Will It Go Her Way?: Some Seriously Belated Oscar Predictions

As usual, I am slow to catch up. A few years ago, the BBC relinquished the rights to televising the Oscars; and since we are not subscribing to the premium channel that does air them, I am relying on the old wireless to transport me to the events. So, here I am listening to . . . the 17th Academy Awards. Considering that Claudette Colbert is nominated for Since You Went Away, I just had to tune in. Also among the nominees, for his supporting role in the same picture, is Monty Woolley, the man to whom our terrier owes his name. This year, the event is hosted by Bob Hope (it was rival radio comic Jack Benny last time). There will be scenes from the nominated pictures, which are going to be explained to us radio listeners. While the president of the Academy, Walter Wanger, is saying a few words (at sixty minutes, this is a rather overblown affair), I might as well share my predictions with you.

As much as I enjoyed Since You Went Away, my money is on Double Indemnity in the Best Picture category. Gaslight is just a one dark note affair, and I don’t think that Wilson, which I haven’t seen, or Going My Way got much of a chance. Stanwyck should get the trophy for Best Actress; but, as you may know, I am partial to Colbert, who hasn’t won in a decade. Besides, she’s delivered a beautifully restrained performance, rather than going all maudlin or hysterical.

Hush, the ceremony is getting under way. It is broadcast live from Grauman’s Chinese. Hope just quipped that he never knew it was a theater, but thought “that it was where Darryl Zanuck had his laundry done.” He can joke; after all, he is being honored with a lifetime membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his many services to the Academy (“Now I know how Roosevelt feels”).

Could Agnes Moorehead win this time for Mrs. Parkington, her second Best Supporting Actress nomination? I certainly like her radio acting. Did you catch “Sorry, Wrong Number”? Mark my word: if it ever gets adapted for the screen, she’s sure to get the Oscar for that role. She also was terrific in the brief scenes she had in Since You Went Away, in which Joseph Cotten’s character refers to hers as the voice that haunted him across the Atlantic. I don’t think Angela Lansbury got much of a chance in this category; Hollywood doesn’t quite know what to do with her. Maybe she’ll find her medium one day.

Gosh, can you imagine all those stars in one big auditorium? According to Hope, “it’s informal dress”—“they only had to send Bing Crosby home twice.” Now, the winner for Short Subjects (Cartoon) is announced; the award goes to Fred Quimby’s “Mouse Trouble”—what’s next, rats winning best animated feature?—and Max Steiner just scored for scoring Since You Went Away.

I know this makes me sound like a nance, but I’d be terribly upset if Art Direction (Color), did not go to the team behind Mitchell Leisen’s Lady in the Dark; the film faces tougher competition in the Cinematography (Color) category, though, where it is up against Kismet and Meet Me in St. Louis. For Black and White, Joseph LaShelle for Laura should come out on top. I was rooting for Leisen’s No Time for Love and its clever dream sequence to win the Oscar for Art Direction (Black and White), which just lost to Gaslight.

Hang on, there is some mix-up about the trophies. Sure sounds unscripted. In fact, Hope, the old pro at the microphone, seems to have forgotten the audience outside the theater, folks like me who don’t get to see what’s going on. At least we are being treated to a few notes from the twelve nominated songs and the voices of Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

Meanwhile, I am testing out my second sight. Best Director is going to be either Wilder or Hitchcock, who faced such tough competition a few years back when Rebecca lost, rightly, to The Grapes of Wrath. A shame, really, that Tallulah wasn’t even nominated for Life Boat, for the Original Motion Picture Story of which John Steinbeck is likely to get awarded. Original Screenplay, of course, will go to Preston Sturges, who, after all is nominated twice (for Hail the Conquering Hero and Miracle of Morgan’s Creek). And if the Screenplay Oscar doesn’t go to Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder, then I don’t know what what is . . .

Pulp: A Tissue of Lies

In the house I now call home, I am surrounded by a great many works of art, from oils and etchings to ceramics and stained glass. When I moved in the walls were already crowded with images; and I felt strangely if understandably disconnected from them and my new surroundings. For this simple reason, our Welsh cottage soon came alight each evening in the ersatz glow of moving images imported from the Hollywood of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s (a few exceptions notwithstanding). These pictures are projected onto a blind behind which unfolds the celebrated beauty of the Welsh landscape which, on a cloudless night, is more silver than the screen. For weeks after moving here from New York City (back in November 2004), a move worthy of a Daphne du Maurier thriller, were it not for my genial partner, I was unable to draw the blinds without bursting into tears, no matter how serene the scenery (our living room view being this or, as the season changes, that).

Not that there weren’t objects in the house to which I could relate. In our library, for instance, I am greeted by the no-one-else-likes of Chaucer and Shakespeare (who, along with Francis Bacon, are being sent from room to room, with Bacon now diurnally aglow in the window of our bedchamber). These stained-glass likenesses were installed for the very purpose of making me, a former literary scholar, feel welcome, familiar, and understood. It is in the attic that I am harboring the rather more lowbrow art churned out by Hollywood’s advertising machinery, all of which feature my favorite leading lady, Ms. Claudette Colbert. The most recent acquisitions to my collection—a Valentine’s treat—are these two posters for The Secret Fury (1950), a thriller whose fierce but fallacious (and ultimately pointless) pushing I previously discussed after getting my hands on this piece of promotional literature.

The smattering of rousing captions that accompany the images sure smacks of desperation. How do you sell a forgettable thriller as a must-see? You resort to words and phrases like “kill” and “cold blood, “evil” and “insane,” “murder” and “monstrous secret” to align the indifferent material you are pushing with the neo-gothic literature known to sell. In radio dramatics, no words were more prominent than “murder” and “death.” “Love” doesn’t sell half as well as death. “Sex” might, but radio was too cautions to go where most minds—and the species at large—are on a regular basis. To this date, US entertainment is more tolerant of mutilation than titillation, owing chiefly if indirectly to the violence that is religion.

Even though its solution relies on a prominent visual clue, The Secret Fury was produced on radio by the Screen Guild. A recording of the broadcast is no longer extant; but a picture of its leads, Colbert and Robert Ryan, posing with the script appears in David R. Mackey’s Drama on the Air (1951). I don’t mind being taken in; in fact, looking at poster art like that (or this one for Colbert’s Sleep, My Love), I am approaching the dramatic territory of the radio thriller. I am being given just enough clues to let my mind’s eye imagine a pretty sensational picture.

Bookshelf Cowboy

Well, howdy. His handsome mug is before me whenever I grab a book from my shelves. Randolph Scott, Series two, Number 385 of Zuban’s “Bunte Filmbilder” (a German line of cigarette cards, issued in 1937). I caught a glimpse of Scott this afternoon when I turned on TV, switching channels for an update on the stock market, the Heath Ledger autopsy, and whatever else made news today. Rage at Dawn (1955) was playing on Channel 4. Checking the Internet Movie Database, I realized that it might have been shown in commemoration of Scott’s birth, on this day, back in 1898. Now, my frequent encounters with him in my library notwithstanding, I rarely come across his appealing phizog. This is mainly because I don’t care much for the genre in which Scott made his mark. Stagecoach aside, which to me is more of a small-scale Grand Hotel on wheels, I rarely watch Westerns (even though a certain—if unlikely—Texas Lady is prominently displayed in my bedroom). True, Scott co-starred in My Favorite Wife and played opposite Marlene Dietrich on two occasions; but otherwise, there isn’t much on his extensive resume that appeals to me. So, I am once again twisting the dial, the ether being Hollywood’s parallel universe.

Sure enough, apart from recreating his roles in Pittsburgh and Belle of the Yukon, Scott can be heard co-starring aforementioned Texas Lady, Claudette Colbert, in an adaptation of Preston Sturges’s ”Palm Beach Story” (15 March 1943), filling the shoes of Joel McCrea. He was to do so again, a few months later, when McCrea did not appear, as scheduled, on the Cavalcade of America program, starring in the propaganda drama ”Vengeance of Torpedo 8” (20 September 1943).

While he did not get much to do or say in the rather dull rehash of Palm Beach Story, Scott was given a chance to prove his comedy skills on a number of occasions. Opposite Gene Tierney, for instance, he was cast in “A Lady Takes a Chance” on the Harold Lloyd hosted Old Gold Comedy Hour (unfortunately no longer available in the Internet Archive). For more laughs, Scott joined Paulette Goddard for a parodic “Saga of the Old West” on Command Performance (21 June 1945). Assigning the parts, Goddard declared: “Randy, you play yourself. A real, two-gun cowboy.”

Turns out that Scott got a chance to play the Ringo Kid, after all. On 4 May 1946, he took on John Wayne’s role in the Academy Award production of Stagecoach. Sharing the microphone with him to reprise the role of Dallas was Claire Trevor, radio’s original Lorelei Kilbourne of Big Town (whom I recently saw in Born to Kill).

To me, the more intriguing performances were Scott’s curtain calls, during which he got to address the audience. Having delivered his lines in the digest of “Palm Beach Story,” the actor was called upon to put his southern charm to work for the war effort, reminding the women on the home front that

it’s men like your own sons and brothers, your husband or sweetheart whom the Red Cross is serving. This year, don’t measure by ordinary standards. Make your contribution to the Red Cross War Fund just as generous as possible.

“For most of us the war is a distant terror,” he told listeners of the Cavalcade broadcast, “until it is brought forcefully home by those very close to our own lives. Let’s match their effort at the front with ours at home. Back the attack with War Bonds.”

Of course, Scott’s commitment to the war effort went further than those appeals; he was, after all, a veteran of the first World War. And, like many of his fellow actors, he went on tour with the USO (an experience he shared with listeners of Hollywood Star Time).

Meanwhile, the gentleman from Virginia has gone back on the shelf. I shall see him again soon enough, as I reach for another volume on old-time radio. For this spur-of-the-moment tribute to him, Scott made me round up Cavalcade of America and Radio Drama by Martin Grams, as well as John Dunning’s On the Air.

” . . . same again? Only a little different?”: Cary Grant and the Radio

Well, this being the anniversary of the birth of the man everyone including Cary Grant wanted to be, I decided to listen to a Lux Radio Theater production of “The Awful Truth,” originally broadcast on the actor’s 51st birthday in 1955. By that time, the program was transcribed (that is, recorded), so that Grant did not have to spend this special evening (previously commemorated here) behind the microphone entertaining a vastly diminished crowd of far-flung radio listeners. Not that the early to mid-1950s had been a particularly busy period in the actor’s career. Aside from its intriguing air date (unacknowledged by the host of the program), the 1955 version constitutes the first reteaming of Grant with his original co-star, Irene Dunne, even though both had shared the Lux soundstage for “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” (10 October 1949), which would serve as the premise for Grant’s own radio sitcom, co-starring wife Betsy Drake (who also wrote some of the scripts for the series).

Prior to their Awful reunion, Grant and Dunne reprised their roles in the mascara hazard Penny Serenade (16 November 1941) for the Screen Guild Theater, appeared together in a Screen Directors Playhouse production of My Favorite Wife (7 December 1950), as well as the Screen Guild’s original radio play “Alone in Paris” (30 April 1939).

Nearly two decades of Grant’s life in picture are echoed on the air, in radio dramatizations ranging from Lux’s 8 March 1937 broadcast of ”Madame Butterfly” (adapted from the 1932 film) and the comparatively obscure (if recent DVD release) Wings in the Dark (1935), reworked for the aforementioned Silver Theater to classics like His Girl Friday (1940) and Suspicion (1941). Radio also invites speculations as to what a difference Grant might had made in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and I Confess.

Equally at home in melodrama and comedy, Grant guested on a comedy-variety programs like Pepsodent Show, starring Bob Hope (much to the delight of hundreds of screaming WAVES and nurses in the all-female studio audience), and the drama anthology Suspense (in which he was cast in a number of memorable thrillers, including two plays—“The Black Curtain” and “The Black Path of Fear”—based on stories by Cornell Woolrich). On the big screen, in turn, Grant was given the opportunity to star in an adaptation one of the best comedies written for radio, Norman Corwin’s “My Client Curley” (previously discussed here), even though the sentimental film, titled Once Upon a Time (1944), does not manage to capture the magic and wit of the original.

Listening to the actor’s radio performances through the years, it was interesting to hear the changes in Grant’s voice—a voice as distinctive as the cleft in his chin—divorced as it is on the air from the features that became rather more distinguished with age. Truth is that Grant, never known for passionate emoting, sounded awful staid in the 1955 rematch with Dunne, his next to last performance in radio drama. He had been heard once before in a Lux presentation of Leo McCarey’s raucous romance; but his sparring mate that night—the opener of the program’s fifth season on 11 September 1939—was Claudette Colbert, whose character in Without Reservations would write a role assigned to Grant (for the 10 March 1941 Lux broadcast, the role of Jerry Warriner was tailored to Bob Hope, with second fiddle Ralph Bellamy as the only original cast member in that production).

Back in 1939, there was zap and brio in his voice, which, in the sound-only medium, had to make up for the loss of some wonderful slapstick. Nearly sixteen years later, in a reading of the same if somewhat condensed script, what had once come across as carefree and devil-may-care sounded an awful lot like “who cares.” The by then all but defunct genre of screwball with its unsentimental take on love as war (from courting to court case) demanded more energy than either Dunne or Grant were willing (or able) to bring to their connubial tussles. Indeed, the loudest laughs in the studio audience are generated by the less than convincing barks of Mr. Smith, the couple’s pooch (granted, somewhat of a scene-stealer in the film as well).

After experiencing episodes of puerile madcap in Howard Hawks’s Monkey Business (1952), which did little to rejuvenate his career, Grant was finally slowing down. Unfortunately, he appeared to be rehearsing for An Affair to Remember with material not designed to make us forget that his days of cheeky indiscretion lay in a livelier past. Perhaps it is just as well that adaptor George Wells cut Jerry’s final speech in The Awful Truth. It might have sounded too much like an aging actor’s apology, his plea to an audience expecting lively antics: “So, as long as I’m different, don’t you think things could be the same again? Only a little different?”

In the 1930s and ’40s, Grant’s vocal chords were as elastic as his vaudeville-tested sinews. A few day’s after his 35th birthday (on 22 January 1939, to be exact), the lad from Bristol surprised those tuning in to the Ronald Colman hosted Circle with a spirited rendition of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” What’s more, the tune is followed later in the program by Grant’s tuneful delivery of . . . the FCC’s regulations regarding station identification. Something different, all right. “No cackling,” Grant told Colman a few years later on the Command Performance (22 July 1944); but he could be persuaded, nonetheless, to sing a few notes. With the exception of his performance of Cole Porter in the disingenuous Night and Day (1946), there was nary a false one in Grant’s long and varied career on screen and radio.

“Could She Kiss and Kill . . . and Not [Be] Remember[ed]”

Well, it had been a few years since the movie-going public lined up for a helping of The Egg and I (1947), the back-to-the-farm comedy that proved to be Claudette Colbert’s last major screen success. Still in print today, the non-fiction bestseller by Betty MacDonald on which the franchise-hatching hit movie is based has just been selected as BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime (for a 1947 radio drama version starring Ms. Colbert and her co-star, Fred MacMurray, click here). Considerably less enthusiasm was generated by Mel Ferrer’s The Secret Fury (1950), a box office egg that, even upon delivery, was anything but farm fresh.

In 1944, Colbert left Paramount, the studio that had shaped and protected her image—spirited, smart and sophisticated, after initial siren turns in DeMille features. Despite being a shrewd businesswoman, the by then middle-aged actress stumbled from one middling project to another, playing roles emblematic of an identity in a state of crisis and a career in uneasy flux: a crime-solving nun, a terrorist-beset Planter’s Wife, a Texas Lady. Even her outstanding performance in Three Came Home (1950), for the ordeal of filming which she lost her chance at starring in All About Eve, had gone largely unnoticed.

The Secret Fury, the hysterical melodrama she starred in next, was filmed at a time when audiences were being swept away by a new wave of crime stories that were tough, gritty and low on frills. Unconvincing and anachronistic, it is an irritatingly contrived variation on one of those neo-gothic mysteries in which newlywed heroines distrust their brain much rather than those who stand to gain from addling it.

As if to compensate for the mediocre material or to suit her acting to the overwrought plot, the refined and often reserved Colbert was, for once, woefully overacting. Two years earlier, she had played a similar role in Douglas Sirk’s Sleep, My Love (1948)—the thrills-promising poster for which I acquired last fall—and audiences had reason to be less than embracing of mature (if immaturely acting) women who put their lives and careers in peril by marrying into the wrong families or listening to the advice of their Hollywood agents.

When The Secret Fury was sold to theaters in Britain, it was promoted with the help of the Exhibitors’ Campaign Book pictured above. The latest artifact to have made it into my collection of Colbert memorabilia, it affords a fascinating glimpse at the industry’s marketing machinery. Aside from offering cinema displays and providing advertising copy to be fed to the press, it encouraged exhibitors to adopt various strategies of getting a potential audience excited about the motion picture. Suggested activities were contests in which audiences were asked to match Colbert’s eyes, to share their wedding pictures, or accurately to recall recent events in their lives (something Colbert’s character struggles to do in the film).

Another “stunt” to create interest in the film was this “Visualised Brain Test Reaction, followed by the instructions:

Make an enlarged copy of this graph to serve as a teaser display in the theatre foyer, along with an explanatory caption and film credits. Lead off with a display caption: “Did these brain waves reveal the truth of her mysterious week-end?”

Meanwhile, my own head is gradually clearing after a recent fever; no longer content to feast on television sitcoms, I am going to take in one of Colbert’s earlier comedy triumphs . . . the wintersporting romantic triangle I Met Him in Paris (1937). As DeMille pointed out in his introduction to the radio adaptation another Colbert comedy, The Gilded Lily (produced by the Lux Radio Theatre on this day, 11 January, in 1937), the actress had been somewhat of a “starmaker.” Those who were allowed to throw their arms around her became leading men in their own right, as had Charles Boyer and Gilded Lily co-star MacMurray. Back then, Colbert had her pick of roles and other halves, and brains enough to go for the right ones.

Impractically Mine

Well, I have returned from New York and am off to London in the morning. In between, I celebrated Christmas in Wales. It was during this period of gift giving that I was presented with the fedora pictured here. Now, I am not one to don fedoras; nor am I a connoisseur of millinery craftsmanship. The giver is nonetheless someone intimately familiar with my fancies and foibles, someone who knows just how to press all the right soft spots. According to the certificate in the hatbox, the piece of felt in question, of Italian manufacture, was once in the personal collection of Claudette Colbert. Not in her heyday, mind you, but during the mid-1980s, about the time she appeared on stage in the revival of Aren’t We All? in London and New York.

What is the history of that hat? Did Colbert ever sport it? When, where, on what occasion? I am not generally among those who gawk at garments or marvel at the sight of items that may or may not have been in the possession of a noted so-and-so. My immediate, more prosaic question is: what am I going to do with it? The fedora is no doubt the most peculiar item in my collection of Colbertiana, which, a few Christmas ornaments and paper dolls aside, consists chiefly of photographs and posters (the one shown here being the most recent addition). The task of mounting them notwithstanding, prints like this one are far easier to showcase than a hat, the sight of which causes me a slight unease, lest I should be wrongfully accused of having gone as mad as a hatter in my enthusiasm for its ostensible wearer. And yet, I am suffering from an acute shortage of walls to hang pictures from or bang my bare head against. I refuse to put the fedora back in its box, though. There is no joy in keeping from view what gives me pleasure to have about me even if it might give others the wrong idea about me . . .

Imitation of iLife; or, Right Now, I’d Settle for a Copy

Well, never mind. I would have liked to conclude my week of listening; but I am preoccupied this evening. My old Mac seems to have given up the ghost last night—or at least it refuses to give up my files. I had been iRecording “The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker,” when my Mac began to act up. Clinker, indeed, to pick up a word of thoroughly pre-Victorian crudeness! As of now, my library of recordings and images seems to be irretrievably lost. It has been about two and a half years since the last blackout, and I don’t seem to have learned a thing. If only I had taken the time to burn a few DVDs. So, I am just going to share this latest addition to my collection of Claudette Colbert memorabilia, which arrived here earlier this week as a loving gesture to mark the third anniversary of my move here to Wales.

What I noticed right away when I looked at the poster was that no mention is made of Colbert’s Imitation of Life co-star Louise Beavers in this announcement of the film’s rerelease. That just takes the pancake, doesn’t it? After all, Beavers plays Colbert’s business partner on whose recipe the entire venture depends as much as on Colbert’s savvy to sell it. Promoters of the film were apparently less inclined to tackle race relations as the picture’s distributors. Sometimes, beautiful images tell an ugly story. An old story, too, of art imitating life . . .

“. . . till the fat lady sings”

It seems that the proverbial one who’s got more curves than the skeletons on the catwalks has not warbled her last. No, it ain’t over yet. According to my students, at least, whose rallying cries generated enough interest to keep my rather esoterically titled course “Writing for the Ear” alive, death warrants and prematurely issued certificates notwithstanding. The “fat lady,” of course, is the diva who gets to have the last word in opera. I don’t know where the expression originates; but it seems to be true for much of the operatic canon. Tonight, I am going to see Mimi expire in a production of La Bohème, performed by the Mid-Wales Opera Company.

Now, I have been going to the opera since I was a teenager, even though prohibitively high prices made for long gaps in my exposure to this kind of melo-drama. And even though a tenor numbered among my close friends in New York, Opera-going still mostly meant finding an empty space to spread my blanket on the Great Lawn whenever the New York Opera toured the parks, taking the sandwiches out of the basket, and hoping that no cellular device would go off to mar the performance as I lost myself in the night skies in search of that rare star darting its long-delayed light through the smog and light pollution of Gotham.

My tenor friend tried to convince me that opera is the highest form of dramatic storytelling; but, for the most part, I struggled to follow the plot and keep straight just who is who and doing it with whom. Last night, watching the pre-code melodrama Secrets of a Secretary, starring Claudette Colbert and Herbert Marshall, I thought what a great plot for an opera it might have made. A woman repentant of her follies, a sinister husband, a pining lover (a nobleman, no less), and bloodstained dress. Perhaps, I’d rather lose track of the plot than the ability to lose myself in the drama of a moment; but I still find it strange to be confronted with a narrative only to ignore it, along with the translations flashing above the stage.

There are few plays I have seen as often as La Bohème, sat through the gloom of Rent and the glamour of Baz Luhrman; but, the music aside, I still recall little else beyond an extinguished candle and a distinct cough. Not that I believe comedian Ed Wynn to be a reliable translator in matters operatic. Wynn, whom I previously consulted on Carmen, once tried to tell the story of La Boheme (or “La Bum,” as he called it) to tenor James Melton (pictured above), on whose radio program he was featured in the mid-1940s.

It was on the 10 March 1946 broadcast of The James Melton Show that Wynn introduced listeners to Mimi, who, preparing for a ball, had just put on her bustle and was “rearing to go.” In Wynn’s version, Mimi had been named “Miss Soft Drink of the Year” because she was “interested in any guy from seven up.” He had nothing to say about flirtatious Musetta, who had such terrible puns coming.

Now, Mimi lives in the same boarding house as Rodolfo, you see. One day, she hears the pot, the poet [. . .] reciting. He says: “There is an old lady who lives in a shoe.” And Mimi says, “Well, she’s pretty lucky, the way that the room situation is.”

Not Rent-controlled, apparently. Such references to the housing crisis of the mid-1940s pop up frequently in radio entertainment, from Fred Allen to Hercule Poirot (who, as I discussed here, inexplicably relocated to the US and found himself without a flat).

The synopsis is mercifully interrupted by a few notes from the opera, sung by Annamary Dickey. It is the kind of highhatting of the uplift that was so common an approach to the so-called high arts in the middlebrow medium of 1930s and 1940s radio. It is the working-class re-vision and consequent rejection of culture as imposition, of art as irrelevance, a way of looking without seeing to which I was conditioned as I grew up, my father being hostile toward anything that smacked of the “high classical,” a self-imposed exclusion from the beautiful, transporting and inspiring that expressed itself in crude mockery.

Fortunately, I don’t need to draw on the jovial if misfiring old Fire Chief to enlighten me. The Mid-Wales Opera’s La Bohème is “cenir mewn Saesneg,” which is to say, sung in English. For once I can just face the music, rather than being confronted with my own ignorance . . .

Since He Went Away; or Ten Came Home

I could have gone on. I enjoy going on here about whatever comes to my ears or opens my mind’s eye; and even the realization that too much else is going on to warrant such going-ons generally won’t stop me from sharing it all in this journal. What did stop me (from going on about my recent trip to Prague, I mean) was our phone line, which is just as unpredictable as the Welsh weather—and apparently under it whenever it gets wet. Once again, we have been without phone or internet, owing to wires that seem to have been gnawed at by soggy sheep or are otherwise rotting away where the valley is green with mold.

What with our satellite TV on strike as well and my partner away overnight, it has been quiet here in our Welsh cottage. Just Montague and I (and an academic paper on pottery and communism I had agreed to edit some time ago). Listening to the blustery wind, the mailbox flapping in it with nothing for me in it, and the dog barking at it just made me feel all the more cut off from the world, as if being around had been postponed because of rain.

Anyway. That was yesterday. In the meantime, life has returned to the old cottage. I got to hear from a former colleague who happened to Google me after over a decade of silence; thank a friend for returning me to Prague by recommending The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the first chapter of which I read today, and was presented with this set of Ross Filmsterne, miniature photographs of my favorite leading lady, Ms. Claudette Colbert. I thought I’d spread them out here before adding them to my Colbert page. And I thought I’d share as well (and for once) just how much glad I am to be in the presence of the slyly (mis)leading man who came home and surprised me with those pictures today.

Now, had I been online yesterday, I might have noted the minor anniversary of Ms. Colbert’s participation in an all-star promotional broadcast titled “Movietime, USA,” a Lux Radio Theater special aired on 24 September 1951, ostensibly designed to commemorate the opening of a movie theater in downtown Los Angeles some fifty years earlier.

“Movietime, USA” features Colbert and co-star Ann Blyth in a scene from Douglas Sirk’s Thunder on the Hill, which had its premiere that month. Producer-host William Keighley sets the scene, which contains one of my favorite lines in movie melodrama:

This is England. The countryside near the North Sea. For two days now, an angry flood has engulfed the lowlands, and the villagers have fled to the only place of safety, the convent and hospital of Our Lady of Reims. Among the new arrivals are a woman and a girl . . .

That girl is rain-drenched Valerie Carns (Blyth), who doesn’t seem to care much about catching cold. When one of the nuns, Colbert’s Sister Mary, expresses her concern, the young woman explains that she was on her way to the gallows. She bursts out hysterically: “Can you see the notices. Hanging postponed . . . because of rain!” Never mind that some folks just can’t seem to find that proverbial silver lining. I settle for a working phone line.

Wallace Beery Was Indisposed; or Stand-ins to Sit Down For

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.