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Great Scenes From Great Plays Radio Program

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Great Scenes from Great Plays
spot ad from Dec. 17, 1948



The shield of The Episcopal
Actors' Guild, founded 1923



Great Scenes from Great Plays
spot ad from Jan. 14, 1949



Promotional spot for Jessica Tandy's performance of The World We Make, airing February 4, 1949


Basil Rathbone and Beatrice Straight go over the script with Walter Hampden for the October 15, 1948 program, The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Basil Rathbone and Beatrice Straight go over the script with Walter Hampden for the October 15, 1948 program, The Barretts of Wimpole Street


Boris Karloff and David Alexander star in On Borrowed Time, October 29, 1948
Boris Karloff and David Alexander star
in On Borrowed Time, October 29, 1948


Columbia Transcriptions Program #12 Young Mr. Lincoln
Columbia Transcriptions Program #12 Young Mr. Lincoln
It's never really been a secret that thousands of America's finest Performing Artists and technicians enjoy the same rich religious lives alongside their secular careers as the majority of the rest of our citizenry enjoy. But it's not really the kind of information studio publicists or personal agents go out of their way to publicize about their talented clients. Some might find that an ironic commentary on a society that was founded on--among several other important rights and freedoms--the freedom of each citizen to worship in his or her own way.

But by the same token, those same devout Performing Arts professionals have every right to exercise their beliefs and philosophy through their god-given talents as well. The Episcopal Actors Guild is one of the oldest examples in American History of a guild of professionals banding together to both further their religious or philosophical goals while providing philanthropic and altruistic services to their community. Founded in 1923, the Episcopal Actors Guild has provided over eighty-five years of both religious and social outreach, community service and fraternal services to their own professionals, young and old.

The Billboard first teased Great Scenes from Great Plays in its August 28th 1948 issue.
The Billboard first teased Great Scenes from Great Plays in its
August 28th 1948 issue.

Great Scenes From Great Plays is one of several such examples sponsored by the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church of America over the years of the Golden Ages of Radio, Film and Television. The Episcopal Church was by no means the only religious denomination to mount successful, well produced Radio or Television programs. Anthology, quite aptly named is but one example of the Judaic community's sponsorship of a long-running, well-received Radio program. The Catholic Church has also mounted several successful secular programs over the Golden Ages of both Radio and Television, as has the Salvation Army with its long running Heartbeat Theatre.

A
ll of this preface is by way of explaining that such idealogically motivated Performing Arts productions were by no means unique for their time. Indeed, right up until the infamous gutting of The Fairness Doctrine under the Reagan Administration, such public service programs and productions were not only commonplace throughout America, they were almost universally well received.

Many of these productions went on to long, multi-year--often multi decade--runs. The vast majority of these 'message' productions ran for either a Summer run of eleven to fifteen programs or a season of between twenty and thirty-nine programs. Great Scenes From Great Plays was originally conceived to run at least two seasons of twenty to twenty-five programs each. As it turned out, Great Scenes From Great Plays ran only for its first season of twenty-two programs.

But what splendid productions they were. The acting talent alone for these twenty-two, 30-minute programs represented many of the finest dramatic actors of their era. The great American actor Walter Hampden hosted all but the first program. But he had an excellent excuse for shirking his hosting duties. He starred in the first program of the season, Cyrano De Bergerac, a role Hampden had made famous in American Theatre from the turn of the century through the 1930s. Esteemed emcee, host, narrator and journalist, John Daly, assumed the role of host for that first production.

'Great Scenes . . . ' was certainly aptly named. The production company mounted twenty-two of the most renowned contemporary stage plays of their time, authored by many of the greatest writers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps their press release and announcement would describe the program best (each community released their own version of the press release, much like this one from Denton, Maryland, dated October 1, 1948):

EPISCOPAL RADIO PROGRAM


"Today, Friday October 1, from 8:00 to 8:30 p.m. EST, over more than 500 stations of the Mutual Broadcasting System's network, the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal church will broadcast the first program of its annual radio series, Great Scenes from Great Plays. The program may be heard locally over Stations WCBM Baltimore and WBOC Salisbury.

This is a distinctly new departure in religious radio programs, first because the program will be broadcast on a week night instead of on a Sunday morning, and second because it preaches no dogma, contains no prayers, organ music or reading from Scripture. It is aimed directly at the 70 million unchurched Americans who have no church home. The final period of each program will be devoted to an invitation from a local minister inviting listeners to attend eleven o'clock service on the following Sunday morning.

"Great Scenes From Great Plays", an entirely new departure in religious radio programs, sponsored by the Episcopal families of Denton, will be broadcast for the first time on Friday evening, October 1, from 8:00 to 8:30 p.m., Eastern Standard Time over WCBM Baltimore, WBOC Salisbury and WIP Philadelphia (Mutual Stations) and every Friday evening thereafter.

"Cyrano de Bergerac", Edmond Rostand's timeless drama of self denial, starring the beloved vetern actor Walter Hampden, who created the part of the daring poet and philosopher Cyrano in more than 1,000 stage performances, will be the first "Great Play" to be broadcast coast-to-coast over 500 stations in the Mutual Broadcasting System. This unusual radio series is produced by the National Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church with the cooperation of the 800 members of the Episcopal Actors' Guild. Mr Hampden will act as host for all subsequent programs.

A radical departure from the usual religious programs, "Great Scenes From Great Plays" is aimed directly at approximately 70,000,000 Americans who have no Church affiliation, as well as those other millions who have allowed their Church affiliation to lapse. In urging the earnest support of the clergy for the program, the Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherrill, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, wrote recently:

"We all know that in this country there are millions of men and women who have no connection with any communion of the Christian Church. If this is to be a truly Christian nation, they must be reached and interested, and this must be done where they are and in a language at the initial approach they can understand.

I urge your support of this new, to some daring, and yet essentially sound evangelistic plan."

Plays for broadcasting on successive Friday evenings during the ensuing months have been carefully selected by the National Council with two ends in view. First, a religious message is determined upon, and then a search is made for the outstanding drama that best portrays the message. For example, in "Cyrano de Bergerac" the religious message to be delivered is that man's noblest moments come with denial of self and the substitution of great love and faith. Cyrano's absolute self denying love for Roxane, plus his love for his fellow men (in this instance a young officer of his own regiment) not only create great drama, but also provide inspiration for every listener.

Without hymns, prayers or reading of Scriptures, "Great Scenes From Great Plays" will be heard on Friday evenings in frank competition for listeners with other broadcasts. The commercial announcement will differ only from competitors' in that it has nothing to sell...except that it offers unchurched millions an opportunity to become better acquainted with the Episcopal Church and its relation to the individual."

The National Council made no bones about its hopes for Great Scenes From Great Plays to perform an evangelical function, but true to their word, the plays themselves carried no scriptural or denominational messages. Of course that didn't prevent them from addressing their local communities in the space alotted for that message at the end of every performance. Indeed, in many cases that space and time was devoted to promoting the activities of the American Red Cross.

No discussion of this fine series would be complete without the mention of Walter Hampden's contribution to this production. While only performing in the first program, Cyrano de Bergerac, it's apparent that Hampden was the moving force behind both the Episcopal Actors' Guild of its day as much as the direction and coordination of the overall production. No one could have been more suited to the task than Hampden. With the possible exception of some of the veteran Radio performers in supporting roles, Hampden's extraordinary reputation and weight in the Performing Arts community, including his Radio experience, had to have been the leverage that got this program to finally air.

Hampden's leadership in the Episcopal Actors' Guild and his 27 years as the President of The Players' Club equipped him well for the unimaginable arm twisting and cajoling that had to have taken place to bring this production to prime time. One look at the extraordinary roster of talent starring in these productions leaves no doubt as to the unbelievable juggling act he must have undertaken to get some of the era's leading Hollywood and New York Stage talent in place for each program. In addition, it's clear from Hampden's biography that he was tapping several long-standing associations for the pool of plays he mounted. Sidney Kingsley, in particular authored four of the 20 plays this series mounted. Kingsley and Hampden had a long association together dating back to the days of Hampden's own Hampden's Theatre productions of the late 1920s.

And as any parishioner knows all too well, a little arm twisting is usually all that's needed in the pursuit of a worthy cause. This was clearly a worthy cause, as well as an historically important Golden Age Radio production for its time.

Series Derivatives:

AFRS H-76 'From the Bookshelf of the World' canon
Genre: Anthology of Golden Age Radio Stage Dramas
Network(s): MBS; The AFRS
Audition Date(s) and Title(s): None
Premiere Date(s) and Title(s): 48-10-01 01 Cyrano De Bergerac
Run Dates(s)/ Time(s): 48-10-01 to 49-02-25; MBS; Twenty-two, 30-minute programs, Fridays
Syndication: The H. B. Humphrey Company Inc; The AFRS
Sponsors: The National Council of Protestant Episcopal Churches
Director(s):
Principal Actors: Walter Hampden, Lon Clark, Anne Seymour, Roger DeKoven, Jane Cowl, Basil Rathbone, Beatrice Straight, Boris Karloff, Celeste Holme, Walter Abel, Joan Caulfield, Leon Janney, Brian Aherne, Gene Tierney, Gertrude Lawrence, Dennis King, Raymond Massey, Fay Bainter, Jessica Tandy, Les Tremayne, Walter Pidgeon, Eddie and Margo Albert, Reverend Knox Sherrill, Cornell Wilde, Ingrid Bergman, John Payne, and Madeline Carroll
Recurring Character(s): Varied from script to script [see log notes]
Protagonist(s): Varied from script to script [see log notes]
Author(s): Edmond Rostand, Sidney Kingsley, Owen Davis, Emlyn Williams, Rudolph Besier, George Brewer and Bertram Bloch, Paul Osborn, Marian De Forest, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Pinero, J.M. Barrie, Stephen Vincent Benét, Philip Barry, A.J. Cronin, Frank B. Elser and Marc Connelly, Lewis Beach, Henrik Ibsen, Reginal Barclay
Writer(s) Arnold Pearl, Philo Higgly
Music Direction: Nathan Kroll
Musical Theme(s): Unknown
Announcer(s): John Daly [Host], Walter Hampden [Host]
Estimated Scripts or
Broadcasts:
22
Episodes in Circulation: 18
Total Episodes in Collection: 23 [includes one AFRS recording]
Provenances:

Great Scenes from Great Plays transcription Program No. 17 Icebound
Great Scenes from Great Plays transcription Program No. 17 Icebound


RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.

Notes on Provenances:

The most helpful provenance was the log of the RadioGOLDINdex.

Program #19, dated 49-02-04, should be titled The World We Make, not The World We Made, for self-evident reasons.


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Great Scenes From Great Plays Program Log

Date Episode Title Avail. Notes
48-10-01
1
Cyrano De Bergerac
Y
[Premiere Episode]

48-10-01 Daily Hayward Review
Walter Hampden, one of America's greatest actors, inaugurates the new radio series, "Great Scenes From Great
Plays", tonight at 8 o'clock over all Mutual stations. The production is
Cyrano de Bergerac, a role which he played more than 1,000 tlimes on the stage.
This weekly broadcast is a new departure in church programs and does not follow typical patterns.

48-10-01 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): new series with Walter Hampden; first drama, "
Cyrano de Bergerac".

Stars Walter Hampden, Lon Clark, Anne Seymour, Roger DeKoven
John Daly announces Candida as next production.
48-10-08
2
The Corn Is Green
Y
48-10-08 Vidette Messenger
Listen to Great Scenes from Great Plays tonight 7 p. m., WGN

48-10-08 Evening Journal
MBS—7, June Cowl in "
Corn Is Green;"

48-10-08 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): Jane Cowl in "
The Corn Is Green," with Richard Waring

Stars Jane Cowl
48-10-15
3
The Barretts Of Wimpole Street
Y
48-10-15 Wisconsin State Journal
Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): Basil Rathbone and Elizabeth Straight in "
The Barrettes of Wimpole Street."

Stars Basil Rathbone and Beatrice Straight
48-10-22
4
Dark Victory
Y
48-10-22 Wisconsin State Journal
Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): Celeste Holm and Walter Abel in "
Dark Victory."

Stars Celeste Holm and Walter Abel
48-10-29
5
On Borrowed Time
N
[AFRS Only, from its 'From the Bookshelf of the World' canon]

48-10-29 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW):
Boris Karloff in "On Borrowed Time."

Stars Boris Karloff
48-11-05
6
Little Women
Y
48-11-05 Wisconsin State Journal - Great Scenes (WKOW): "Little Women," with Joan and Betty Caulfield, Leon Janney, others

Stars Joan Caulfield, Leon Janney
48-11-12
7
A Tale Of Two Cities
Y
48-11-12 Wisconsin State Journal
Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): "
A Tale of Two Cities," with Brian Aherne.

Stars Brian Aherne
48-11-19
8
The Enchanted Cottage
Y
48-11-19 Wisconsin State Journal
Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): Gene Tierney and Richard Waring in "
Enchanted Cottage."

Stars Gene Tierney
48-11-26
9
What Every Woman Knows
Y
48-11-26 Wisconsin State Journal
Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): Gertrude Lawrence, Dennis King in "
What Every Woman Knows."

Stars Gertrude Lawrence and Dennis King
48-12-03
10
The Devil And Daniel Webster
Y
48-12-03 Wisconsin State Journal
Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): Raymond Massey in "
The Devil and Daniel Webster."

Stars Raymond Massey
48-12-10
11
The Old Lady Shows Her Medals
Y
48-12-10 Wisconsin State Journal
Scenes from Great Plays (WKOW): Fay Bainter, Henry Fonda in "
The Old Lady Shows Her Medals," by Sir James M. Barrie.

Stars Fay Bainter
48-12-17
12
Young Mr Lincoln

Y
48-12-17 Wisconsin State Journal
Great Plays (WKOW): Henry Fonda in "
Young Mr. Lincoln."

Stars Henry Fonda
48-12-24
13
Christmas Carols

Program No. 13 - Christmas Carols

N
48-12-24 Wisconsin State Journal
WKOW 7:00 Scenes From Great Plays

48-12-24 New York Times
8-8:30--Great Plays: Reading by the Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherrill of
the Story of the Nativity; Guests, Gladys Swarthout and Lawrence Tibbett--WOR.

Features Reverend Knox Sherrill
48-12-31
14
You and I
Y
48-12-31 New York Times
8-8:30--Great Plays: "
You and I," With Peggy Wood and Otto Krueger--WOR.

Stars Peggy Wood and Otto Krueger
49-01-07
15
The Citadel
Y
49-01-07 Wisconsin State Journal
Great Scenes (WKOW): Walter Pidgeon in "
The Citadel."

Stars Walter Pidgeon
49-01-14
16
The Farmer Takes a Wife
Y
49-01-14 Wisconsin State Journal
Great Scenes (WKOW): Margo, Eddie Albert in "
The Farmer Takes a Wife."

Stars Eddie and Margo Albert
49-01-21
17
Icebound
Y
49-01-21 Wisconsin State Journal
Great Plays (WKOW): Cornel Wilde in "
Icebound," Owen Davis' Pulitzer-prize play.

Stars Cornell Wilde
49-01-28
18
The Goose Hangs High
Y
49-01-28 Wisconsin State Journal
Great Scene (WKOW): Walter Abel in "
The Goose Hangs High."

Stars Walter Abel
49-02-04
19
The World We Make
Y
49-02-04 New York Times
8-8:30--Great Plays: "
The World We Make"; Jessica Tandy--WOR.

Stars Jessica Tandy and Les Tremayne
49-02-11
20
Dead End
Y
49-02-11 Wisconsin State Journal
Great Scenes (WKOW): John Payne in "
Dead End."

Stars John Payne
49-02-18
21
A Doll's House
Y
49-02-18 Wisconsin State Journal
Great Scenes (WKOW): Ingrid Bergman, Brian Aherne in "
A Doll's House."

Stars Ingrid Bergman and Brian Aherne
49-02-25
22
Lady with a Lamp
Y
[ Last Episode ]

49-02-25 New York Times
8-8:30--Great Plays:
"The Lady With a Lamp," With Madeleine Carroll--WOR.

Stars Madeline Carroll





AFRS H-76 'From the Bookshelf of the Word' Program Log

Date AFRTS No. Title Avail. Notes
49-05-14
74
On Borrowed Time
Y
[AFRS-denatured Great Scenes from Great Plays broadcast of October 29th 1948]

49-05-12 Pacific Stars and Stripes
Saturday, May 14, From The Bookshelf of The World,
"On Borrowed Time." This story, written by Paul Osborne, is a tender tale you will long remember. It is the amusing and touching story of a very old grandfather and his young grandson, and their struggle to resist the forces that threatened their' happiness.
The story is one that reaches out to touch all of us, and demonstrates vividly the necessity for courage and faith in the hours of our greatest trials. The star of this production is well, chosen for the part of Mr. Brink; for it is, none other than Boris Karloff.
Airtime 6:30 p.m., rebroadcast time 9 a.m. Sunday, May 15.
49-10-18
--
Icebound
N
[AFRS-denatured Great Scenes from Great Plays broadcast of January 21st 1949]

49-10-17 Pacific Stars and Stripes
Also Tuesday "Bookshelf of The World" at 6:30 will dramatize a Pulitzer prize-winner "
Icebound" by Owen Davis and starring Cornel Wilde.






Great Scenes From Great Plays Biographies


Walter Hampden Dougherty
(Host)

Radio, Stage, Film and Television Actor; Theatre Director
(1879-1955)

Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.

Education: Brooklyn Polytechnical Institute

Radiography:

1935 Cavalcade Of America
1936 Then and Now
1937 The Shell Show
1938 The Rudy Vallee Hour
1940 The Pursuit Of Happiness
1943 Suspense
1943 The Adventures Of Leonidas Witherall
1945 Dave Elman's Auction Gallery
1945 We the People
1945 Brownstone Theatre
1946 Private Showing
1948 CBS Is There
1948 Great Scenes From Great Plays
1950 The New Frontier
1950 Voice Of the Army
1951 Stars On Parade

Walter Hampden Stage photo, ca. 1913
Walter Hampden Stage photo, ca. 1913

Illustration of Walter Hampden as Cardinal Richelieu, ca. 1910
Illustration of Walter Hampden as Cardinal Richelieu, ca. 1929


Publicty photo of Hampden's actual Stage performance of Richelieu, ca. 1929

Hampden's 1929 Cyrano, in character
Hampden's 1929 Cyrano, in character

The March 4, 1929 Time cover immortalizing Hampden's performance in Cyrano de Bergerac
The March 4, 1929 Time cover immortalizing Hampden's performance in Cyrano
de Bergerac

Candid photo of Hampden, ca 1931
Candid photo of Hampden, ca 1931

News article announcing Hampden's last performance of Cyrano de Bergerac on the October 1, 1948 premiere of Great Scenes From Great Play
News article announcing Hampden's last performance of Cyrano de Bergerac on the October 1, 1948 premiere of Great Scenes From Great Plays

Walter Hampden in trial scene from Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Hampden's last Stage play, a. 1953
Walter Hampden in trial scene from Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Hampden's last Stage play, ca. 1953
Walter Hampden is one of that handful of American Stage actors who--at the mere mention of their name--can bring a hush of reverance to any group of Performing Artists, whether novice or veterans. Walter Hampden's supremacy on the American Stage was quite literally the stuff of legend. He was one of the great American stage actors and one of only two performers to play Hamlet three times on Broadway in the post-World War I era.

Born Walter Hampden Dougherty, June 30, 1879 in Brooklyn, New York, Walter Hampden learned his craft in London, England. Hampden made his professional debut as a actor in 1901 with the Frank Benson Stock Company. Having spent six years apprenticing with the Benson Stock Company, Walter Hampden became a polished classical actor.

Upon Hampden's return to the U.S. he toured with the legendary Russian actress, Nazimova in 1907, presenting the plays of famed Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. Walter Hampden first played Hamlet on Broadway in 1918-1919, again in 1925--with Ethel Barrymore as his Ophelia, and and again in 1934. But Hampden's greatest role was as Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, a role he first debuted in 1923 and went on to repeat four more times on Broadway.

In 1925, he assumed management of the Colonial Theatre, of Vaudeville legend on Broadway at 62nd St.. He renamed it Hampden's Theatre. Christening his new house with his second perfomance of Hamlet on October 10, 1925, Hampden played there with his own repertory company through 1930. Hampden mounted 16 productions at the theater--including his great success
Cyrano de Bergerac, before being forced to close the theater in March 1930 on the heels of The Great Depression that devastated New York Theatre during the 1930s. In 1931 the Hampden was returned to a movie house and rechristened the RKO Colonial Theatre. The Colonial Theatre returned to legitimate Broadway Theatre briefly from 1974 to 1977--as The Harkness Theatre--but was ultimately razed in 1977.

Hampden was later instrumental in launching the famed American Repertory Theatre with legendary actress and drama coach, Eva LeGallienne, first performing as Cardinal Wolsey in Shakespeare's Henry VIII. Hampden soon became understandably revered as the grand old man of the American Theatre. He served as president of the Players' Club for over 27 years. Hampden's last distinguished role on Broadway was in Arthur Miller's caustic assay of McCarthyism, The Crucible (1953), thus punctuating an amazing Stage career that spanned a half-century on the boards.

But indeed, Hampden's entire, multi-faceted career in the Performing Arts was punctuated with hundreds of firsts, touching and inspiring hundreds of other Performing Artists throughout his lifetime. Though most famous for his virtual ownership of the role of Cyrano for over a decade, he'd ultimately retired the role in 1936. Hampden reprised his Stage role one last time, performing only the last scene at a 1947 benefit performance alongside José Ferrer, the actor most identified with the role from the 1940s on. Hampden was predictably gracious in essentially passing the mantle--or should that be schnoz--of Cyrano to the equally gifted young American actor--a gesture Ferrer never forgot.

In fact that wasn't Hampden's last performance of Cyrano. Hampden's actual last performance of Cyrano de Bergerac was in Radio--in the Episcopal Church sponsored Great Scenes From Great Plays (1948). Indeed, Hampden's career in Radio was almost as distinguished as his career on The Stage. With more than 300 Radio performances to his credit, Hampden lent his distinctive voice, timing and presence to some of Radio's most prestigious productions.

Continually on the Stage from 1907 on, Hampden debuted relatively late in Film--in 1939. While never truly a lead actor in Film, Hampden nonetheless led the supporting cast of such legendary films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), All About Eve (1950), and ultimately in The Vagabond King (1956) released after his death. Indeed, Cedric Hardwicke, who played Walter Hampden's chief advisor in The Vagabond King, played Hampden's evil brother Frollo in the The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

But then, Hampden's entire life was replete with wonderful ironies, both personal and professional. Hampden coached actor Ronald Colman in the scenes from Othello that Colman played in A Double Life (1947). And though Hampden's debut in Film was late in his career, his debut in Television was even later. It wasn't until 1949 that he debuted on Television as Macbeth--at the age of 69. And while 1949 may not seem exactly early in Television, one is reminded that Television had been broadcast throughout the U.S. for as many as fifteen years by then.

Walter Hampden died on June 11, 1955, just three weeks prior to his 76th birthday.



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