Original image: Patrick Hoesly
The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes
Original script: Edmund Brophy
Originally aired: 23 March 1956
Plot synopsis: A musical dramatization, in rhyming verse, of the tale of a New Orleans jazz musician and the deal he makes with the Devil to allow him to produce the perfect note.
Favourite line: 'In Storyville, where blues were born/ There's a legend of a golden horn/ And a hot-lipped kid, blue-eyed and fair/ Who tried for a note that wasn't there.'
Review: This episode has nothing to do with the famous mobster Vincent 'Jimmy Blue Eyes' Alo. Instead, it presents the story of a jazz musician and his various misadventures in pursuit of 'the perfect note'. I'll state upfront that I am not a particular fan of jazz or blues music - though I have nothing against these genres! - so the music employed in this episode didn't do very much for me; others, I appreciate, may enjoy it more. However, the main weakness for me was the plot, which I simply found uninteresting and uninvolving. The story is a clichéd, sub-Faustian one about a musician selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for his heart's desire, and in the over-crowded field of such tales, it has very little new to offer. This was an episode I struggled to listen to all the way through. (As a side note, this is one of three CBS Radio Workshop episodes to feature the Devil - the others being The Billion Dollar Failure of Figger Fallup and Never Bet the Devil Your Head.)
Rating: * *
[Other adaptations: Film short - The Legend of Jimmy Blue Eyes (1964)]
The Little Prince
Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Originally aired: 25 May 1956
Plot synopsis: An aviator who has crashed in the desert encounters an alien boy whom he calls the Little Prince, who has arrived on Earth from his home 'planet' of asteroid B-612. Based on a novella first published in 1943.
Favourite line: 'What is essential is invisible to the eye.'
Review: The French novella on which this episode is based is one of the most widely translated books in the world, and in France was once voted the best book of the twentieth century. The most appropriate word to describe the story is charming. A surreal, poetic tale, full of flights of fantasy and a joyful disregard for logic, it defies categorization. Is it a story for children, or adults? Is it a modern fable with a clear moral, or simply an absurdist piece of whimsy? There are no clear answers to many of the questions listeners may have - such as who exactly the Little Prince is, what the mysterious rose he loves is supposed to represent, or the precise significance (SPOILER ALERT!) of his 'death' and presumed resurrection. Regardless, the story leaves a lasting impression, especially the scenes in which the Little Prince recounts his adventures on other planets. On one of these he meets a monarch who asserts that he is all-powerful, even though he has no subjects to rule; on another, he speaks with a conceited man who believes himself to be the most handsome and intelligent person on his planet, despite being the only one living on it; and on a third, he finds a businessman who spends his time counting the stars in the sky, all of which he claims to own, even though the idea is ridiculous. These parables are intended to highlight the vain, foolish sides of human nature and to demonstrate that what is important about a person is not what is outwardly visible - like power, appearance or possessions - but what is invisible, that which resides in the heart. Given this message, and the way it is expounded, some may find the story a little sappy, but it is such a sweetly told tale that it is easy to forgive it a certain degree of over-sentimentality.
Rating: * * * *
A Living Portrait of a Man in Action - William Zeckendorf
Original script/narrator: Martin Cheever
Originally aired: 20 April 1956
Plot synopsis: A profile of real-estate tycoon William Zeckendorf.
Favourite line: 'The guy sued us for $300 million. The judge asked me if I had any comment to make. And I said, "Yes, your honor," I said, "I'd like to match the gentleman, double or nothing."'
Review: Some may wonder about the value of listening to an episode about a long-dead real-estate mogul and his business activities from over half a century ago. I shared this apprehension before listening to the episode, but stick with it and like me you may discover that it provides a rewarding listen. Its subject, William Zeckendorf, was a major American figure of the mid-twentieth century; most notable, he helped shape the landscape of modern New York. For example, at different points in time, he owned or was involved in the development of the Chrysler Building, the Hotel Astor in Times Square, and the area of land where the United Nations headquarters was built. The episode profiles Zeckendorf at the height of his wealth and power, documenting what an 'average' working day is like for such a high-powered individual. In doing so, it offers some interesting insights into both the man and the time in which he operated - the era of America's long post-war boom, a period of rapidly rising prosperity and optimism. Some of this is fascinating, though there is not much depth to the analysis, and not much to explain why exactly Zeckendorf became the success that he did. Moreover, since the episode was produced in 1956, it obviously cannot take into account the fact that a decade later Zeckendorf's company went bankrupt. Even so, this episode offers a valuable attempt at presenting a balanced view of an intriguing figure.
Rating: * * *
Lovers, Villains and Fools
Narrator's scripT: Albert Miller
Originally aired: 18 May 1956
Plot synopsis: A selection of readings from the works of William Shakespeare, dealing with lovers, villains and fools. Performed by the Helen Hayes Drama Group and hosted by Helen Hayes.
Favourite line: 'Throughout history, strange opinions have been held about actors by people outside the profession ... Actors have been accused of being childlike, vain, feather-brained, irresponsible and, well, sometimes not even quite respectable.'
Review: My rating for this episode is, of course, not a reflection on the quality of the extracts that are performed - they are, after all, from the pen of William Shakespeare! No, my low rating is for the episode itself. Frankly, I simply did not enjoy listening to the readings. Partly, this is because some of the acting is quite old-fashioned and hammy, and partly because the selection of readings feels quite random and arbitrary, so that the whole only very loosely hangs together. Furthermore, the narration by Helen Hayes comes across as not a little pompous. She is also very 'actory'; she even refers to non-actors as 'civilians', for goodness sake!
Rating: * *