1 year ago
Sunday, April 1, 2012
"L" is for "Lecture"
To be able to catch genius when it's just beginning, just starting out; when it's in its embryonic form, or in its very nest.
It’s an unforgettable experience.
The following all happened a few years ago, when the world was younger.
And so was I.
I had a job in radio at the time, making a poor but meager living. Among the regular listeners to our little station was a man who had an unusual collection. He had amassed a remarkable pile of old 78 rpm records that featured performers of the early days of vaudeville.
You remember vaudeville?
Beginning some time after the Civil War, this strange type of theatre came into being and it was just about the most popular thing going, up until the 1930s.
As I’m sure you know, some of the greatest performers of the era – Al Jolson, W C Fields, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers – came from vaudeville and they used it later as a springboard to vault into the new medium of motion pictures.
Anyway, to get back to my story, since our radio station had an enthusiastic listener – (and there weren’t all that many of those) - who had this extraordinary collection of old discs of famous vaudeville performers, I thought I’d borrow them and produce a radio documentary on the history of vaudeville.
The station management liked my idea and they even presented me with a writer for the show, an intern.
My radio station always had some interns around, young folks who were willing to work for nothing just to get broadcasting experience. The director of my station always seemed to like people who wanted to work for nothing.
The intern-writer they provided me with was a young chap named Eddy A. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he might enjoy writing as a career so he looked forward to working on the script for the vaudeville show. We got along fine.
However, it soon became clear that he hadn’t grasped the idea. The first draft of the script he presented me with was – well, odd. It made me reflect. I had thought the subject of vaudeville should be handled in a light, enjoyable way, but his script was a heavy, even somewhat gloomy and depressing history of the era. For some reason, what he wrote emphasized that the entertainment known as vaudeville managed to exist in spite of terrible economic depressions, political struggles and the always appalling threats of war.
I was almost as young as Eddy A but I was convinced that I possessed more expertise than I actually did, and I suggested to him that maybe he should forget about trying to become a writer. I didn’t growl or become difficult; I was polite. I can’t justify it; it’s just what happened. I’m embarrassed now to admit that I even tried to give him a brief lecture on script-writing.
Well, he left the station and I heard nothing of him for a couple of years.
One day, I was surprised to learn that Eddy A had written a play, “The Zoo Story,” which opened at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York in 1960. There was a lot of hype and publicity about it because it was quite a success, ultimately a world-wide success. He then went on to write a number of other plays.
I’ve done some dumb things in my lifetime, but the dumbest was when I told young Edward Albee, who was to become one of the greatest dramatists of the century, that perhaps he should forget about trying to be a writer.
(Also submitted to Sunday Scribblings.)