, he made known his feelings that only one person, Norman Corwin, was capable of creating the program he had in mind. Corwin, though flattered by the faith of his former boss, did not greet the proposition with enthusiasm, but Lewis persisted . . .

. . . With the deadline only twenty-six days away, Corwin again found himself facing pressure. Moreover, the difficulty of the task became quite clear upon his first visit to the Library of Congress. After several hours poking through files to unravel the bibliography of the Bill of Rights, he found the evolution of the first ten amendments a complicated, often fragentary story. To his dismay, research often dead-ended and left him frustrated.

At lunch with MacLeish November 21, he told the OFF director of his problem. MacLeish, who was also librarian for the Library of Congress, was sympathetic and granted Corwin's request to remain in the library after closing time . . .

---R. LeRoy Bannerman, in "The Anniversary: The Bill of Rights Show," from On A Note of Triumph: Norman Corwin and the Golden Years of Radio. (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1986.)

The talent presenting the Corwin jewel (whose title was taken not from the Bill of Rights but from the Declaration of Independence) only begins with James Stewart (whom Corwin had seen as the show's narrator from the moment he began to work on the project), and merely continues with Edward Arnold, Lionel Barrymore, Walter Brennan, Bob Burns, Dane Clark, Walter Huston, Elliott Lewis, Marjorie Main, Edward G. Robinson, Rudy Vallee, and Orson Welles. Not to mention Leopold Stokowski leading the New York Philharmonic through "The Star Spangled Banner."

And there may never again be a more pungent, poignant, and powerful exposition of the promise within the Bill of Rights---a promise too often forgotten, if not broken, and by both the very government to whom its defence and enforcement are entrusted, and by enough of the people to whom its defence and enforcement are governed by fashion or fear, too often for comfort.


MY FRIEND IRMA: DANCING FOOLS (CBS, 1947)---Jane (Cathy Lewis) is almost desperate to see Irma (Marie Wilson) teach shiftless and clumsy Al (John Brown) to dance properly, for a double dancing date with Jane and Richard (Leif Erickson)----even if it means helplessly loyal Irma going dancing with someone else to prove the point. Mrs. O'Reilly: Gloria Gordon. Professor Kropotkin: Hans Conreid. Writers: Parke Levy, Stanley Adams.

QUIET, PLEASE: LITTLE FELLOW (MUTUAL, 1947)---A midget (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) who wishes he weren't so small discovers it may be wiser to get what you didn't wish for. Jennifer: Betty Garde. Justice of the Peace: J. Pat O'Malley. Writer: Wyllis Cooper.

BOB & RAY PRESENT THE CBS RADIO NETWORK: ONE FELLA'S FAMILY---MISSING CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS (WE'LL GIVE YOU A HINT . . . , 1959)---From Book Ex Vee Eye Eye, Chapter Eye Eye, Pages 11, 12, and the Bottom of Page 14. Writers: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.


1873---Harry Humphrey (actor: Death Valley Days; Ma and Pa), San Francisco.
1888---Maxwell Anderson (writer: Free Company; Keep 'em Rolling; The O'Neill Cycle), Atlantic, Pennsylvania.
1896---Betty Smith (author: Hallmark Playhouse), New York City.
1907---Bob Hawk (host: Take It or Leave It; Thanks to the Yanks; The Bob Hawk Show), Creston, Iowa.
1915---Margaret Hayes (actress: Silver Theater), Baltimore.
1918---Jeff Chandler (as Ira Grossel; actor: Michael Shayne, Detective; Duffy's Tavern; Escape; Our Miss Brooks), Brooklyn.
1926---Rose Maddox (singer: Country Hoedown; The Faron Yougn Show), Boaz, Alabama.


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