Saturday, January 6, 2018

Your World Adventure Awaits On Old Time Radio: Traveling to Africa in The Heart of Darkness on Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre (1938)

For the third entry in my series of Old Time Radio programs that feature adventure, lets head back to 1938.  Well, maybe we should phrase this differently - let's head back to 10th Grade.  For it was in 10th Grade English that I first read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  This is one of the greatest novellas of all time and served as the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola's brilliant 1979 film Apocalypse Now.  The story takes into the heart of Africa and into the heart of men as we travel in search of the mysterious Mr. Kurtz.  And while Coppola is one of the most well known directors of all time, maybe one of the very best directors is someone who brought this story to radio back in 1938.  And that director...must be Orson Welles.

Harvest Moon Over Dana Point (California) - October 26, 2015

Well...its Dark!  Harvest Moon Over Dana Point (California) - October 26, 2015

Let's go to Africa with the Mercury Theatre On The Air - the brilliant program from Orson Welles.  It was Welles' success on the New York stage of the same name that brought him to radio.  After a tryout with Mutual Network, Welles moved his Mercury Theatre On The Air to the CBS Radio Network, where he became well known for excellent adaptations of some of the world's finest literature.  In the weeks before the Mercury Theatre broadcast their version of the Heart of Darkness, they featured stories such as The Count of Monte Cristo, Thirty-Nine Steps, A Tale of Two Cities, among others.  But maybe more interesting is the very week before this broadcast, Welles and his acting troupe put on a performance that may be the most famous one that ever went out over the air.  That of course was the October 30, 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds.  So skip ahead one week - on November 6th, 1938 - it was like nothing ever happened.  

On the fifth week of this program series (August 8th, 1938), instead of presenting a single story on their hour long program, they opted for three short stories.  Citing the success and popularity of that experiment, they decided to do it again.  The two stories were Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and excerpts from Clarence Day's Life With Father.  Those two stories could not seem more different.  And since we are focusing on adventure - we probably just need to talk about Heart of Darkness.  Welles opens up the broadcast with a great telling of a traumatic event in the life of the young author (which I am not completely sure was not elaborated by Welles for dramatic effect).  The brilliant story that was published in 1899 while the author was in his 40s needs no elaboration.  Charles Marlow is the narrator of the story and he tells of his adventures traveling up the Congo River into the heart of Africa.  The focus of his story was his search for an ivory trader by the name of Mr. Kurtz.  Besides being tremendously successful as an ivory trader, he is very mysterious.  Maybe mad.  The story follows Marlow as his searches for Kurtz on behalf of his company.  

This great production takes up more than half of the episode and features Ray Collins as Marlow. Welles plays the mysterious and allusive Mr. Kurtz. Other members of the acting company that day include Alfred Shirley, Alice Frost, Anna Stafford, Arthur Anderson, Dan Seymour, Edgar Barrier, Frank Readick, George Coulouris, Mary Wickes, Mildred Natwick, and William Alland.

This is a great entry that will hopefully take you on an adventure far beyond the walls of your home - but without the fear that space aliens from a different world are on their way.  I hope you enjoy this.

Mercury Theatre On The Air (November 6, 1938)

Read the Heart of Darkness - from Project Gutenberg

Here are some links to Mercury Theatre On The Air:
Your World Adventure Awaits On Old Time Radio

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