Well, what a difference a day makes—at least if you are spending it installing a new router. The wireless woes of recent weeks having passed, I can continue to issue my journal without further “adieu,” this week’s return visit to the Welsh getaway of media mogul William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies excepting. As much as I enjoy being out and about, I relish staying put to share whatever crosses my mind, free to linger in the presence of kindred spirits or chat online with friends overseas to learn about their struggles and successes in show business and music publishing. I am somewhat short on ambition, I guess, safe for writing my own radio column, come hell or high definition. And, unless I allow myself to stray from the subject or find myself thwarted by technology—I am doing just that right here.
A radio column. That was what got Sammy started. You know, Sammy Glick, the title character of What Makes Sammy Run? (1941), the novelistic debut of Budd Schulberg (whose voice you may hear at the close of this mid-1950s radio documentary about his friend and colleague F. Scott Fitzgerald). Now, Sammy was just a twelve-bucks-a-week nobody running copy for a drama editor at a New York City newspaper when, one day, he announced that he “felt himself ready to conduct the paper’s radio column. Of course,” sneered the narrator (said editor), “the fact that the paper had never had a radio column didn’t seem to discourage him in the least.”
I first read this exchange when I was researching my doctoral study on so-called old-time radio, examining it in relation to other and older media in the 1930s and ’40s. What Makes Sammy Run? provided a vivid example, albeit fictional, of the doubt, dread, and disdain with which the American press eyed, tried to suppress, and pretended to ignore the commercial might of the broadcasting industry. “[W]hy should we plug a setup that’s cutting our advertising?” the editor tells Sammy, the overeager upstart who aims to please with the aim of pleasing himself:
“And just what makes you think you’re prepared to be an expert on matters Marconi?”
“What made you think you were an expert on the theater?”
To this blunt challenge, the irked authority feebly replies:
“I always liked the theater. I’ve seen lots of plays.”
“Well, I’ve listened to the radio plenty, too,” Sammy said.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” I said. “Everybody listens to the radio.”
“That’s why there oughta be a radio column,” Sammy said.
Guess what, little Sammy gets his column, and then some. He’s got plenty of nerve and few scruples. Unencumbered by the weight of a conscience and lifted instead by an inflated ego, the boy is getting far, and fast. He even passes off as his own a radio comedy by an inexperienced if gifted nobody who came to ask him for advice, barely giving credit to its original author when he sells the piece as a screen project.
What makes the Sammys of the world outrun us? What makes them run us over and run our lives as we stay put and gaze at them through the cloud of dust those windbags leave behind as they make a dash for whatever it is that is it for them? That is what I ask myself while I remain seated, long after the handfuls of dust have settled, to see the world from my virtual porch . . .