People who know me are in general agreement that a Big Ego isn’t one of my worst problems.

Still, every so often I catch my overly-humble self missing a real treat because I think “Oh, I already know all about that.”  This turned out to be one of those treats. And if you think you already know all about “Old Radio”, or voice acting, or creating worlds with words and sounds and music, you need to re-think…and enjoy this book.

raisedonradio_bookcover2What I thought was just another book on Nostalgia turned out to have new insights and details on the era of network Radio which I had never encountered…and I’ve been collecting recordings and books on the subject for 40 years.  If you have any interest at all in knowing how people discovered and developed the art of entertaining (and selling) through sound alone…in effect, how the business you as a voice talent proport to be part of came about, “Raised on Radio” should be on your reading list.  This is the origin of your voiceover career, whether you acknowledge it or not!

Author Gerald Nachman goes far beyond the “gee whiz” nostalgic whitewash or dry academic catalogue of so many radio histories.  His is a “warts and all” description of this Theatre of the Mind which still lets all the “beauty marks” show.

Newscasts, Sponsorships, Production and Sound Effects, Soaps, Dramas, Kiddie Shows, Quiz Programs, the relation to Vaudeville and later to TV, tie-ins to movies, music, and the history of the moment, even the development of what’s now known as the situation comedy – it’s all laid out here, in a personal, conversational tone still laced with authority.  And while not a textbook on performance, I noted several sections that would serve as guidance on things like mic technique and character development.  You may even take a fiendish glee in the section about the big movie stars who were absolutely no good in front of a microphone!

It’s a big story, in a big book.  But if you enjoy it as much as I did, you’ll wonder at how fast it goes by.

I think I’ll have to keep it around for a re-run…just to remind myself every once in awhile how much fun it is not to “know it all”.

— over and out —

Farewell To The Master

 

Norman Corwin (May 3, 1910 – October 18, 2011), pictured in 1973.

“Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend.”  — Norman Corwin, 1945

     My friends often tell me I “kick myself” way more than I ought to.  And they’re right.  But one “kick” that’s still justifiable is the one I keep administering for not being able to find a way to get to California last year for the 100th Birthday Celebration of one of the most influential voices in Radio...Norman Corwin.  As it turned out, I would have been able to sit down with Mr. Corwin and my college friend, Richard Fish, for a private visit which stretched from a promised “few minutes” into nearly three hours.

     Note I capitalized Radio.  That’s to differentiate the state of Radio in what’s now so quaintly termed its Golden Age from what it’s degenerated into. 

     But lest you think Norman Corwin was some kind of extraordinary voice actor, perhaps I should clarify.  While he was an on-air voice and had a career on mic as well as off, his influence on what Radio was capable of doing lay in his imaginaton and his writing and his ability to instill in his various voice casts the spirit of what he created on the pages of his scripts.  He knew how to direct those actors, along with countless technicians, musicians, even composers as accomplished as Bernard Herrman, in bringing his imaginings to life on the air…and have them re-created in the imaginations of his audiences.

     Corwin could easily be dismissed by some as “high brow”.  His love and mastery of language was on display in everything he wrote.  But he could just as easily write in the voice of (pardon the over-used phrase) the common man.  And he did so with such regularity that his various Radio series and specials were highly acclaimed, even though they were mostly “sustaining”…meaning they did not rely on comercial sponsors.  Indeed, if you’ve read any of the current obituaries, you may note one his most famous broadcasts during the era of WWII was broadcast live on all three national networks.

     But Norman Corwin could just as easily turn out a touching fairy tale story…like “The Odyssey of Runyon Jones”, about a little boy’s journey through a hell of a heavenly bureaucratic maze as he tries to free his little dog, unjustly sentenced to “Currgatory”.  One of his first nationally broadcast plays was a pre-Dr. Seuss rhyming Christmas story, “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas”, with historical villains teaming up with the Devil to kidnap Santa and do away with him, long before Jack Skellington. 

     There was the uproarious (as least to me) show, “The Undecided Molecule”, where said molecule was put on trial for refusing to meekly be assigned his place in the universe.  That showcased many top stars who would always be glad to appear in a Norman Corwin production:  Vincent Price as the Prosecutor, Robert Benchley as the Defense Attorney, and as the wise-cracking Judge…Groucho Marx.  Corwin’s writing was so precise that in listening to a recording of the broadcast, I had to stop myself mid-chuckle at what I thought was a Marx ad-lib…when the next rhyming line proved conclusively it had been in the script all along!  And the Molecule itself was performed live by a sound effects man practially torturing a wave oscillator, decades before Ben Burtt came up with the sounds of R2-D2.

     It wasn’t all fun and games, though.  One program I rarely read about, but which chilled me when I first heard the recorded broadcast, was called “They Fly Through The Air With The Greatest of Ease”.  It starts out as what you’d expect from some standard glorification of daring aviators, taking to the skies in their bombing runs.  But part way through, there’s a horrifying shift of focus as the narrative suddenly follows the bombs down to the people they’re about to obliterate…not the ones you would have thought at the start of the program.

     Corwin defied catagorization in his work.  While it’s true he did some of his finest writing and producing in the truest flag-waving traditions of the 30s and 40s, he was sensitive to injustice no matter what its origin.  This week’s Los Angeles Times article cites a program in the late 40s in response to the House Committe On Un-American Activties (the McCarthy communist witch hunts which ruined so many lives).  In it, a narrator (actor Frederic March) spoke these words:  “Who comes after us?  Is it your minister who will be told what he can say in his pulpit?  Is it your children’s school teacher who will be told what she can say in a classroom?  Who are they after?  They are after more than Hollywood.  This reaches into every American city.”

    He was still writing, still producing, even as he approached 100 years of age…with projects involving actors such as Jack Lemmon, Jessica Tandy, Martin Landau, Ed Asner, (Firesign Theatre’s) Phil Proctor, even William Shatner.

     Norman Corwin understood media.  And not just radio.  While he is justly remembered for his Oscar-nominated work on the Kirk Douglas bio-pic on Vincent Van Gogh, “Lust for Life”, he was early on the director of a Radio play based on Archibald MacLeish’s “The Fall of the City”.  While it boasted a voice cast including Orson Welles and Burges Meredith, live orchestra (again) conducted by Bernard Herrman…it is said that Corwin, in order to get just the right feel of the raw power of the mindless crowds (the Masterless Men of MacLeish’s story), had various sized groups of actors set up in a remote location at a local armory, where he directed their “crowd responses” like a conductor throughout the show, rather than having to rely on stock recorded crowd sound effects.

     So, yeah.  I guess I can be forgiven for kicking myself just a little bit for missing the chance to sit down with this titan of imagination.  But, as I wrote last year when I told you to send him birthday card…I really sort of did meet the man, at least through his words and his work.

     If you’ve ever created something with voices or sounds or music…and their respective languages…you’ve built on foundations set down by Norman Corwin, whether you knew it or not.

     You can learn more about this man’s remarkable career in a book, written by one of my favorite college professors (and I only had a couple of good ones), R. Leroy Bannerman’s Norman Corwin and Radio: The Golden Years, plus Corwin’s own published works, still in print.

— over and out —

At the recent Faffcon gathering (thank you again, Amy), several of us ‘fessed up to getting deep in depression the more we read online about the “great sessions” and “slammed schedules” and “most recent national payday” of our friends and colleagues in the biz. 

We all recognized that a lot of those posts from genuine friends were written with only joy in mind….well, there are a few who are obviously rubbing it in, but we won’t go there.

Anyway, those of us who admitted to those moments might find encouragement in a recent post by the always-insightful Seth Godin.

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/09/run-your-own-race.html

Read the whole post.  But the upshot is:  why burden yourself by running someone else’s race?

Why indeed.

— over and out —

The Wake County Public Library has a few items from my “Shadow” sanctum on display this month.

Even more than the guilty-pleasure of the vintage Radio series it spawned, the Shadow Magazine was a thrilling discovery for me in my college days…both in reprints and surviving pulp magazines collected from the 30s and 40s.  Pure fantasy, of course:  the Good Guys were Good and the Bad Guys were Bad and meant to be blown away by the twin 45s of the Cloaked Crimefighter, who pre-dated Batman by almost a decade.   

Re-reading some of these old stories again, it does a great deal toward getting the memory of that wretched Alec Baldwin movie out of my head!

The display runs through the end of September at the Cameron Village Branch.  Maybe we’ll do an “Old Radio” display using some other stuff from my Archives in the near future.  “The Shadow Knows”.

— over and out —

Pre-Release Art from Torchlight II

You’ve got to love a voice session where one of your characters gets to open with a line like that!

In a recent post, I detailed the almost First Date-style jitters encountered prior to an ISDN session for a first-time client and a first job through a new agency. And I promised to add more to the story when I could.

As it all turned out, I needn’t have worried. The ISDN connection went smoothly. Steve, the engineer at Pure Audio, assured me the sound quality was fine. And the directors and lead writer of Runic Games’ upcoming computer game release, Torchlight II (John, Matt, and JD), couldn’t have been more gracious. I even got what I consider the highest praise a writer can bestow. The two directors were wondering if I should try one of the characters a different way, and I’m sure I heard JD say, “…no…that was kinda how I heard it when I wrote it.”

While other voice actors spent much of their star-time as combatants, doing what I respectfully call “grunt work” (doing the action vocal sounds of grunting, yelling and dying), I got to play more sedate and mystical characters for the most part. They include: several of the world’s Guardians; Elder Valen; the powerful Grand Regent Eldrayn; another for which engineer Steve said he’d process my voice into some kind of huge dragon-ish character…and the one we all had the most fun with during the session: the smug, condescending, all-powerful djinni: Fazeer Shah…who sends you out to “survive” for his amusement! (A set of released images included the one above, who looks like he could well be Fazeer Shah, but the characters weren’t identified by name.)

In an interview with Games Xtreme…you can read the full story here…head writer JD Wiker describes the new game thusly:
Some of the developers describe the Torchlight setting as “Dragon’s Lair meets The Incredibles.” I think that’s pretty much on the money. Torchlight 2 continues on in that vein, but there’s an element of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld in there, along with a fair amount of, hmmm, maybe not “steampunk,” per se, but perhaps “dieselpunk” or “clockpunk?” 

Maybe we need a new term to describe the Torchlight theme and setting? How about “dungeonpunk?”

Since the product’s release won’t happen for a few more months, I asked when it would be safe to tell anyone about my inclusion in the voice cast. To my delight, I was given the OK, provided I didn’t divulge the fate of some of the characters…or the projected release date for the game.

Fair enough. But sometime in the next few months, I’m going to have to corral my thirteen-year-old son, buy him a copy of Torchlight II, and sit behind him while he navigates through the various scenes and levels so I see my voices in action!

— over and out —

Do you actually remember your First Date? If you’re my age, it’s probably clouded by several layers of non-objective thinking, but you doubtless remember one thing: the underlying temptation to panic.

…an aside: My own first date was a drive-in movie (you may have to look that up to understand). I took the young lady to see a picture called “Bullitt”…because it co-starred my “Man From U.N.C.L.E. favorite Robert Vaughn (in what turned out to be a very unsympathetic role), and was supposed to have a great car chase. That’s all I knew about it. I should have done more research. Needless to say, the lady wasn’t all that impressed with the car chase, and the bloody violence of the story wasn’t terribly appreciated either.

On our next date…and it was to her credit that we even had a “next date”…the movie was “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

Did I ever mention that I tend to over-compensate?

Unfortunately, First-Date-itis is not like those childhood diseases you get once and are immune to the rest of your life. That lurking feeling of panic finds other ways to return, if not on actual “dates”.

…one of those instances, for me, is the first ISDN hookup with a new client.

Never mind the “do I have a pimple?” or “is my hair doing that goofy thing again?” stuff. This is serious panic material. “Will the connection Frame?” “Did I pay the phone bill?” “Will my electric service be cut off in mid-session?” “Is that barking dog/neighbor’s stereo/nearby construction going to come through the walls?” “Are my sinuses acting up again?” “Can I match my audition?”

But in the end, it all comes down to the same thing: “Will they like me?”

Well, I have to admit that at my present age, I don’t worry as much about whether some sweet young thing likes me or not. I’ve attained that trusted “grandfatherly” look, which…one hopes…will not soon deteriorate into a “just another dirty old man”. Not that I don’t care what people think of me. It’s just not the most important make-or-break thing on my mind anymore, socially.

Here’s hoping I have time left in my voiceover career to reach the same point of tranquility when this newer version of the “First Date” comes around yet again.

Because, as I’m actively trying to court more new business…it’s going to be a fact of life.

Oh. And what happened on the latest First Date that was so worrisome as to inspire this latest entry? Watch this space.

— over and out —

While more sensible people are tending outdoor gardens, I’m doing some “weeding” of a different kind.

An off day with no paying work (and too much physical work around the studio, which I tend to avoid) brought me to notice how many emails are still on my computer.  Probably slowing it down considerably.

So, the morning’s been spent going through old emails, discarding most, saving a few for information, and along the way…discovering potential clients I had done lone auditions for, or received contact from only to never hear from again.  In checking for some of them on the internet today, I found some  are no longer in business, some are right where they were, and some  have expanded their business and have newer contact persons.  So I’m “harvesting” what I can and clearing out the rest.

Who knows?  It might eventually provide some voice work later, when I add these to my list of promotional contacts.

I’ll have to be careful about working too hard, though.  I was concentrating so much on the “weeding” I almost missed a call from a current client for a last-minute ISDN job.

…can’t let “work” get in the way of “Work”, can we?

— over and out —