Richard Fish: Between Americans Video Released

Richard Fish shared the following with the Bloomingtonian this week:

We have released a free video which has been 83 years in the making, and
you need to see it — when you do, you’ll see why. We simply want as
many people as possible to see it, especially this year. It runs 38 minutes.

It’s posted on Vimeo, the link is safe, and here it is:

https://vimeo.com/935090839/d606360455?share=copy

As you may know, I produced the audio in 2021 as a radio play. Now, my
friend Tom Curley (retired from 40 years with CBS-TV) has done an
amazing job of adding the video component. I’m blown away at how much it
adds to the content, and think it will be much more accessible,
especially to younger people.

Will you help? Please forward this to your friends, your families, and
maybe to people you’ve been arguing with. Post it on any social media,
offer it to teachers or school boards or anywhere it can be seen. I’d be
glad to answer any questions – it’s quite a story.

“83 years in the making?” Yes. Its intention is to “lower the
temperature” of the rhetoric when America is so polarized, and call
attention to the common ground we all share.

BETWEEN AMERICANS has an incredible backstory — and here it is:

THE IDEA:

In July, 1941, Norman Corwin was in the middle of his astonishing “26 By
Corwin” radio series for CBS, writing and producing an original play —
each one different from all the others — every week.

World War II was already raging. Six months before Pearl Harbor, the
United States was still at peace, but “National Defense” was a huge
issue. The country was badly divided. Isolationists wanted to stay out
of the war at almost any price; interventionists feared that if the
dictators were not stopped “over there,” they would become too strong to
stop when they came over here.

Norman, always aware of the news thanks to his beginnings in journalism,
had been worrying about the whole situation. He saw the deep public
division as America’s greatest weakness, wanted to find common ground
everyone could agree on, and lower the tone of the debate from loud and
strident to calm and reasonable. On June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the
Soviet Union, and the Nazis began winning huge victories. This may well
have crystallized the idea of this play; Norman had been thinking about
a script for Independence Day weekend.

BETWEEN AMERICANS celebrates American diversity, and our unity, by
reminding us of the best things about our country — without ignoring
its faults. The basic theme is an honest look at what America means, and
stands for — which is the unity we have achieved from diversity — and
what Americans most need to defend, which is our rights and freedom.


THE ORIGINAL BROADCAST:

Sunday, July 6, 1941 the show was broadcast live from CBS studios in New
York. The Mercury Theatre’s Ray Collins played “the American,” whose
name is never mentioned. Alexander Semmler wrote a score for the CBS
orchestra. The original script had only a very few small parts for other
actors, and they were not credited on the air.

THE SECOND BROADCAST:

Not long after the show aired, Orson Welles called Norman on the phone.
He said he had been enormously impressed with the show, loved the
concept and the script, and asked Norman’s permission to produce another
broadcast. In true Wellesian style, he planned to direct the program and
take the principal part himself. Norman was gratified by Welles’
interest and readily assented.

At the time, Welles was deep in production on his second movie, The
Magnificent Ambersons, so it took awhile before his personal schedule
and CBS’s broadcast schedule matched up. Sometime that fall they decided
on a Sunday evening, December 7.

On December 7, Norman was on a train traveling from New York to Los
Angeles, to prepare his great program, “We Hold These Truths,” which was
scheduled for December 15, the 150th anniversary of the day the Bill of
Rights became law. He had a compartment and worked on the script on his
portable typewriter. Wanting to hear the Welles broadcast, he called the
porter and said he’d like to rent a radio. Radio receivers, complete
with a pull-out antenna to be attached to a window with a suction cup,
were available on trains in those days.

The porter immediately told him all the radios had been taken, saying
“Didn’t you hear? The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor this morning.”
Norman had friends on the train, Mr. & Mrs. Herbert Marshall, and he
went to their compartment; they had a radio, and they listened to the
news reports, until CBS switched to Chicago for the Orson Welles
program. It was the first thing heard on the network that day which was
not a news report. Norman then went back to his compartment, hauled out
his typewriter, and started making changes to the December 15th script.

The Welles broadcast that night was somewhat different from Corwin’s,
besides coming from a different city. It was a sponsored program: The
Gulf Screen Guild Theatre, and some cuts were made in the script to make
room for Gulf Oil commercials…which were specially written to reflect
the theme of the show. It was also presented on stage in front of an
audience, who applauded enthusiastically when they finally got the
chance. Welles may or may not have sought Norman’s permission for the
cuts, and a few wording changes, but Norman did not object, then or later.

THE NEW VERSION:

At the beginning of October, 2001, about three weeks after the terror
attacks on 9/11, Norman called me at my home in Bloomington, Indiana. We
shared our horror at the attacks for some minutes, and then he began
talking about this program. He said he thought it needed to be heard
once again, but when he went back and read over the script, he realized
it wouldn’t work for a contemporary audience. It was too “aw-shucks,” he
said, too “folksy.” Besides that, there were now-outdated cultural
references sprinkled throughout that needed to be replaced with
contemporary ones. He asked if I would be willing to update the script.

When I got up off the floor and could breathe again, I said yes.
Apparently Norman thought I could write, and I wasn’t silly enough to
argue with him, of all people, about that.

I transcribed the original broadcast into script form, then did a
save-as and started updating language, and removing sections of text
that wouldn’t work — for example, a long section about American Indians
which reflected some old attitudes and word-choices. This brought the
program down to about 17 minutes. Something had to be added to bring it
back up to a half-hour.

We sent the file back and forth on email, only occasionally talking on
the phone. I made suggestions, he revised them…or rejected them. His
suggestions and revisions and wording went in, but time and again we
would cut a passage and start on a different approach. Without a
deadline, or funding, the project continued for years. It was
interrupted twice for months on end when Norman was hospitalized by falls.

In the original script, a whole group of characters are introduced —
people from many states around the nation — as a device to work in one
of Norman’s favorite themes, American place names, which speak of our
origins, our aspirations, and our character. But these many characters
did nothing else after each saying one line. Norman liked the idea of
giving some of the American’s lines to them, and having them react as a
group occasionally, participating throughout the discussion. He noted it
would give more scope to more actors, and felt that it would make the
program more appealing to the modern ear.

In 2010, Norman signed off on the update, and gave me complete rights to
produce it as I saw fit. We were discussing a new production when he
died in 2011, and his daughter Diane, who handles the Estate, confirmed
that.

The current version of the script has had a few tweaks, the kind Norman
always made to keep his scripts timely; I have had some very valuable
suggestions. But they are minor ones, like the changes Orson Welles
made. Nothing alters what Norman approved and wanted to convey; the
message and the intent remain his.

When the audio was produced in 2021, we were locked down by the Covid
pandemic, so the actors were recorded remotely — literally from New
York to Hawaii. The cast is equally divided between male and female;
ages range from 10 to 84; and half the cast is either African-American,
Hispanic-American, or Asian-American.

In some places, serious questions are asked, and the cast reacts as a
group, discussing each one. Those group reactions were NOT scripted.
Each actor gave their personal opinions. Being Americans, they do not
always agree, but there is no shouting, no anger, no insults — just
reasonable people being honest.

THE VIDEO VERSION – 2024

Tom Curley, with decades of experience working for CBS, has created a
video to accompany the audio soundtrack, and it’s a wonderful job. The
images add a lot to the meaning of the text, and this version will be
more attractive to younger people. Working with me over a few weeks, we
also had valuable feedback from others. A few small tweaks were made in
the audio mix, but no changes in the script.

I’m attaching the backstory as a PDF, in case it’s helpful to have it as
a document. Many thanks for watching, and for anything you can do to
bring this video to a larger audience.

Sincerely,

Richard Fish




“Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit
by postponing it pretend.” — Norman Corwin, 1945

“You can get an awful lot done, if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
— George C. Marshall, to my father, 1944

“A laugh is not something you get. It’s something you give.” — me.

The Firehouse Theatre: Sunday 8-10 PM Eastern Time (UTC -5) over
WFHB-FM, 91.3 — http://198.178.121.76:8096/stream

(go to https://wfhb.org/ and click on Listen – Stream Live) or go
directly to:

http://www.radiorethink.com/listen/wfhb

If you have any trouble, another stream can be found at

http://radio.garden/listen/bloomington-community-radio-wfhb/AcJjMxXo

Missed the broadcast?  Want to share it?  All our WFHB shows are
archived for two weeks at

https://spinitron.com/WFHB/       just set the date and time to the
original broadcast and click play!

And hear my weekly 4-minute consumer info column, BETTER BEWARE, at:

https://wfhb.org/category/news/bb/

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