Columbia Library columns (v.35(1985Nov-1986May))

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  v.35,no.3(1986:May): Page 25  

Letters from Lynn Fontanne


CORRESPONDENCE with Lynn Fontanne in my pap¬
ers in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library piqued the
interest of its director, and he asked me to write some
words for Columns about the correspondence and what had occa¬
sioned it. I am glad to do this; it stirs many memories and involves
a curious chapter in literary history.

About the time I joined the Columbia faculty soon after World
War II, I also began intermittent work for the Theatre Guild,
adapting plays, sometimes novels, for its one-hour broadcasts
sponsored by U. S. Steel. The series had started on radio in Sep¬
tember 1945, became a television series a few years later, and last¬
ed until 1962. Various writers did the adapting; each assignment
involved a separate call from the Theatre Guild and a separate
contract. The adapter was expected to attend rehearsals and make
script adjustments as needed.

The playing time of a Theatre Guild on the Air script was at
first limited to 54 minutes, later to shorter periods as commercials
grew longer. The adapter was inevitably faced with se\ere cut¬
ting problems. Other drastic changes might be made if the transfer
from one medium to another seemed to demand it. There was
often tension between those on the production staff who wanted
the closest possible adherence to the original, and those who
wanted to take advantage of the fluid possibilities of the broad¬
cast media.

I did radio adaptations for three appearances by Alfred Lunt
and Lynn Fontanne. The second of these set off memorable
events. It involved the Arnold Bennett play The Great Adven¬
ture, which was based on bis novel Buried Alive. AA'ben I was
called for the assignment, it was emphasized to me that Lynn

  v.35,no.3(1986:May): Page 25