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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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by Martin Grams, Jr. © 2005
(From Radio Recall, August 2005)

Author’s note: This article is not intended to document every radio broadcast concerning William Shakespeare’s stage plays. There are many radio broadcasts over the decades that featured Shakespeare’s dramas that were not covered. This article was designed to suggest the vast analysis, critical reviews and programs that were influenced by William Shakespeare’s plays.

It is a known fact that the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare are the two most widely-quoted works of world literature. During its infancy, the medium of radio optioned to feature dramatic adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays in more ways than could ever be counted. During the depression of the late twenties and early thirties, the wealthy took excursion to the theater where they could afford the luxury of watching Eva Le Gallienne, John Carradine and John Barrymore perform roles that probably would have impressed – if not equaled – the Bard’s intellect and style.

Radio programs such as Radio Guild (1929 – 1940), Great Plays (1938 – 1942) and The Columbia Workshop (1936 – 1947) were just a few of the many weekly radio programs that presented adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, almost on a frequent basis.

Episode #10 “Hamlet” (9/19/36) [acts one and two only] Starring Orson Welles and Rosamon Pinchot
Episode #17 “Hamlet” (11/14/36) [act three] Starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton
Episode #30 “Macbeth” (2/28/37) Starring Orson Welles
Episode #164 “As You Like It” (12/7/39) Starring Margaret Webster
Episode #177 “The Taming of the Shrew” (3/21/40)
Episode #292 “Richard III” (6/2/46) Starring Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson

Episode #5 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (3/26/38)
Episode #16 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (11/13/38) repeat performance
Episode #17 “Julius Caesar” (11/20/38) Starring John Anthony and Floyd Buckley
Episode #18 “Othello” (11/27/38) Starring Walter Hampden and Selena Royle
Episode #45 “Romeo and Juliet” (11/12/39) Starring Wesley Addy and Horace Braham
Episode #46 “Much Ado About Nothing” (11/19/39) Starring Raymond E. Johnson and Irene Wicker
Episode #47 “Macbeth” (11/26/39) Starring Florence Malone and Alfred Shirley
Episode #74 “Love’s Labor Lost” (11/10/40) Starring Richard Gordon and Carlton Young
Episode #76 “The Tempest” (11/24/40) Starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Jessica Tandy
Episode #106 “The Taming of the Shrew” (12/28/41)

Episode #1 “Romeo and Juliet” (11/6/29)
Episode #11 “As You Like It” (1/15/30)
Episode #48 “Julius Caesar” (11/21/30)
Episode #56 “Romeo and Juliet” (1/16/31) Starring Eva Le Gallienne and Rollo Peters
Episode #65 “Hamlet” (3/20/31) [part one of two] Starring William S. Rainey and Florence Malone
Episode #66 “Hamlet” (3/27/31) [part two of two] Starring William S. Rainey and Florence Malone
Episode #69 “Macbeth” (4/17/31) Starring Florence Malone and Charles Webster
Episode #94 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream (10/23/31)
Episode #95 “Julius Caesar” (10/30/31)
Episode #96 “Hamlet” (11/6/31) [part one of two]
Episode #97 “Hamlet” (11/13/31) [part two of two]
Episode #148 “Romeo and Juliet” (10/31/32)
Episode #149 “Henry V” (11/7/32)
Episode #150 “As You Like It” (11/14/32)
Episode #151 “Richard III” (11/21/32)
Episode #195 “Julius Caesar” (10/16/33)
Episode #221 “The Tempest” (4/23/34)
Episode #237 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (8/13/34)
Episode #241 “Othello” (9/17/34)
Episode #250 “Macbeth” (11/19/34) Starring Charles Warburton and Dame Sybil Thorndike
Episode #256 “Twelfth Night” (12/31/34)
Episode #257 “Henry IV” (3/4/35)
Episode #285 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (7/29/35)
Episode #293 “Much Ado About Nothing” (10/17/35)
Episode #297 “Richard II” (11/14/35)
Episode #298 “King Henry IV, Part I” (11/21/35) [part one of two]
Episode #299 “King Henry IV, Part I” (12/5/35) [part two of two]
Episode #300 “King Henry IV, Part II” (12/12/35) [part one of two]
Episode #301 “King Henry IV, Part II” (12/19/35) [part two of two]
Episode #302 “Henry V” (12/26/35) [part one of two]
Episode #303 “Henry V” (1/2/36) [part two of two]
Episode #304 “Henry VI” (1/9/36) [part one of three]
Episode #305 “Henry VI” (1/16/36) [part two of three]
Episode #306 “Henry VI” (1/23/36) [part three of three]
Episode #307 “King Richard II” (1/30/36)
Episode #308 “King Richard III” (2/6/36)
Episode #309 “King Henry VIII” (2/13/36)
Episode #323 “Twelfth Night” (11/27/36)
Episode #342 “Shakespeare” (4/23/37) [dramas of selections from some of his best known plays]
Episode #367 “Anthony and Cleopatra” (11/12/37)
Episode #388 “Julius Caesar” (4/22/38)

During the 1950s, with the new medium of the picture tube coming in, many distinguished and established radio programs began incorporating Shakespeare plays as part of their line-up. N.B.C.’s Kaleidoscope, for example, brought both American and British actors to the microphone for the following dramas:

Episode #2 “Twelfth Night” (1/24/53) Starring Alec Guinness
Episode #7 “Richard II” (2/28/53) [part one of two] Starring Michael Redgrave
Episode #8 “Richard II” (3/7/53) [part two of two] Starring Michael Redgrave
Episode #10 “Measure for Measure” (3/21/53) [part one of two] Starring Claire Bloom
Episode #11 “Measure for Measure” (3/28/53) [part two of two] Starring Claire Bloom
Episode #14 “Hamlet” (4/18/53) [excerpts dramatized] Starring Laurence Olivier
Episode #14 “Romeo and Juliet” (4/18/53) Starring Pamela Brown and Sir John Gielgud

(No, that is not a mistake. The broadcast of April 18, 1953 included two presentations.)

On May 4 and May 11, 1953, Suspense presented a two-part presentation of Shakespeare’s Othello, one of the few two-part presentations offered on Suspense, and the only Suspense presentation based on a stage play by William Shakespeare. There were many episodes of Suspense that featured quotes from Shakespeare, and even John Dickson Carr’s “Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble” from April 6, 1943 originated from a Shakespeare theme, but this was definitely the only adaptation of a Shakespeare play dramatized on Suspense. William Conrad and Richard Widmark make a great Iago and Othello (even though neither of them are black since Othello was “the Moor of Venice”).

The music was cleverly arranged. In 1887, Giuseppe Verdi introduced “Otello” (that’s not a misspelling), a musical opera based on Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Verdi composed other operas based on Shakespeare’s plays, but to put his music to the actual drama (during short musical intervals and as musical bridges) was pure genius.

One thing that still bothers me is why the announcer, Larry Thor, billed both broadcasts as “the first presentation of Shakespeare’s Othello performed on radio.” This is not entirely accurate. “Othello” was dramatized on other radio programs before 1953 including Great Plays on November 27, 1938 with Walter Hampden and Selena Royle, and Radio Guild on September 17, 1934. It is possible that the producer of Suspense, at the time, was unaware of the many previous dramatizations.

“The greatest actor we ever had was John Barrymore. I saw him four times in Hamlet . . .” So spoken by Eva LeGallienne in 1982, describing John Barrymore, one of the great Shakespearean actors of all time. The National Broadcasting Company also thought so, because in June of 1937, N.B.C. hired John Barrymore for a short-run series that ran only six episodes before being replaced by the four-week presentation of NBC Presents Eugene O’Neill.

This series was broadcast on Monday evenings at 9:30 to 10:15 p.m., E.S.T. Barrymore was supported by his fourth (and last) wife, Elaine Jacobs Barrie, whom John had married less than a year before. Erin O’Brien performed numerous supporting roles as well. The scripts were adapted for radio by John Barrymore, along with the help of Forrest Barnes.

1) “Hamlet” (6/21/37)
2) “Richard III” (6/28/37)
3) “Macbeth” (7/5/37)
4) “The Tempest” (7/12/37)
5) “Twelfth Night” (7/19/37)
6) “The Taming of the Shrew” (7/26/37)

In the summer of 1950, Audio Rarities Records purchased the rights to all six transcriptions of the 1937 series, purposely deleted the original opening theme and monologue, and replaced it with a new one, entitling the 1950 series John Barrymore and Shakespeare. This second series, nothing more than a rebroadcast of the original 1937 series, was also broadcast over N.B.C., but only five of the six productions were presented, and broadcast in a different order.

1) “Macbeth” (8/3/50)
2) “Hamlet” (8/10/50)
3) “Richard III” (8/17/50)
4) “Twelfth Night” (8/24/50)
5) “The Tempest” (8/31/50)

During the autumn of 1953, a series of broadcasts entitled Theater Seminar featured stage performers and directors discussing the importance of Shakespeare, and what the plays meant to them personally. Broadcast from New York, from 3 to 4 p.m., E.S.T.

1) “Acting Shakespeare” (9/6/53) Eva LeGallienne
2) “Classic Revival of Shakespeare in America” (9/13/53) Lawrence Langner
3) “Producing and Directing Shakespeare” (9/20/53)
4) “Understanding Shakespeare” (9/27/53) Teresa Helburn
5) “Shakespeare, Master Craftsman” (10/4/53) Maurice Evans
6) “The Genius of Shakespeare” (10/11/53) Margaret Webster
7) “Direction: Analysis of the Script” (10/18/53) Howard Lindsay
8) “The Director and the Actor” (10/25/53) Sidney Kingsley
9) “Direction: Music” (11/1/53) Mary Hunter
10) “Direction in the Round” (11/8/53)

In the summer of 1959, the Shakespeare Memorial Theater Production in cooperation with the B.B.C. presented a series of dramas adapted from Shakespeare’s own plays. The program was entitled Shakespeare in Summer and was heard briefly in the U.S. from 8:30 to 10:55 p.m., E.S.T. on select stations along the east coast.

1) “Twelfth Night” (7/13/59) with Dorothy Tutin
2) “The Taming of the Shrew (7/20/59) with the Dublin Gate Players
3) “Measure for Measure” (7/27/59)

In 1964, a syndicated series entitled Shakespeare’s People was broadcast on radio, exploring many aspects of Shakespeare’s stage plays. Dr. Bernard Beckerman, reviewer of theater productions and author of theatrical designs was the host for the entire series. This series only lasted thirteen broadcasts and was heard in New York on an independent radio station from 8:30 to 9 p.m., E.S.T.

(3/29/64) Passages associated with “Cleopatra.” With Pamela Brown and Anthony Quayle.
(4/5/64) Scenes from “As You Like It.”
(4/12/64) Readings from “Macbeth,” “Othello,” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”
(4/19/64) Excerpts from “Romeo and Juliet.”
(4/26/64) Scenes from “Measure for Measure.”
(5/3/64) Songs as they appear in Shakespeare’s plays.
(5/10/64) Various interpretations of the character Shylock.
(5/17/64) “Richard II” and Elizabethan politics.
(5/24/64) Excerpts from “Much Ado About Nothing.”
(5/31/64) Examination of the psychology of “Macbeth.”
(6/7/64) Reading from Coriolanus.
(6/14/64) Roles played by Sir John Gielgud.
(6/21/64) various interpretations of “Hamlet” will be heard.

Martin Grams, Jr. is the author and co-author of numerous books including: Suspense: Twenty Years of Thrills and Chills (1998), Invitation to Learning (2002) and the highly-acclaimed The Alfred Hitchcock Presents Companion (2001). His most recent two are one book about radio and television’s Gangbusters program and the other on Information Please.