OLD TIME RADIO - 1 CD - 4 mp3 - Total Playtime: 3:55:48
When Budd Schulberg's novel "The Disenchanted" was first published, it was both privately and publicly assaulted on what I consider unfair grounds. The book, as everyone knows, was inspired by a single unfortunate episode in F. Scott Fitzgerald's
life in which Mr. Schulberg himself figured strongly. The pair collaborated on a movie centering around the Dartmouth winter carnival where Mr. Fitzgerald took to the waters a little too strongly. I happened to have seen the movie and it was—summing it up as judiciously as possible, picking my words with the utmost care—altogether lousy.
The criticisms of the book, both public and private, concentrated perhaps not unnaturally on the private lives and personal characteristics of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Wasn't Mr. Schulberg a little one-sided in his appraisal of a very fine writer? Wasn't he being terribly unfair to Zelda Fitzgerald who was, I'm told, quite a girl? Did Mr. Schulberg, a much younger man than Fitzgerald, know him well enough to write about him? These questions are completely irrelevant. After all, Schulberg was writing fiction. His characters were based on real people but then, so, according to Somerset Maugham, are all characters in fiction, even in bad fiction.
Characters in novels, no matter whom they are based on, acquire their own special aromas, move off in their own private directions. The question at issue is not whether Schulberg drew a rounded portrait of the Fitzgeralds but whether Manley and Jere Halliday were sufficiently real fictional characters to merit all the attention they attracted. I don't think they were. I found Mr. Halliday a little too querulous, far too self-absorbed for comfort, Jere Halliday a little asinine in her passion for self-destruction
Still, the book had—as Stanley Walker once remarked of Fitzgerald's own books—bones in it. There are some wonderful scenes, each pregnant with imminent disaster— the Hollywood party scene, the script conference at Dartmouth, the final collapse. Mr. Schulberg—let's face it—had a hell of a good story to tell which stood up well last Sunday on N.B C.'s "New Theater Series."
If you can tear yourself away from the television set at that hour on Sunday, you may hear some very adult drama on this series which is narrated by Eva Le Gallienne, is generally excellently cast and is produced with a scrupulous and impressive attention to detail. After too much immersion in television drama, I'm always surprised by the polish and finish of radio drama, that ancient art form.
Schulberg's dialogue, especially that of the '20s ("I feel pale green tonight, darling! Pale green!") which seemed a little sticky in print, sounded remarkably literature on the radio, conceivably because you don't expect any degree of literacy on radio or more probably because of the thoroughly expert performances of Staats Cotsworth as Manley Halliday and Joan Alexander as Jere. Mr. Cotsworth in particular deserves a low bow for managing somehow to play a drunk for almost a solid hour and at the same time remain both expressive and loving, a terrible task to ask of an actor. I was considerably less happy with Don Buka's performance as the Schulberg character, Shep Stearns, but I suspect it wasn't Mr. Buka's fault. He was badly miscast. "The Disenchanted" is a very good title for a book but not a very apt one for this book. Schulberg, it is my guess, it hopelessly enchanted both with the '20s and the Fitzgeralds and so, it appears, is everyone else. "The "20s," said Miss Le Gallienne in her introduction, "for all their frivolity and wildness, produced fine writers. " But the emphasis, both in this book and in others, is not on the fine writing but on the frivolity and wildness, on the waste, the despair and the self-destruction of only a few of the gifted writers of the '20s. Let's not kid ourselves, Miss Le Gallienne.
In case you're interested, a few of the other adaptations done on "New Theater" include Ernest Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," Dorothy Baker's "Young Man With A Horn," and Katherine Anne Porter's "Noon Wine."
Coming up tonight is Maritta Wolff's "Whistle Stop" and sometime in the future, "Camille," starring Miss Le Gallienne.
We occasionally rush to disclaim or distance ourselves from critic-curmudgeon John Crosby's critiques of Radio. In this instance we can't endorse it too much. Crosby was spot on with this one. Eva Le Gallienne's influence in Radio extended far beyond her rare--but prized--personal appearances over the medium. Le Gallienne personally coached scores of successful Radio performers over her career, including Staats Cotsworth mentioned in Crosby's article. She also coached Humphrey Bogart, Joseph Schildkraut, Burgess Meredith, Barton Yarborough, Elspeth Eric, Cornel Wilde, Francis X. Bushman, Arnold Moss, Joan Alexander, Basil Rathbone, Jan Miner, Richard Widmark, Van Heflin and countless others.
When it came time for Ms. Le Gallienne to host her own, long-awaited Radio program, many of her most successful former students were lining up to appear in her Summer Drama anthology of 1951. Le Gallienne could easily have showcased a single one of her former students in each of even fifty-two programs had NBC chosen to shape the series in that manner. As it was, NBC, in typical fashion, apparently had no clue what it had on its hands. After waffling over and teasing the title "Eva Le Gallienne Presents the NBC New Theater" for a couple of months, NBC inexplicably reduced the name of the Summer series to simply, New Theater,' a somewhat less ceremonious celebration of a showcase for one of American Drama's most famous promoters, performers, producers and coaches.
NBC further went out of its way to avoid all appearance of promotion of the historic program. Had it not been for John Crosby's widely syndicated article and widespeard public interest in the series, it may not have been promoted at all. But not even NBC could keep a lid on the quality of a series of Eva Le Gallienne productions.
Hosted by Eva Le Gallienne herself, and announced by Fred Collins, the series was produced by Hugh Kemp and directed by Edward King. Ms. Le Gallienne selected most of the plays that the series dramatized and famed and gifted writer, Ernest Kinoy adapted most of them for New Theater.
Text from Digital Deli
The New Theater 51-06-17 (02) Young Man With a Horn
The New Theater 51-07-08 (05) The Willow Cabin
The New Theater 51-07-15 (06) The Time of Man
The New Theater 51-07-29 (08) After Many a Summer Dies The Swan
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