Orson Welles radio fanatic Glenn Beck vs. Orson Welles scholar Richard France
Richard France, who Wellesnet readers will know as the author of two excellent books on Welles, The Theater of Orson Welles and Orson Welles on Shakespeare (that contains the text for Welles's playscripts of Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Five Kings), has sent along this letter he recently wrote in response to the Time Magazine cover story about Glenn Beck.
Here is the relevant paragraph from the Time Magazine article:
Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?
By David Von Drehle
…Beck describes his performances as "the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment" — and the entertainment comes first. "Like Limbaugh, Glenn Beck is a former Top 40 DJ," radio historian Marc Fisher explains, "first and foremost an entertainer, who happens to have stumbled into a position of political prominence." Unlike Limbaugh, however, Beck is a "radio nostalgic," in love with the storytelling power of a man with a microphone. He started in radio at age 13, inspired by a recording of golden-age broadcasts given to him by his mother — who later committed suicide, leaving the young Beck deeply traumatized. "He loves radio," says his longtime producer and on-air sidekick Stu Burguiere. "The way the mind becomes its own theater and the listener engages in the medium with you, drawing their own pictures in their heads." Beck once lovingly re-created the 1938 Orson Welles classic War of the Worlds for XM Satellite Radio, and he named his production company Mercury Radio Arts in homage to Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air.
Now, since it appears that Mr. Beck is a great fan of Orson Welles radio work, I presume he might have visited Wellesnet or The Museum of Orson Welles, which probably has the best audio and video collection of Orson Welles shows on the Internet. If that is the case, Mr. Beck is heartily encouraged to sent us any reply he may care to make to Mr. France's comments, below:
Orson Welles would be turning over in his grave – his ashes are in a well in Ronda, Spain – to learn that a demagogue like Glenn Beck has co-opted the name of his cherished Mercury Theatre on the Air from which to spew his daily dose of rabble-rousing bigotry and venom (“Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?”, Time cover story, Sept. 17). Beck represents EVERYTHING that Welles despised – the same sort of sanctimonious intolerance that forced him, in November 1947, to board the plane that sent him into a nearly decade-long exile in Europe.
Long obscured by his many achievements in radio, film and theatre is the fact that, prior to 1947, Welles was, arguably, second only to Eleanor Roosevelt as this country's most passionate and outspoken defender of our civil liberties. The Harry Bridges deportation trial in San Francisco, the Sleepy Lagoon murder case in Los Angeles, the sadistic gouging out of the eyes of a black veteran, Isaac Woodard, in Batesburg, South Carolina – Welles was in the forefront of righting these injustices, and many more. And unlike the typical lip-service liberal in Hollywood, he poured the full force of his prominence and personal resources into them.
In a recent letter to me, Julian Bond of the NAACP singled out the blinding of Isaac Woodard in February, 1946 – coming, as it did, years before Emmett Till and Rosa Parks – as “the spark that ignited the modern civil rights movement.” By using his weekly radio broadcast to shame a reluctant Truman Administration into indicting the white policeman who gouged out Woodard's eyes, Welles effectively lit the match that ignited this movement. For his efforts, he was branded a “subversive” and “a threat to our national security” by the F.B.I. and the House Un-American Activities Committee.
His defense of Isaac Woodard ended Welles' career in radio, and led directly to his having to board that plane for Europe – two steps ahead of a HUAC subpoena (and the possibility of being jailed for his beliefs).
Towards the end of his life, Welles was asked to consider the consequences of having stayed put and not gone into exile. “I've often wondered,” he answered, if I would have behaved any differently from my liberal friends here in Hollywood who turned on each other to keep themselves in swimming pools.”
Unlike Welles, a true New Deal Democrat, I'm a registered Republican – what loud-mouthed demagogues like Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, O'Reilly and their toxic ilk seek to marginalize as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). What, I wonder, would their courage level be if the situation was reversed and THEY were faced with the same ruinous consequences for their (so-called) beliefs that Welles paid for his.
Glenn Beck would have us believe that, in naming his production company The Mercury Radio Arts, he is paying a homage to Welles's Mercury Theatre on the Air. If so, then he is admitting that, like the weekly dramatizations of literary classics heard on the Mercury Theatre on the Air, what he (Beck) is feeding his gullible listeners is equally fictitious – and NOT to be taken seriously. But even worse, Beck is making a mockery of everything that Orson Welles, as a freedom-loving American, stood for.
New York City