Friday, February 15, 2013

Orson Welles: Rebecca (radioplay, 1938)

PC: Campbell Playhouse / Campbell Theater / [The Mercury Theatre on the Air]. Broadcast by: CBS, 9 December, 1938. P: John Houseman. D: Orson Welles. SC: Howard Koch - based on the novel (1938) by Daphne Du Maurier. M composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. C: Margaret Sullavan (Mrs. de Winter), Orson Welles (Max de Winter), Mildred Natwick (Mrs. Danvers), Ray Collins (Frank Crawley), George Coulouris (Captain [Sow?]), Frank Readick (the idiot), Alfred Shirley (Frith), [Eustace Wyatt?] (Coroner), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Van Hopper). Total broadcast time including the Campbell Playhouse series introduction (Rebecca was the first programme of the series), other introductions, the announcement of the forthcoming Rebecca film adaptation by David O. Selznick, Orson Welles star profile, conclusion, commercial breaks, Campbell's Soup theme anthem (Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1), Rebecca theme waltz "Songe d'automne" (Archibald Joyce) here called "Spring Fever", end credit announcements and next week's announcement 60 min.
   In the conclusion there is a telephone interview from New York to Daphne Du Maurier in London. What is the name of the protagonist? Daphne Du Maurier: "Mrs. Max de Winter".

The Mercury Theatre online: "The finest radio drama of the 1930’s was The Mercury Theatre on the Air, a show featuring the acclaimed New York drama company founded by Orson Welles and John Houseman. In its brief run, it featured an impressive array of talents, including Agnes Moorehead, Bernard Herrmann, and George Coulouris. The show is famous for its notorious War of the Worlds broadcast, but the other shows in the series are relatively unknown. This site has many of the surviving shows, and will eventually have all of them."

"The show first broadcast on CBS and CBC in July 1938. It ran without a sponsor until December of that year, when it was picked up by Campbell’s Soup and renamed The Campbell Playhouse. All of the surviving Mercury Theatre shows are available from this page in RealAudio format (some are also in MP3 format). There are several Campbell Playhouse episodes available here as well, in both RealAudio and MP3 formats; the rest are being added gradually."

Wikipedia: "The series made its debut with Welles' adaptation of Rebecca, with guest stars Margaret Sullavan and Mildred Natwick. Bernard Herrmann composed and conducted the imaginative score, and later used much of it for the film Jane Eyre. The radio drama was the first adaptation of the 1938 novel by Daphne Du Maurier; the author was interviewed live from London at the conclusion of the broadcast."

"The same creative staff stayed on, but the show had a different flavor under sponsorship. This was partially due to a guest star policy which relegated the Mercury Players to supporting roles. There was a growing schism between Welles, still reaping the rewards of his Halloween night notoriety, and Houseman, who became more like an employee than a partner. The primary writer, as during the end of the unsponsored run, was Howard Koch."

"Last night I dreamt I went back to Manderley again".

In the first adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's novel, Orson Welles's radioplay of 1938, similar words were uttered by Margaret Sullavan, the charming protagonist of the films of Frank Borzage, among others.

Rebecca is not the name of the protagonist of the story. The protagonist of Rebecca has no name. Rebecca, the ex-mistress of Manderley, is dead, gone before the narrative begins, but her memory reigns over Manderley and casts an overwhelming shadow over its new, shy mistress.

After the announcement of the 2012 Sight & Sound poll of the best films of the world I found it intriguing that both top films share an important credit - the composer Bernard Herrmann.

The current number one film, Vertigo, was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and the current number two, Citizen Kane, by Orson Welles. Hitchcock had started his film career almost twenty years before Welles: Citizen Kane was released in 1941.

Yet Welles managed to influence Hitchcock's first Hollywood film, Rebecca (1940). David O. Selznick sent to Hitchcock to London a recording of Orson Welles's radioplay. Perhaps it was the first opportunity for Hitchcock to listen to the music of Bernard Herrmann.

Herrmann did not get to compose the film Rebecca. The task was assigned to Franz Waxman, who did a great job. Herrmann, in turn, adapted elements of his Rebecca score to the film adaptation Jane Eyre, with Orson Welles as Rochester, a quite similar tale, and perhaps an inspiration for Daphne Du Maurier. Joan Fontaine who had the leading role in Rebecca (and in Hitchcock's Suspicion) was also Jane Eyre.

Orson Welles, in turn, was influenced as a film director by Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, and Heikki Nyman has pointed out striking similarities in Rebecca and Citizen Kane: Manderley / Xanadu, the letter R / the letter K, the burning pillow / the burning sled...

Like Rebecca, Vertigo is also a story about the haunting presence of a woman who no longer exists. In the 1938 radio version of Rebecca we already hear familiar chords composed by Bernard Herrmann. They are sketches for a small live orchestra. In Vertigo some of those ideas grew and became a part of  a symphonic and operatic score which had a devastating force.

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