Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More Meridian

Original shadow box artwork by Karen Strachan.

This week we released Meridian 7-1212, the second of two Old Time Radio recreations we recorded for The Sonic Society. Along with the show, we released a bonus scene that's about four minutes long. It adds another short story to the vignette-based piece, further expanding the web of people who call in to the titular phone number.

In the scene, two sailors have overstayed their shore leave. Pete, the younger and more naive of the two, has fallen head over heels for a woman he just met. Joe, more cynical and worldly, is immediately skeptical, having seen his friends taken in by similarly alluring women who turn out to be con artists. The scene ends on a clever and wryly poignant note, bringing us back to Dot Day and the telephone time service while resonating perfectly with the bleak, pessimistic world of the show.

If you listen to the most widely available version of the original broadcast, you won't hear this scene. So where did it come from?

When we re-recorded Meridian, we used a transcribed script made available through the Generic Radio Workshop. It wasn't until after we finished recording that I discovered the original script for Meridian 7-1212 had been published in 1939, along with 13 other scripts from The Columbia Workshop. I started looking around for libraries that might have a copy, and eventually found it in the collection of the Paul Barret Jr. Library at Rhodes College—my alma mater, a regular host to Chatterbox productions, and the domain of Chatterbox Board member Bill Short. In other words, right under our noses.

Reading the original script was interesting for several reasons. It cleared up some of the spelling errors in the transcription, which, among other things, credits the author as Irving Reese rather than Irving Reis. It revealed some character names that are not included in the dialog, like the surnames of the two reporters in the opening scene. It also clued me in to a few words and lines that we flat-out got wrong: e.g., the second drunk is actually named "Stuff," not Scott.

But mainly, it allowed me to find this additional scene, which I knew about from Leonard Maltin's brief description of the show but had never heard nor read. As Eric worked through the show's post-production, we decided it would be great fun to include this scene with our release. Lee, our Dot Day, left town at the end of last summer, so we recorded her calling the appropriate times and added her voice to the great work done later by actors Stephen Garrett and Ross Williams.

Chronologically, the scene takes place between the London scene and the final scene at the courthouse. Now that I've read it, I definitely feel its absence from the larger show. As I said above, it further expands the story's world—and this is a world I want to explore as much as possible. Plus it balances out the heaviness of some of the other stories with a tale that, while not exactly happy, is at least darkly amusing.

So, the mystery remains: Why isn't this scene in the recording that has been passed down to us? Was it cut for time prior to the show's 1939 broadcast, and never actually performed? (That would be strange, as the recording clocks in at a brief 25 minutes, compared to 28 - 29 minutes for other Columbia Workshop shows.) Was it cut out of the recording for some unknown reason during the past 71 years? Or (and I'm just speculating here) is the version we have one that was recorded for rebroadcast to the Armed Forces? This was a pretty common practice, so that those stationed in other parts of the world could still hear their favorite shows, and at a reasonable hour. In that case, I can see the scene being excluded for its depiction of disobedient naval officers. If anyone can shed any light on the subject, I'd be grateful.

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