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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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Standing in the Spirit at Your Elbow: A History of Dickens' A Christmas Carol as Radio / Audio Drama
Reviewed by Craig Wichman
(From Radio Recall, December 2012)

Craig Wichman's prodigious research and breezy prose make this book a really good read. He is informative and cheerful, and accessible even to those people who might think that A Christmas Carol's place in holiday lore exists solely with the phrase,"Oh, don't be such a Scrooge!" The log of audio productions in the Appendix numbers roughly 188; up from the original 72 that Wichman had written up in the December 2010 issue of Radio Recall.

Wichman relies heavily on sentiment in his narrative; and rightly so. But he also manages to cinch up his backpack with solid history about radio and the nuts-and-bolts of studio production. He achieves this mainly through interviews and his own experiences with contemporary production. In the end he has brought us from broadcasts early in the last century right up to Modem Audio Drama, a phrase much bandied about these days in ever-widening circles.

Lionel Barrymore is the most famous and arguably the actor who best portrayed Scrooge, though Wichman does not shy away from other notable portrayals, Ronald Colman and Michael Gough, for example. Barrymore, however did the role so well over the years that he appeared to derive personal strength from the character. Infirm and troubled in his own life, Barrymore looked for and wrote about the benevolence and moral courage which are themes of the story. The Barrymore essay, from 1936, quoted in the book is not all sweetness and light. Rather, he tells us to get acquainted with our inner ghost; in effect, walk with your ghost so both of you can rattle your chains and emerge the better for it. It is Marley's Ghost, don't forget, who says, "I wear the chain I forged in life."

One of many memories for Wichman himself entails one Christmas Eve when he was driving cross-country. He listened on the car radio to no fewer than four broadcasts of A Christmas Carol that faded in and out station by station as he put on the miles.

Getting these Carol versions produced, even with its lofty message, still would involve such mundane matters as sound checks and hitting your cues. Lonnie Burr who at age nine, in 1953, played Tiny Tim to Edmund Gwenn's Scrooge, recalls going to the studio in Los Angeles. There was a task at hand and he concentrated on his work. He called it -the terse way of getting together "Later in the interview Burr says he would like to hear that broadcast, to hear again his own youthful voice. Wichman complied and dug out a copy for him.

In 1975 E. G. Marshall playecl Scrooge on the show he usually hosted, CBS Radio Mystery Theater. It was a good script, and was rebroadcast every year through 1981. The fact that Himan Brown was still producing radio drama, years after the decline of radio's Golden Age, obviously helped influence creative radio folk to keep things going into the age of Modern Audio Drama. Over the years groups have emerged, writing scripts, finding performance space and studio time. For this Wichman draws upon his own experiences with his production company, Quicksilver Radio Theater, and he quotes from an interview with his collaborator Jay Stern for insights into getting the most out of the audio studio opportunity. Suffice to say that it's not just Dickens anymore; groups and scripts are out there, looking to find space and air time. And that should put a spring in everyone's step.

The illustrations for the book are numerous and they look very nice. There are photographs of personalities and studio settings; line drawings of advertisements for shows; a photo of the old CBS building in Hollywood; and a couple of good old album covers from 78 rpm productions.

Of necessity, the Dickens story is a prose story that must be rendered into a script for voices. In that regard, Wichman decries alterations, lest any impact of the original prose be lost. He points to more than one instance where a script gives speaking lines to the Ghost of Christmas Future. For Wichman this is not just a distraction but a transgression. He speaks of the "sterling source material" which must be preserved. Many other people over the years objected to alterations great and small. One fellow wrote a letter to a network in 1933 detailing the places in the script that were not true Dickens. That letter became known as the St. Loekle Sermon. Beware, you community theater script writers!

I do however believe that Wichman's choice of title for his book is rather too obscure. It might be a true Dickens phrase but it does not seem to typify the breadth of material in the book. I found the phrase in my edition of the story. It's the Narrator just as the curtains are being drawn for the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Past. However, on a book cover, even with the sub┬Ětitle, I fear that it will just look like an odd juxtaposition of words. It's a puzzler not a grabber.

The citations are a treat to read. We find that running times vary greatly' most appear to be thirty minutes; some are sixty. Some versions were performed in the midst of a longer festival style holiday show. Wichman is very fair with the citations of the shows that he offers in The Log, in the Appendix. He lists productions that need "further confirmation andlor information." And he closes the Log with this comment: "Corrections and additions to the information contained in this book are welcomed by the author Email: QuicksilverRT@aol.com