‘Lux Presents Hollywood’: films on the radio during the ‘golden age’ of broadcasting

SPEIDEL, Suzanne (2018). ‘Lux Presents Hollywood’: films on the radio during the ‘golden age’ of broadcasting. In: CUTCHINS, Dennis, KREBS, Katja and VOIGT, Eckart, (eds.) Routledge companion to adaptation. London, Routledge, 265-277.

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This chapter examines the long-running radio anthologies Lux Radio Theater (1934-1955) and the Screen Guild Theater (1939-1952; sponsored by a range of different products), which broadcast adaptations of Hollywood movies on the NBC and CBS networks during US radio’s ‘golden age.’ During this period radio ownership increased exponentially, and the medium’s escapist comforts were prized so highly that many Depression-era families prioritized their radio hire-purchase payments over those of more functional, household appliances. It was also an era when the difficulty of how radio could be exploited commercially was solved by the devolution of programming to advertising agencies. Advertisers not only leased airtime and studio facilities from the radio networks, they also hired creative staff, such as writers, actors and producers, who became employees of specialist radio departments for agencies like JWT (the J. Walter Thompson Company, whose biggest client was Lever Brothers, the manufacturers of Lux soaps and detergents). Adaptation critics often cite commercial interests as a key motivation for adaptation, but this has seldom been more conspicuously evident than in these anthologies. Each episode unabashedly blended its source narrative with endorsements of soaps, face powders, cigarettes and gas stations, as well as with ‘movie news’ that used stars to promote both forthcoming feature films and the sponsors’ products. The resulting adaptations demonstrate the creative results of commercial exigencies and complex, industrial co-dependency (in which radio, film, magazines, stars, advertising agencies and ‘luxury,’ modern products all sustain, promote and profit from one another.) The anthologies also reflect in microcosm a number of adaptation approaches and critical debates: for example, some episodes, such as Screen Guild Theater’s adaptation of His Girl Friday, feature the films’ original stars, whilst many Lux Radio Theater adaptations include large portions of their sources’ screenplays. Other episodes reject fidelity and homage, such as Screen Guild Theater’s two adaptations of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which replace family-oriented sentimentality with lampoonery aimed at adult, war-time audiences. Many adaptations contain medium-specific modifications, such as Screen Guild Theater’s accommodation of telling rather than showing through the introduction of mise-en-abyme story-tellers and listeners. By contrast others display a flagrant disregard for such considerations (such as the choice of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and puppet Charlie McCarthy as one narrator-narratee pairing) in ways that reveal much about radio’s habitual intertextuality and parasitism during a period when the need fill airwaves was a paramount concern. The adaptations’ promotional segments also provide some film-history ‘hidden gems,’ such as host Cecil B. DeMille’s interview with Walt Disney during Lux Radio Theater’s ‘Snow White’ (in which both men advocate that film costumes and women’s ‘dainties’ be washed with Lux Flakes). In this chapter I will analyze in detail adaptations of Snow White and His Girl Friday (which were both adapted several times), whilst also drawing on a number of other episodes (such as reworkings of The Wizard of Oz and Casablanc). I will examine how the adaptations were shaped by the radio industry, its practices and technologies, how the anthologies influenced other radio programmes (for example, through their reliance on stars) and how they exemplify key debates within the study of cross-media adaptation.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Humanities Research Centre
Departments - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities > Department of Humanities
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315690254
Page Range: 265-277
Depositing User: Suzanne Speidel
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2017 17:39
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 03:31
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/14988

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