Media 26 Nov 2007 09:09 am
A few years back, I picked up a cheap CD version of “A Christmas Carol” narrated by Orson Welles with Lionel Barrymore playing the Scrooge role.
Ever since, listening to it has become an annual tradition for my wife and me, usually in the car as we travel from store to store on our appointed holiday shopping rounds. This year, we listened on our way to Boardman, about a 40-minute trip, perfect for hearing the entire adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ classic.
(An hour-long version of the radio program also exists, but mine clocks in about 20 minutes shy of that. Apparently, radio performances of the story were an annual holiday tradition between 1934 and 1953, usually with Welles and Barrymore in the leads, so it is likely that various recordings are circulating.)
I am particularly fond of this version because it retains so much of Dickens’ original work and because both Welles and Barrymore are uniformly excellent. I believe the copy I have was originally performed live as part of the CBS Campbell Playhouse radio program; at least the script matches one I found on the Internet here.
The same site sells copies of the broadcast for a very reasonable $10, which also includes a 1954 recording of the same story. (I haven’t heard the latter.) However, as the recording is now in the public domain, you can find it online — along with many other old radio programs — for free. Here is one site that allows you to download all of Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air and Campbell Playhouse performances.
I enjoy radio drama because it forces listeners to exercise their imaginations. Sometimes, like Freddie Mercury sings in “Radio Gaga,” I grow “tired of all this vision” on TV and in the movies. In radio plays, the spoken word is everything, and the mind sets the stage based on what the ear hears. That is refreshing and a skill well worth cultivating.