The show must go on, as they say. They, obviously, have not been on British soil this summer, most of which appears to be under water. “Fair Albion”? It’s Altantis, I tell you. While all those braving the deluge are keeping their stiff upper lips well moisturised, I am staying put and dry, steeped in theater and a flood of memories. This evening, I was being treated to radio adaptations of Priestley’s An Inspector Calls (previously discussed here) and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Never mind that such adaptations may be mean substitutes for the real thing. You’d have to be out of your mind to keep out of the theater-of-the-mind on a day like this. Besides, sometimes ersatz is all you can sit down to.
Who for instance, has ever seen or is likely to attend a production of Don Marquis’s comedy The Master of the Revels (1934), a condensed version of which was soundstaged on this day, 20 July, back in 1935 over at Al Jolson’s Shell Chateau? The star was Henry Hull, who, as the star of the sensationally long-running Tobacco Road, packed them in that summer at what is now the Eugene O’Neill Theater (where a couple of cloud-covered moons ago I had the dubious fortune of taking in this year’s Tony Awards darling Spring Awakening).
One year later to the day, Walter Huston and Claudette Colbert (pictured) stepped behind the microphone to recreate their roles in the Kenyon Nicholson’s comedy The Barker. The two Broadway-trained leads were substituting for no-shows Wallace Beery and Stuart Erwin, who were scheduled to go on that night in another play. Now, Clara Bow proved a lovely substitute for Ms. Colbert when the play was adapted for the talkies; but this is as close to Biltmore Theater anno 1927 as modern media will get you.
Also on this day, in 1942, radio played The Philadelphia Story, a star-studded event that raised the curtain on a new Government-sponsored venture, the Victory Theater. I’ve seen The Philadelphia Story some time ago at London’s Old Vic; but that show, starring Jennifer Ehle and Kevin Spacey (whom I didn’t like much tottering under A Moon for the Misbegotten, either), truly felt like a substitute for the movie version. At the Victory, at least, you get to hear the original cast of that cinema classic.
Yes, when summer pulls a Wallace Beery, you appreciate radio’s importance of being ersatz.