Nostalgia for the Old Time Radio Shows

By Nora Vasconcelos

It was the just the second decade of the past century when the radio stations found the way to keep an ample audience captive with programs that broadcasted live theater plays specially adapted for the radio format.

The lack of other forms of entertainments, such as television and the turbulent economic situation that came after the Great Depression, make these shows grow as the listeners found a way to escape from reality, even if just for a short while.

Radio stations in the U.S. such as National Broadcasting Company (NBC), Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), and Mutual Broadcasting System, offered all sort of programs that ran from about half an hour up to one hour.

Mystery, Drama, Suspense, Fantasy and Romance dominated the plots of original stories that were performed live by professional actors whose voices match perfectly with effect sounds that have managed to impress people up to these days.

As the documentary Back of the Mike (presented by Old Time World) shows: “rain was created by pouring sand over a spinning potters wheel which sent it down a metal funnel onto a microphone which was covered by a paper bag. Fire was created by wadding up plastic wrap close to the microphone”.

It was so that from the 30’s up to the late 50’s, detectives like Sam Spade and Boston Blackie came to live, as well as crime drama series such as The FBI in War and Peace and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, the same as superheroes such as Superman, Flash Gordon, Batman and Planet Man.

The broadcasts also included romantic stories, like the series Theater of Romance, produced by the CBS; Westerns, like Tales of Texas Rangers and The American Trail, and Comedy shows, including Abbot and Castello, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and the Bob Hope show.

Mystery play a special role in the success of radio shows as it attracted for many years famous actors such as Orson Wells, who was part of the Campbell Playhouse, and E.G. Marshall, host of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Other famous starts that joined the casts of some radio plays were Marlene Dietrich, Vincent Price and Mike Wallace.

When the radio stations didn’t play original scripts, they share with the audience adaptations of the works of famous authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde. In the same way, books like Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Hamlet by Shakespeare, Jane Eyre by Emily Bronte and Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne, were adapted into radio theaters that were able to present in a short time the essence of these works.

The magic produced by these broadcasts was increased with the rhythmic tunes coming from the live performance of the Big Bands, very popular at that time, swinging the audiences away with performers like Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Show.

Music and radio theaters helped many people get through the difficult years of the Second World War, as the audience used to keep their radios on hoping to catch the latest news from the troops abroad. Once again, radio shows gave them some solace.

Reknown brands took also advantage of the popularity of the shows, becoming sponsors of different series, such as Sears, Colgate, Palmolive, the same as hotels like the Lincoln and the Pennsylvania, in New York, joined their names to the Big Bands that performed their shows in there.

Unfortunately, as contracts and legal recording and broadcasting issues affected live performances of the musical groups, and with the recent popularity or commercial Television in color, the popularity of the radio shows gradually decreased until they weren’t popular anymore and their broadcasts ended.

Fortunately, the Golden Age of Radio has remained alive in the minds of many people who have shared their love for old time radio shows to new generations. At the same time, international organisms such as The International Archive have compiled and preserved many of this radio shows for all people to listen to them.

And now it’s time to say: Lights out!

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The Hidden Talent of Fictional Writers

By Nora Vasconcelos

Anthony_TrollopeFor many years I’ve been fascinated by the enormous ability shown by different authors who are able to create not only believable characters but also very skillful imaginary narrators who come to life on the pages of books, telling readers the story the author has plotted.

These fictional writers narrate the story from their personal point of view, both as a witness and main characters of the story they’re telling, bringing the readers inside the story and making them confidents of their troubles, thoughts, fears and accomplishments.

Of those imaginary authors who have captivated my imagination, here are my three favorites:

The noble efforts of Dr. Watson

"Strand paget" by Sidney Paget (1860-1908) - Strand Magazine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Strand paget” by Sidney Paget (1860-1908) – Strand Magazine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

It was around 1880 when John H. Watson met Sherlock Holmes for the first time.

Dr. Watson was looking for “less pretentious and less expensive domicile”. At the same time, Sherlock Holmes had found a nice place and was trying to find “someone to go halves with him”. A mutual friend introduced them, and the next day Watson and Holmes went to inspect the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street.

“They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes.” (*)

Holmes, a consultant detective, solved problems and puzzles when others had failed. Watson, curious about his flat mate abilities, observed him closely, and as confidence grew between the new friends, he became Sherlock’s partner.

Just a few days later they became flatmates, Watson came up with the following list related to Sherlock Holmes limits:

1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
2. Philosophy.—Nil.
3. Astronomy.—Nil.
4. Politics.—Feeble.
5. Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna,
opium, and poisons generally.
Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Geology.—Practical, but limited.
Tells at a glance different soils
from each other. After walks has
shown me splashes upon his trousers,
and told me by their colour and
consistence in what part of London
he had received them.
7. Chemistry.—Profound.
8. Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
9. Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears
to know every detail of every horror
perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law. (*)

As the time passed by, the knowledge and care that Dr. Watson developed by watching his friend in action led him to write down his adventures and later on, to become his biographer.

Using the first person, Dr. Watson describes with great detail the cases Holmes solved, presenting him as a skillful and quick thinker. The chronicles written by Watson started with A Study in Scarlet and then they were divided into a series of stories with different headings put together under the title of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

With a big heart and an instinct to find precision, Watson put up with his friend’s insolence, as more than once Holmes fiercely criticized the doctor’s efforts to present him as an extraordinary detective with humane sparks and an avid hunger for the truth.

The endless enthusiasm of Snoopy

Snoopy, the beloved cartoon dog created by Charles M. Schulz, has captivated kids and adults for over 60 years with his charm, contagious happiness and extraordinary imagination, which makes him the same become a war pilot or an elegant gentleman.

In his daily life, Snoopy does what most dogs do, claims his food, sleeps over the roof of his house, enjoys the company of his bird friend Woodstock, and spends time with his owner Charlie Brown and his friends.

It’s often that Snoopy also gets inspired and takes his typewriter out in hopes of being published one day. Throughout his life, this doggy writer has received many letters of rejection with devastating answers such as “Dear contributor, we have received your latest manuscript. Why did you send it to us?..” or “To save time we’re enclosing two rejection slips, one for this story, and one for the next story you send us…”

However, Snoopy has the enthusiasm of all those authors who keep on sending their manuscripts to publishing houses despite continuous rejections. He never loses hope and keeps on trying, even when inspiration is not always on his side.

The funny thing is that, even when Snoopy has never been published, he has a faithful readership which has increased lately thanks to social media where his attempts appear frequently, getting the support of people who are convinced that, at some point, he’ll got it right and we’ll be able to make his dream come true.

In my case, I have to say that I would really love to read Snoopy’s manuscripts, which I think, they should be fun and entertaining.

Mrs. Fletcher’s curiosity

Cabot cove house

Originally created as a character for a TV program, Jessica Fletcher, an English teacher living in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, wrote her first crime novel as a way to overcome the death of her husband. As her book becomes an immediate success, she starts a career as a writer, at the same time that her skills as a keen observer become helpful when solving “real” crimes along with the police force.

“Murder She Wrote” was broadcasted between 1984 and 1996, composed by 12 seasons and 264 episodes in which, Jessica shares with her closest friends, her concerns about deadlines, book tours and writers block.

Throughout the years, she also faces the challenges that come with the evolution of technology, since the moment her old typewriter loses some keys up to the moment when she decides to attend a computing school to adjust her writing routine to the modern times.

As times passes by and she becames worldwide famous, Jessica Fletcher starts teaching at a University in New York, where she shares her experience as a writer with future authors and police officers.

In 1989, Donald Bain and the fictional Jessica Fletcher started publishing a number of books based on the TV program. The book series, which continues until now, has over 40 titles, all of them depicting Mrs. Fletcher the same as her character on TV, with all her friends, her home town, the trips, troubles and endless curiosity that often places her at the wrong place at the wrong time, only to save her seconds later thanks to her quick thinking.

(*) A study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle.

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I'm part of Post A Week 2014

On writers and books. Funny things I’ve read – Conan Doyle.

The story behind the writer.
As an avid reader as I am, I’m always curious about everything, and love to read about how an specific story was created or what the life of a writer I’m reading was like.

It’s so that I’ve come across about some very interesting findings. For example, I’ve learned that Conan Doyle was so tired of his Sherlock Holmes stories that had taken over his other writing, that he decided that Holmes had to die. So, one day he wrote the famous scene in which the detective suffers a deadly fall into an huge water fall.

Somehow, and seen it from the distance, I think it’s understandable, as the Scottish writer, mainly remembered by his Sherlock Holmes stories, is also the author of many other stories non related to the detective, such as The Lost World, a collection of short stories, The Professor Challenger, Tales of Pirates and Blue waters, and a two-volume collection of historical fiction.

However, according to the letters he used to exchange with his mother, it was her how asked him not to stop writing his Sherlock Holmes stories so, the good Conan Doyle had to revive his unique character, which as it’s said, many writers dream of creating a character of such strong presence and charm.

The story also says that at some point, his fellow writer and a Scotsman as well, Robert Louis Stevenson, confirmed by saying that he’d actually recognized some resemblance, that Doyle modeled the famous detective based on one of his teachers, Joseph Bell, while the writer studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh

On the other hand, giving it a lot of thoughts, I’m pretty sure that dear Dr. Watson is a lively image of Conan Doyle, who was a doctor who loved to write, the same as the inseparable companion of Sherlock Holmes.

We shouldn’t forget that Doyle wrote many of his detective stories while he waited for the patients to come to his office.

I’m sure he never imagined the immortal impact that his work was going to have in the history of literature.

As for me, I’m a faithfull reader of his Holmes adventures, of which I just can’t get enough of, but, I’m also pretty enthusiastic about going through the rest of his very ample work, which, I’m sure, I’ll enjoy as well.

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