Category Archives: Old Time Radio

Machineries of Gioia: A Poet Laureate on Ray Bradbury

Look at The Martian Chronicles. At the height of American optimism, Bradbury wrote a bittersweet novel about the failures of science, technology, and progress. Humanity makes it to Mars, but the triumph is illusory. Mars becomes a landscape of ghost towns. The novel was an extraordinarily fertile moment in American imagination. He suggested the notion of unlimited positive progress was an illusion. His wasn’t the dystopian vision of Orwell or Zamyatin but something gentler and more elegiac. H. G. Wells could write about the end of civilization from a global perspective. Bradbury made the vision personal and lyric.
Dana Gioia on Ray Bradbury

I’ve read a lot of Bradbury recently, that is to the extent that I can focus long enough to read much of anything. The Illustrated Man was better than the The Illustrated Woman contained in the uniformly depressing Machineries of Joy which I am struggling to finish. There can be no question though that The Martian Chronicles deserves the accolades and adaptations.

I struggle with Bradbury’s categorization as a science fiction writer. Chronicles aside, he is a breed apart from Asimov and Clarke who briskly get down to business peddling a bright future for one and all enabled by the latest in vacuum tubes and servomotors. Bradbury doesn’t fit that mold and through his thick glasses he saw a grimy  future broken by the ones who people it. He is lyrical, almost to excess in fact, and it takes a special frame of mind to deal with his unusual rhythms and devices. His observations on technology are profoundly gloomy.   Not for him the boundless optimism and things coming out well in the wash. Long before Sputnik, Gagarin, or their American counterparts, he saw that a future world, a spacefaring one, would eventually have to send the worst of the species after the best had paved the way. The Chronicles are full of careerists, louts, and brutes going not to explore but to exploit.

In recognition of the Bradbury centennial,  Hawthorne expat and recent state Poet Laureate Dana Gioia speaks to Bradbury’s wide and ongoing cultural impact in dialogue with his biographer. The discussion does locate Bradbury firmly as a Los Angeles writer, a thing that still surprises many as that which does not, can not, or at least ought not to exist in the heart of the entertainment industry.  Gioia acknowledges that “major mainstream journals published [Bradbury’s] fiction, and producers adapted his work for movies, radio, and TV.” He leaves out the stage apart from a brief mention in another list and more’s the pity. The lyricism, the elegiac odes to humanity’s perpetual folly  is what allowed the Pandemonium Theatre Company to bring so many of those stories to life with humans speaking to humans and not through effects in post-production.   Pandemonium was another Bradbury creation nurtured by others until its demise in the early 2000s. The Falcon hosted an uneven Fahrenheit 451 in 2002 with other, more successful productions at Theatre West and the lovely yet now defunct Court Theatre. He often appeared in the audience and, when asked, would say a few words before curtain to an appreciative audience sufficiently steeped in LA etiquette to applaud yet keep a respectful distance.

It is trivial to hang present day realities on deceased authors but there is no doubt that it is the pessimistic futures Bradbury foresaw decades ago that have played out and not those of his compatriots. We don’t have energy too cheap to meter, we aren’t in control of our robots, and ubiquitous telecommunications has served to narrow, divide, and power the slide into darkness.  We are the same desperate creatures that came out of the caves only with flashier and deadlier toys.

Here are two sobering stories adapted in 1950 for the Dimension X radio series.

Youtube Channel: Old Time Radio Researchers


Redondo Redux: Romance of the Ranchos on the Beach Cities

In days of old, when the city was pronounced ‘Los Anguluz’ and radio ruled the waves, “Romance of the Ranchos” offered  half-hour looks at the many regions that congealed into our present megalopolis.  Herewith the episode on what are now the Beach Cities.

Youtube Channel: Old Time Radio Researchers


Don’t bother, they’re here – The Four Clowns at the Hollywood Fringe Fest


(from left to right) Elizabeth Godley as Nimrod and Don Colliver as Butterbeans Arbuckle. Photo courtesy Drew Eiden and The Four Clowns Theatre Company

‘Halfwits’ Last Hurrah’ by The Four Clowns plays against routine floppy shoe and funny nose expectations of the form. It is, rather, a brisk, lighthearted hour of broad physical comedy and laughs designed for a festival audience and nicely played by a convivial cast.

Jamie Franta and Don Colliver’s storyline is loosely organized around cut-rate impresario Butterbeans Arbuckle (Colliver) and his carefully curated castoffs (the eponymous Halfwits) trying to keep their vaudeville going under external assaults. Arbuckle’s rival, The Real McCoy (Jolene Kim in a trouser role) left showbiz, made a killing in technology, and returns to engulf and devour. This could be an Inside Baseball smirk at the always beleaguered Los Angeles theatre community or just a point of departure for wacky hijinks and tragicomic mayhem – viewer’s choice.

The fourth wall in obliterated as soon as the audience filters in – these clowns can and will work with human props. Those who can roll with good-natured fun should come early and sit in the front rows. The premise is a show-within-a-show as the Halfwits strut their stuff against bad odds. A sturdy German brother and sister act (Jennifer Carroll, Dave Honigman) tumble, an operatic puppeteer (Charlotte Chanler) and her foil capably toss orff ‘O Fortuna’. Dissatisified with the slow progress of sabotage, McCoy and his henchmen (Tyler Bremer, Jamarr Love) resort to kidnapping the troupe including the stiltwalker (Hélène Udy), an unseen knife thrower, and even induce the burlesque dancer (Franta) to switch sides. Ego-driven Arbuckle resolves to finish the show himself with some help from his trusty, cuter-than-most-buttons sidekick Nimrod (Elizabeth Godley). Suffice it to say, things get dark shortly thereafter with an entirely unexpected character (Julia Davis) popping up to save what’s left of the day. Wayne Holland’s understated piano accompaniment neatly frames the carnage smartly lit and costumed by Donny Jackson and Elena Flores.

The Four Clowns formed in 2010 to perform at this same Festival and have since put down roots. They have a core company, tour nationally and internationally, and have assiduously cultivated an audience. It’s a large cast with a capable production team of designers and choreographers standing out among a large number of solo and small-cast shows. Director David Anis pushes the physically risky stuff as far as he responsibly can within the load-in, rehearsal, and strike times associated with shared spaces. The whole affair is reminiscent of the classic Jack Benny radio programs especially those where he feuds with Fred Allen. A sympathetic studio audience is essential in those cases to spackle over minor flubs and timing glitches.  A packed house at the Lillian Theatre ate it up vigorously.

‘Last Hurrah’ is theatrical dessert that wisely doesn’t push a premise beyond its limits. In so doing, it simultaneously whets the appetite for productions of broader scope, length, and complexity from this group. The late, lamented Edge of the World Theatre Festival allowed such risk taking in the past and it appears the Hollywood Fringe is carrying on that good work. Physical theatre has a strong tradition in Los Angeles with resident and touring companies alike setting a high standard for movement, commedia, maskwork, and dance. We can look forward to seeing how The Four Clowns takes a place at this table.

‘The Halfwits’ Last Hurrah’
The Four Clowns Company at The Hollywood Fringe Festival
Thurs. 6/4 at 8:30pm
Sat. 6/13 at 10:30pm
Thurs. 6/18 at 7pm
Sat. 6/20 at 11:55pm
Tues. 6/23 at 8:30pm
Fri. 6/26 at 10:30pm
at The Lillian Theatre
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Elderly Man River rolling no more – RIP Stan Freberg

Sad news from Santa Monica, legendary satirist and later ad man Stan Freberg has passed away.

Via LA Observed

Stan Freberg had one of those Los Angeles careers. He was at the end of the national radio programs and the start of TV, including for KTLA Channel 5. He did voice work for Warner Bros, Disney and others. He was known to many first as a cultural and political satirist, putting out albums that spoofed hit songs of his day, and as an advertising executive he created memorable unconventional campaigns. The phrase “just the facts, ma’am” attributed to Dragnet’s Joe Friday is actually from Freberg’s spoof of Dragnet, apparently. His friends included Ray Bradbury.

With Folded Hands

1984 didn’t happen exactly on the year but the foundations had been laid by then. Computers were better when networked and the research labs of the world began to view the schlepping of data and email as indispensable. A few years after that, CERN and Tim Berners-Lee gave us the World Wide Web and stuff happened.

Some of the most sought-after jobs these days, at least among the tech crowd, involve creating machines and algorithms to do what humans once did. The first rule of finance is to find the cheapest source of human labor, close behind that is replacing that labor altogether. With corporations having the effective status of a person, it is unsurprising that they’d seek effective analogs of workers. In this case, the analogs are digital. At some point, the machines will get just good enough to make it a contest between them and us. Science Fiction has loved this theme but it always felt too far off in the future for the current crop to fret. CGP Grey – whoever that may be – says, “Not so fast.” The thesis is not perfect and stacked in aspects but the underlying concern is not. “Grey” does spend some time looking at the human implications of staggering unemployment and the inequalities it will deepen.

An underappreciated representation of these fears, “With Folded Hands,” appeared in 1947 and was adapted into a radio story on Dimension X. It is worth a listen.

Turning off the roar in the head – Silent Stay

It is of course ironic to post a link to an article about disconnecting from the Internet grid. Nevertheless, Avital Andrews’s Bring on the Solitude article in the LA Times about Silent Stay is worth a look. This resort in Vacaville, CA offers a chance to experience peace and quiet, subtly enforced by policy. It sounds very tempting although Andrews confesses that it didn’t completely take with her.

The retreat’s website is at

Sounds similar to the San Francisco Zen Center’s Tassjara Mountain Center

Old Time Radio fans may recall the Mr. Costello, Hero episode of the terrific X Minus One series of the 1950s. Theodore Sturgeon’s not-so-subtle slam at McCarthyism centers around a society where forbidding solitude became a means of social control.

Addendum: In her article, Andrews writes “That’s when I noticed that the silence wasn’t really silent. When you banish the sound of traffic, the phone, the alarm clock, the laptop and the TV, what’s left isn’t soundlessness. ” The LA Phil will be performing Cage’s 4’33” at its 2013 Gala Opening.