BW - EP131—011: Orson Welles Is The Shadow—Orson In The Fall Of 1938


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In late June 1938, Orson Welles was approached by CBS. He was offered a one-hour, network sustained time slot on Mondays at 9PM. William Paley’s concept: A Mercury Theater of the air for a nine-week trial run. Unlike Welles and Houseman’s theater productions which had several weeks of rehearsal, the show would begin in just two, on July 11th. Houseman was nervous. He’d never done radio. Welles would direct, narrate, and star. The Mercury theater troupe would support. Bernard Hermann would be musical director and Davidson Taylor supervisor. Welles called the show First Person Singular. A take on Bram Stoker's Dracula was selected for the first episode. Welles and Houseman had total creative control. The premiere set the tone. Over the next nine weeks, listeners heard adaptations of classics like Treasure Island, A Tale of Two Cities, The 39 Steps, The Man Who Was Thursday, The Affairs of Anatole, and The Count of Monte Cristo, for which, Welles simulated the sound of a dungeon by having the actors play their scene from the floor of the CBS restroom. He placed two dynamic microphones against the bases of the toilet seat in order to achieve realistic subterranean reverberations. After September 5th, 1938, CBS renewed the series under a new name: The Mercury Theater of The Air, moving it to Sundays at 8PM, opposite NBC’s highest-rated show: Edgar Bergen’s Chase and Sanborn Hour. It set the stage for a series of events which would forever alter the course of Orson Welles’ life.

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