IMPEACH TRUMP.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Studio One - "The Angelic Avengers" - 1948

Today we enter the theatre of the imagination, in which sighs, slaps, kisses, moans, and the dramatic escape by dark of night are no less real because we cannot see them.  Pretend you have at least a glowing radio dial to look at.
What a funny irony that the Internet, and digital technology, CDs, MP3, etc., has made old time radio more accessible now than it had been in the long decades since radio was the primary source of entertainment.  It always puzzled and annoyed me that most biographies of film stars of Hollywood’s heyday give short shrift to their work on radio.  I imagine that perhaps besides the challenge of describing a radio performance, these recordings were just too inaccessible for biographers back in the day, and perhaps they assumed there would be little interest. 
Today we discuss what I think was Ann Blyth’s best radio production and performance.
Between films Ann Blyth was hardly at a loss for activity, certainly not in the period from 1948 to 1952 when she made most of her films.  When Mr.Peabody and the Mermaid (1948), discussed in this previous post, wrapped, and when the studio wasn’t filling her days with publicity chores, there were radio gigs—which also helped publicize the latest or soon-to-be-filmed movie.  In April 1948 she performed on radio in the Radio Readers Digest program "...from the glittering heart of Broadway..." in  “We Shook the Family Tree,” a light comedy about a young girl heading to New York for a writing career.  A month later in May, Ann performed in the Studio One production of “The Angelic Avengers”.   Both shows were produced in New York City.  She apparently bolted for the train right after "The Angelic Avengers" concluded at 10:00 p.m., if The Film Daily, published two days later, hot on her trail, is to be believed:

Ann, you’ll remember from our intro post to this series here, cut her teeth on radio.  It was an intimate medium, where the audience participated with their imaginations, and it took a lot of imagination from the sound engineers – who were the set decorators of our minds – to paint the scene for us.  The actors, unlike stage or screen actors, couldn’t play to the audience (even for a live radio audience) or the camera.  They had to, in a sense, perform for themselves.  Like a child deep in play, talking to himself in his room.
Some great screen actors were rather mediocre on radio, because they had not learned this technique, or else had not learned the technique of channeling dramatic action through only their voices.  Barbara Stanwyck, who did a lot of radio, comes to mind.  She was certainly a powerful screen actress, but most of her ability to move an audience was done with her transcendent face.  Her voice was ever Brooklyn, no matter the character she played, and I think she was less effective on radio.  If we couldn’t see her, we couldn’t sense the depth of emotion.  The same with someone like Gary Cooper, whose entire screen emoting was through his exquisitely transparent face.  His voice, however, that hesitant, monosyllabic stumbling which was so charming on screen, was ineffective on radio. 
Humphrey Bogart, oddly enough, despite his trademark unchanging menacing lisp, did well on radio.  He had learned to purr with seduction, to hiss with menace, to pull syllables from deep in his throat and scatter them to the mic with finesse and masterful emotion.  I suspect his stage training might have helped with this, but I don’t know.  His radio performances, including his series Bold Venture, and a turn as Hotspur in Shakespeare’s Henry IV are memorable.
Ann Blyth, as we mentioned in our last post on Wagon Train in “The Jenny Tannen Story,” had a terrific way of using her voice so that she sounded quite different in many of her films, but in her case I would suggest this came from her long training (from the time she was six years old) in radio.
In 1948, she appeared on radio at least six times that I know of, and each performance is different, and so is her voice.  Just to take a few examples, in the above-mentioned comedy for Radio Reader’s Digest, you would not know it was Ann Blyth at all.  She plays a frenetic college girl, silly and flighty, chirping innocent mistakes in a breathy voice, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think the voice was a young Dorothy McGuire, in a role similar to Claudia, which we discussed in this previous post here.
Later on in the year, Ann played in the radio version of “Another Part of the Forest” for Lux Radio Theater, where she speaks, as she did in the movie, with a confident and authoritative southern accent, also speaking in a lower register, like an artist dabbling in a darker color.  She would also perform in a radio version of “State Fair” for the Hallmark program, (and she would play the role again for General Electric Theater in 1953), and also in the Suspense program in an episode called “Muddy Track” where she is a desperate and duplicitous young woman on the seedy side of town.  Just in this one year, you couldn’t ask for more variety of her work, or variety of challenges. 
The variety of challenges is another reason, as we mentioned in a previous post about movie stars on radio, is why screen actors enjoyed performing on radio, for here they could perform without fear of being typecast.  They were given opportunities to play roles the studio would never give them (like Bogart playing Shakespeare).
In movies, Eve Arden was the reliable supporting player.  On radio, she was the star.
Here in “The Angelic Avengers” is where we get to discover the full measure of Ann Blyth’s voice as a powerful, yet subtle, instrument in creating character.  She’s using an English accent here, sounding very natural and comfortable in it, and never once dropping it.  For those unfamiliar with old radio shows, this is a good introduction because unlike a lot of old time radio (or OTR for you fans), this Studio One episode is practically pristine in quality.  No pops or crackles, or poorly recorded, or poorly preserved audio this time around—it’s clear and sharp and lets us appreciate the excellence of production values that went into this great radio series.
Studio One would move to television in 1950 as one of the best anthology shows of the early days of TV.  We mentioned one episode with a young Grace Kelly here.  No wonder it was so good on TV; it had a great start as one of the best drama programs in radio.  Produced and directed by Fletcher Markle, who came to CBS from Canada and the CBC, Studio One dramatized great literary classics, and featured top Hollywood stars.  It was the Masterpiece Theatre of its day.
“The Angelic Avengers” is a gothic suspense tale, but interestingly, moved to the pantheon of the Studio One classics despite its being a very new book.  It was published only two years before, in 1946, written by Danish author Karen von Blizen-Finecke, who also used the pen names of Isak Dinesen, and in the case of this book, Pierre Andr├ęzel.  She is familiar probably to most American audiences through the autobiographical Out of Africa, which was made into the 1985 film of the same name starring Meryl Streep as the author.
The story is Victorian Gothic, set in 1840, and yet there is an overlay draping its sentimental verbiage and innocent illusions with a very modern fable.  The two young women, destitute in a cold and friendless London, the kindly older couple who take them in as their protectors is meant as an allegory of the forlorn Denmark being put under the “protection” of the Third Reich during World War II, and suffering both the fear of discipline by its “protectors” and the ignominy of remaining untouched while the rest of Europe suffered.
It’s a subtle correlation, and made more plain in the novel than on radio, where the radio version is played strictly for the Dickensian melodrama.
Ann Blyth is Lucan Bellenden, a girl in her teens or just out of them, who has no family.  She works as a governess, but flees from her wealthy employer’s home in the dead of night because “…the master, whom I had respected as a father made me…(she pauses here with delectable insinuation)…unworthy proposals.  Now I am leaving it all behind, hoping the night and the speed of the stagecoach will wipe out his words.” 

We hear the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestones.  The sound effects are tremendous in this show.  Every sound, from rising crowd conversation to a silver tinkling bell over the door of shop, to silence broken by a light knock is made sensuous.
Best to listen to this on a CD in your car on a long, rainy drive.
Lucan takes refuge with a friend, Zosine, but Zosine is also out on the streets because her father’s fortune is lost to debts.  She is a flighty, flirtatious girl, good-hearted but undisciplined.  She is played by Margaret Phillips, who came to the US from the UK in 1939 and most recently had appeared on Broadway in Lillian Hellman’s Another Part of the Forest as the young Birdie. 
They apply to an employment service, and are taken in by a stroke of good fortune by a retired minister and his wife.  The couple lost their only daughter and now devote their home to helping friendless young girls.  They take the girls to their home in France, called Sainte-Barbe, and everything seems rosy at first.
The wonderful Everett Sloane, one of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater gang, plays the Reverend Pennhallow, and his vocal characterizations and changes in mood are nimble and evocative.  Sarah Burton is the cloying, raspy Mrs. Pennhallow.  All the cast, including a large group of extras, all sound like a Masterpiece Theatre ensemble group.
When the girls go to a country fair, the Reverend advises them, “As you go among strangers, a demure bearing and virtue of the heart are your greatest shields.”
The question is, what is evil, and do we know when we see it?  What happens when we realize it too late?  Are we accomplices by not recognizing it sooner?
I won’t go play-by-play on the plot because it is a mystery, but evil soon surfaces and the girls are in danger.  It’s an obviously abbreviated version of the novel, but it stands well on its own. The novel goes into more detail about the evils faced by the girls (which includes the discovery of homeless girls being sold into prostitution), but the radio version is powerful no less for tossing clues our way and leaving the rest to our imaginations.

At the beginning of the program, Ann Blyth is introduced as “a new and swiftly rising star.”  (On Radio Reader's Digest the announcer calls her "one of Hollywood's brilliant and engaging young actresses.") It is a thrilling performance just for her vocal technique in breathing, articulation, and yet having it sound so natural.  There are tears and smiles in her voice, and there is the growing horror of psychological drama.  She’s letter perfect and never drops a line.  Even fellow Broadway vet Sarah Burton stumbles a couple times.  Ann's character is open-hearted, kind, humble, and courageous.  Glossy, artificial, venial Veda Pierce is completely gone as if she never was.
This was a live show, with a full orchestra playing an original score written for this program, composed and conducted by Alexander Samler.
At the end of the program, we have the plug for the studio that announces that Ann Blyth is currently co-starred in Another Part of the Forest.  Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid hadn’t been released yet, and in that overlapping of the Hollywood assembly line, she would be off to Utah in a few weeks to start filming her first western, Red Canyon.  Another character, another voice.
Come back next Thursday when we take a look at the lush and lovely Kismet (1955) which would be Ann Blyth’s last movie musical, the one that gave her signature tunes and a colorful showcase for her lyric soprano.

“The Angelic Avengers” is in public domain.  To listen to the program here on the Internet Archive, scroll down to the title and download to your computer or just play it while we’re sitting here.  I’ll go make tea.

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Andr├ęzel, Pierre.  The Angelic Avengers (NY: Random House, 1978).

The Film Daily, May 27, 1948, p. 2.

The Internet Archive website.

UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
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The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood





Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.

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On another note, unrelated, this is to announce I have another speaking engagement February 4th at the Storrs Library, Longmeadow, Mass. on my book States of Mind: New England, where I'll be showing a PowerPoint presentation of photos from the book.


3 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

The experience of being told a story, and of that story being told well is thrilling. I look forward to this particular story and Ann Blyth's role when I can dim the lights and kick the family out.

I very much enjoyed your analysis of the challenges of radio and the abilities of the actors. I participated in a dramatic reading of "A Christmas Carol" in December and the talents of my fellow performers impressed me and renewed my admiration for the art.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Wow, I would have loved to seen the dramatic reading of "A Christmas Carol". I liked staged readings, where actors and audience alike are more focused on the power of the language.

I'd love to know your impressions of "The Angelic Avengers" someday when you get a chance.

Kelly Zauber said...


She is truly stunning. I wonder how will she be if she's still making movies in this modern era. I shouldn't miss her movies. Guess I'll be staying in our home theater in Austin all day long.