Wednesday, October 1, 2008

All’s Welles that ends Welles

It’s October 1, and the First Generation Radio Archives has submitted yet another Premier Collection for your approval: a ten-CD set of broadcasts from The Mercury Theatre On the Air, the landmark radio series that introduced Orson Welles and his genius (Hello, Orson…Hello, Genius) to audiences shortly before he went “Hollywood” with films like Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. As always, the good people at the Archives have bent over backwards to present the finest audio quality via the original transcription discs…and Mercury Theatre is no exception.

Harlan Zinck asked me to contribute the liner notes to this release by listening to these programs, and one thing that stands out in this collection is that FGRA eschewed the inclusion of The War of the Worlds, perhaps the most famous Mercury broadcast of them all (October 30, 1938), since I’d be willing to bet that nearly every OTR buff has this in their collection already. Instead, they went with some lesser-known but by no means inferior productions: Abraham Lincoln, based on the play by John Drinkwater which also combines excerpts from Lincoln’s speeches, correspondence and personal recollections; The Affairs of Anatole, an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s classic novel; and a rousing version of The Immortal Sherlock Holmes, inspired by William Gillette’s play. There’s also an interesting broadcast entitled Three Short Stories which collects tales from Saki (The Open Window), Carl Ewald (My Little Boy) and Sherwood Anderson (I’m a Fool, which is my personal favorite of the bunch). Accompanying the notes is a splendiferic essay composed by Craig Wichman (the founder of the Quicksilver—a euphemism for Mercury—Radio Theater) on Orson Welles (the title of the essay is a quote from Arthur Anderson, one-time juvenile Mercurian and voice of the Lucky Charms leprechaun).

Also available from FGRA this month are two new 10-CD collections in the Radio Legends series—both of which are among my all-time favorite old-time radio programs. There’s Our Miss Brooks: Volume 2—twenty additional comedic half-hours starring Eve Arden as our favorite tart-tongued schoolmarm of the airwaves—and The Whistler, Volume 2…the suspense anthology with Bill Foreman as the mystery man who knows many things, for he walks by night… And of course, as always—if you purchase this month’s Premier Collection or any of the Radio Legends sets…or anything at all, really…you’re entitled to a bonus CD courtesy of Harlan “Low Overhead” Zinck.

Whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool OTR fanatic or someone who just takes a casual dip in Radio’s Golden Age from time to time, I truly think you’d truly enjoy The Mercury Theatre On the Air collection, so why not have a flutter? “Preserving Radio’s Past For the Future”—that’s what it’s all about.

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