This week, I'm going to start running a series of episodes from the "Columbia Shakespeare Cycle", originally broadcast in July and August 1937. This series of blog posts are a part of my occasional series of programs transferred from the old time radio lps and reel to reel tapes in my collection.
The "Shakespeare Cycle" was conceived as a sustained prestige project for CBS and was quite a novelty at the time, both for presenting condensed versions of a complete Shakespeare play through radio and for the gimmick of casting famous stars in principle roles. Raymond Massey, Edward G. Robinson, Tallulah Bankhead and even Humphrey Bogart were heard on the shows.
In this post, we hear the second program of the series, "Much Ado About Nothing", broadcast July 19, 1937 and featuring Leslie Howard and Rosalind Russell. Our mp3 was transferred from the rare Murray Hill lp set, "Hollywood Immortals Perform Shakespeare", release number 898667.
Four shows in the series are currently circulating among otr collectors and sound like they were dubbed from inferior cassette tape copies of the programs. These lp copies have much better sound and, as a bonus, we'll hear a fifth episode in the series that isn't in circulation.
Digital Deli has a log of the series. I'll add to their research with a few additional notes I found by doing some digging in publications of the period. Columbia promoted the series heavily to libraries and it seems to be one of the earliest instances where the networks reached out directly to educators in this way. The "Bulletin of the American Library Association" (Volume 31, page 805) had minutes of a Committee on Library Radio Broadcasting that met in New York. The librarians at the meeting discussed how libraries might use radio to promote books or work with broadcasters in educational programming. They mentioned that the Shakespeare series was announced and that Columbia was distributing recommendations to libraries for advertising the programs. The bulletin of the Louisiana Library Association had a 1938 article about the series; noting the New Orleans Public Library cooperation with CBS, including promoting the series through bookmarks given to patrons.
CBS was interested in how this outreach worked in promoting the series. The "Wilson Bulletin for Libraries" (Volume 12 No 2, page 138, October 1937) noted that the network received 4,200 letters praising the series. CBS sent a questionnaire to 900 libraries. Thirty-four reported an increased demand for Shakespeare's works and 66 noted a small increase. Twenty four thought the series had no effect on demand for works by the Bard. The article also noted that NBC received only 91 letters in June and 118 in July as "indirect mail" in response to their competing "Streamlined Shakespeare" series.
Next week, we'll hear Raymond Massey and Claude Rains in "Julius Caesar".