Margaret Bresnahan is an archivist living in New York City.
Hal Holbrook Takes on Twain
Original Airdate November 18th, 1959
Friday, November 30, 2012 - 11:35 AM
In this 1959 episode of Recordings, E.T.C., Host Edward Tatnall Canby presents the "voices" of two canonical storytellers: Mark Twain and Hans Christian Andersen. Neither Twain nor Andersen is actually featured on these recordings, but Canby delights in the authenticity of Hal Holbrook's portrayal of Twain and Boris Karloff's readings of Andersen's tales.
Canby excerpts from "The New Mark Twain: a recreation" by Hal Holbrook. In this recording, Hal Holbrook, an actor best known for his long-running one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight," performs as Mark Twain for a live audience. You can hear Holbrook's feet shuffle as he moves across stage and perhaps the sound of him lighting up a cigarette...and hear Canby's laughter mingle with the laughter of the recorded audience as he plays excerpts from the performance.
Canby comments on Mark Twain as
A man who died before he had a microphone to become famous through, but who nevertheless made his voice and his humorous personality famous directly on the stage, the lecture platform, and so on, and became known in person and in voice, therefore, to many thousands of people if not exactly millions in spite of the lack of radio and TV and film to help his career in the modern manner.
Mark Twain did actually make a recording way back, and that recording has been used as part of the preparation of "The New Mark Twain," a recreation by Hal Holbrook--as well as of course the actual written words of Mr. Samuel Clemens (that was Mark Twain's real name) and the numerous familiar photographs of the man himself as he appeared in his later years in talks and lectures, complete with that famous white suit, the shock of white hair, and the huge cigar.
In the second half of the program, Canby plays excerpts of Boris Karloff reading Hans Christian Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea" and "The Ugly Duckling."
Boris Karloff (1887-1969) is the English actor best known for his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster in "Frankenstein" (1931), "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) and "Son of Frankenstein" (1939), and the beloved narrator in the animated television special of "Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" (1966). (NB: Beginning in 1940, Karloff dressed up as Father Christmas every Christmas to hand out presents to physically disabled children in a Baltimore hospital).
Karloff made many recordings for children--for a full listing see Boris Karloff: A Bio-Bibliography, by Beverley Bare Buehrer. The record Canby features is The Ugly Duckling (Caedmon TC 1109, 1958; CDL5-1109; TC 1397), in which Karloff reads "The Ugly Duckling," "The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep," "The Princess and the Pea," "The Collar," "Clod-Pull," and "The Fir Tree."
Included in the original reel box for this recording is a piece of paper identified as "CLOSING MATERIAL" for the show as broadcast on WNCN, Thurs Aug 30, 1973--with annotations presumably by Canby:
If you enjoyed Hal Holbrook's pseudo Mark Twain this evening, you will be glad to know that there are still two complete LP records available of Mr Holbrook's Twain material, taken from the famed stage show. Boris Karloff, too, is well represented in many superb recordings of his kindly and benevolent voice--so unlikely, from an actor whose most famous roles were horror characters.
As an addition to his musical programs, Mr. Canby has for many years occasionally broadcast the classics of the spoken word on records, a field in which he has long been vitally interested. To vary the musical diet we will bring you occasional examples of Mr. Canby's spoken-word classics here on WNCN. This evening's broadcast on Hal Holbrook's Mark Twain, and Boris Karloff's Hans Christian Andersen, is one of his favorites.
Listen again to Edward Tatnall Canby and 'Recordings, E.T.C.' next Thursday, after the nine o'clock news.