review – From Radio to Big Screen

From Radio to the Big Screen
Hal Erickson
McFarland & Co, Publishers
978-0786477579
Reviewed for LibraryThing

The argument can be made that the Golden Age of radio (1926-1962) came about as popular vaudeville and singers figures moved to radio, giving the new medium a degree of name recognition and familiarity upon which it could build. The relationship was quid pro quid; radio sustained and elevated many a career that would have faltered. It also meant that with the advent of talkies, Hollywood knew where to look for familiar names and voices. As author Erickson notes, in far too many cases, the idea of importing radio personalities and programs onto the Silver Screen looked much better on paper. As one example, having two Caucasians play Amos and Andy on a 15 minute radio spot was one thing. Putting the actors in blackface and dragging the gags out to movie length was an unmitigated critical and financial disaster.

Here are the cinematic hits and misses of Fibber McGee and Molly, Life of Riley, and the Shadow. Erickson reviews each radio show’s evolution into film and where it went wrong (or got it right), liberally sprinkled with his personal observations, which for the most part, add a bit of color.

There are minor shortcomings. Philosophically, I disagree with, but understand, Erickson’s decision to not include preexisting characters that went from book to radio to film, such as Ellery Queen, but I don’t care for his decision to exclude Bob Hope on the rationale that Hope played different characters on radio and film. I maintain that Hope the radio star and Hope the movie star were symbiotic and one fed into the name recognition of the other.

My biggest concern is the bibliography includes a list of consulted websites. By itself, this is hadly a concern. But using fan sites and unreliable or incomplete sites such as Wikipedia and IMDB are a personal third rail. If you’re going to use a site such as IMDB, with material edited by multiple contributors, data needs going to need to be verified independently. If you’re using other sources for verification, why cite IMDB simply because it was a starting point. If you’re not using other sources, it shows a lack of depth in research.

Concerns aside, if you’re a fan of old radio, be it The Great Gildersleeve or Gangbusters, this is a solid addition to your library. I would encourage the author to build on the book with a companion book on radio shows and personalities that made the jump to television. It would be fascinating to see his take on Our Miss Brooks or the failed Johnny Dollar pilots.

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About goudsward

Writer of stuff not easily categorized. (Trust me, I got the royalty checks to prove it)
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