Well, I don’t think there is such a thing as a second-hand experience. I mean, either you are experiencing or you are not. That said, much of popular culture consists of hand-me-downs, the most retail-generative of which are being continually retailored to suit new media and markets. Pop is what keeps popping up, what pops in and out of the media we very nearly reserve for popping corn. It is the culture that is second-hand, though, not our appreciation of it. Earlier today, we booked tickets for the Young Vic’s touring production of Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, based on the comic book Tintin in Tibet, first serialized back in 1958-59. I sure am looking forward to my reencounter with the aforementioned Tintin (or with Tim und Struppi, as I got to know the boy reporter and his dog many years ago in my native Germany). Without requiring any reanimation, the adventure will come to life on the stage of the magnificent Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. I shall take it all in, with whatever senses are being engaged, no matter how many layers of text and context separate me from the original strip.
Sometimes, an approximation is all we get to experience. Take Charles Laughton, for instance, who was heard on this day, 15 November, in 1936 in a radio-readied scene from the biopic Rembrandt, in which Mr. Elsa Lanchester played the title role. The radio version (of a scene from the motion picture) was broadcast from London over NBC in the United States. I know, the movie is still extant; it is this original broadcast that seems hard to get.
Laughton (seen here through the eyes of make-up artist Ern Westmore in a chart published in the 24 December 1938 issue of the British Picture Post, previously raided for a shot of Claudette Colbert’s gams and this portrait of Laughton’s Jamaica Inn co-star) is heard extolling the virtues of women, probably not a romantic subject in which the actor had much of a first-hand knowledge.
Considering that the original recording does not appear to be in circulation, I was glad to catch an earful of Laughton’s performance on this 6 March 1957 broadcast of NBC’s self-celebratory second handbasket Recollections, which was being stuffed with this Rembrandt copy more than twenty years after the initial live broadcast. Other goodies shared out on that occasion were Dinah Shore’s “big break” on the Eddie Cantor Show (2 October 1940), a tribute to Wynn Murray, and a 1937 performance by Ray Heatherton (whose photograph you may find on my homepage).
NBC’s broadcasts of Recollections are a first-rate introduction to American radio entertainment of the 1930s and, indeed, to the everyday of US citizens during that period. However much broadcasters depended on stage and screen plays for their material, teasing listeners with their if-only-you-could-see-us-now approach to on-air promotion, tuning had lost little of its excitement during those early days of network broadcasting. I, for one, have never treated listening as a second hand sense, no matter how second-rate the material.