Every Sunday, through these Radio Memories posts, we pause to pay tribute to "The Theater Of The Mind", as we take a break from blogging about more serious subjects to listen a while for echoes of a different time, through a lost art.
This week we feature an episode from the waning years of radio drama, from the series that believe it or not was actually responsible for coining the very term, "theater of the mind", in its opening credits (the expression had to come from somewhere, after all..!): the one-of-a-kind CBS Radio Workshop.
In his 1979 autobiography As It Happened: A Memoir, CBS President (and longtime owner) William S. Paley revealed that this was one radio series that his company would always handle with special treatment. It was broadcast as what was known as a "sustaining" program, meaning that it would never be commercially sponsored; the network would insist on paying the bill, themselves. Not for lack of interest on the part of potential sponsors; many came calling but all were turned away. Paley felt that the moment the show possessed an actual sponsor it might dilute the purpose of the series: to creatively experiment with the art form of radio drama, in music, sound effects, story content, acting styles... whether it was adaptations of Alduous Huxley, the Gettysburg Address or the King James Bible, each week's effort would be a unique theatrical result, and as close to "art for art's sake" as the business of show business might ever aspire to.
The pioneering anthology series ran in several packages over the years, starting off in 1936 as the Columbia Workshop, lasting in some comercial-free form or another until 1947. So many of the network staff missed the show's creative challenges so dearly, that Paley brought the program back for one final year's run in 1956-57, as the CBS Radio Workshop.
For their Sunday, April 21st 1957 Easter broadcast, the Workshop offered "The Son Of Man", a play written (or should I say, edited) by Archibald MacLeish, consisting of Gospel passages read by Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Victor Jory and Robert Young, with narration by Raymond Burr, all interwoven around the music of J.S. Bach (narrator Burr explains that "the music has an actor's part", a delightful description of the stirring use of music in this play).
It is a reminder of a different time, of the power of words, and of the faith that can come from them...
Previous Radio Memories posts: