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.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

To Be, or Not to Be: The Way It Was, 19 September

Having hit stride early, the landmark dramatic anthology gets a Shakespearean adrenaline shot from the rising Orson Welles.

The importance of The Columbia Workshop in the history of radio is underscored by the state of the art in mid-1936. Network radio was just a decade old. For much of that time, what was heard was a crude product by its later standards . . . Was radio by its nature simply another vehicle for pop culture, to be absorbed by the least common denominator and immediately forgotten? Among those who had little respect for the new medium was a sizeable percentage of the country's writers, actors, and musicians. If radio was to become a serious art form, clearly that direction had to come from within the industry. Radio had to develop its own artists, writers, actors, musicians.

When The Columbia Workshop opened, "there was no show on the air without many limitations, taboos, and sacred cows," wrote CBS executive Douglas Coulter in Columbia Workshop Plays. "The way was clear for the inauguration of a radio series without precedents, one that would experiment with new ideas, new writers, new techniques; a series that would stand or fall by the impression made on a public of unbiased listeners, with no restriction save the essential and reasonable one of good taste."

---John Dunning, from On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)

You can argue which observation (Dunning's or Coulter's) is the more presumptuous of the two. There are, after all, certain radio comedies established well enough by 1936 that are stretching certain limitations. Amos 'n' Andy, for almost a decade the most popular radio program in the United States, may need two white men to do so but co-stars/co-writers Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll are shredding the stereotype that black Americans in the Depression era have no business thinking ambitiously or enterpreneurially, even in Amos 'n' Andy's withering way, to say nothing of knitting comedy and drama effectively enough to blur the line between the two. And Easy Aces, six years old as a network entity, has cracked and scrambled the limitations of language and ambience, with mastermind Goodman Ace seeking and getting natural-sounding conversation, atmosphere as opposed to "acting," and displaying a breezy way of language play that doesn't compromise its integrity while subtly overthrowing the idea that comedy needs to be a barrage of punch lines to get the laughs.

But you can argue concurrently that, until Columbia Workshop, radio drama, such as it is, is weighed heavily enough with overacting and underatmospherics, a point not lost on former control engineer Irving Reis, who has pushed for and finally received---thanks to a CBS vice president for programming, William B. Lewis, who gives a small host of new writers and producers a wide berth and, perhaps unusually for the era, credit---an outlet for drama with honest acting and proper atmospherics.

Tonight, no less than Orson Welles, soon enough to become legend but for now another aspiring dramatist, actor, and theoretician, confronts Shakespeare's tragedy of the Danish prince (Welles) whose hesitant revenge on his murderous uncle takes a deadly detour or three, including his apparent love for the daughter of his uncle's chief advisor, through moral confusion and to grave consequences . . . and admits from the outset the dilemna between trying to compress the longest of Shakespeare's plays or cherry-picking selected extracts without compromising its integrity.

Our final decision was this: To present to you the first two acts of the play, containing wherever possible the most notable scenes in their entirety. And giving you, we hope, a clear dramatic statement of the causes of Hamlet's tragedy.

King: Alexander Scourby. Queen: Rosalind Pinchot. Polonius: Edgerdin Paul. Horatio: Sidney Smith. The Ghost: George Gaulle. Bernardo: Harold Sherman. Announcer: John Reed King. Sound supervision: Irving Reis. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Adapted and directed by Orson Welles. (Part Two to follow in one week.)


THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE: PREPARING FOR LEILA'S RETURN (NBC, 1943)---Freshly home from an evening with the symphony and Eve Goodwin, and not necessarily in that order, Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) discovers keeping culture into his home has stiff competition from Leroy's (Walter Tetley) sudden obsession with boogie piano playing, Marjorie's (Lurene Tuttle) concurrent obsession with Frank Sinatra and a new boyfriend . . . and his unexpected longing for the woman (Shirley Mitchell) who broke his heart by jilting him at the altar when her late husband turned out to be very much alive. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Hooker: Earle Ross. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Music: Claude Sweeten. Director: Frank Pittman. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.

OUR MISS BROOKS: WEEKEND AT CRYSTAL LAKE (CBS; AFRS REBROADCAST, 1949)---In a classic installment, Connie (Eve Arden)---relieved to discover Boynton (Jeff Chandler) has chosen her over a society girl with whom he enjoyed a brief flirtation---is surprised and pleased to receive an invitation from Conklin (Gale Gordon) and wife (Paula Winslowe) to spend a weekend at their Crystal Lake retreat---with Boynton in tow, but with nearly everyone else around her thinking he's out to re-create An American Tragedy . . . planning, in Conklin's words, to "bash her over the skull and using her as bass bait." Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Walter: Richard Crenna. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Announcer: Unknown. Music: Lud Luskin. Writer/director: Al Lewis.


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8:47 PM  

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