That was an old slogan for Blackglama mink, but what else can you wonder when the world says goodbye to someone who, in a way most of us never even knew, was a visionary whose legacy has influenced entertainers today from The Firesign Theatre in the 1960's to to the writing staff of the late and lamented Morning Sedition
radio program to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion
, which is probably the last bastion of radio theatre.
When I was a kid, I used to like to listen to old-time radio shows. I think they were on WBAI. My taste tended to run more towards comedies like Fibber McGee and Molly
and Fred Allen and Jack Benny, and radio soaps like Backstage Wife
, which my mother used to jokingly call "Mary Backstage, Noble Wife". The soaps were notable even by the time I was about ten for sheer snark and ridicule value, but the comedies were still funny. Was there anyone who couldn't visualize what was happening when Fibber McGee opened that closet door? Occasionally I'd listen to the adventure serials, but I don't remember much about them because if I recall correctly, WBAI used to not necessary play the whole series, which meant that much of what was broadcast was out of context. But I knew about Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon and Terry and the Pirates. I knew about the creaking door of the Inner Sanctum, a show which influenced everyone from Rod Serling
While I don't remember any specific interest in The Inner Sanctum
, I do remember hearing the show's infamous creaking door, and my parents referring to my room as "The inner sanctum", though Fibber McGee's closet would have been a more apt analogy.
I also remember listening to this particular WBAI program one evening and hearing what sounded like a detective story from old-time radio, except that it was punnier than most of them, with exchanges like:
If you're so smart, why don't you pick up your cues faster?
Are those my cues?
Yes, and they must be dry by now. Why don't you pull them out of the cellophane before they scorch.
The cellophane, of course, referred to what was used to create the sound of a crackling fire, but the meta-ness of the dialogue in this particular radio drama was very different from the old shows from the 1930's and 1940's that usually ran. This particular drama turned out to be "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger", from the How Can You Be In Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere At All
album by the 1960's surrealist comedy team, The Firesign Theatre
. The age of television may have been upon us, but there were clearly creative people still out there who cut their teeth on radio serials and knew how to do it.
Fast-forward now to 2005. Air America Radio is still in its relative infancy, with it's gonzo "Hey, kids...let's put on a radio network" energy. Many of the shows dip their toes into the radio drama waters, from the hourly intro bits on The Randi Rhodes Show
to Al Franken's Oy Oy Oy Show
. But it was the amazing writing staff at the aforementioned Morning Sedition
who revived the art of the radio drama, delivered with snark for a new age, with "Morning Sedition Radio Theatre."
And that is where my familiarity with Himan Brown begins.
I never met the man. I would never even known who he was, were it not for the kind of nearly cultlike devotion that Morning Sedition
fans had (and still have
) for that program. I struck up an online friendship with one of them, a woman named Melina. I don't even know how we ever hit it off, with little life experience in common other than being staunch fans of Morning Sedition
and Marc Maron's comedy, interests in writing and politics, and being products of crazy, dysfunctional Jewish families. But we did. Melina put a great deal of personal energy these last few years into coordinating the care for her ailing grandfather, who was already well in his nineties. It wasn't until much later that she told me about who her grandfather was and what he spent his life doing. And it wasn't until I read a more about him that I realized that all those years ago, when I listened to those old-time radio shows when I was a kid, it was because of "Melina's Grandpa" -- a man who over seventy years ago, realized the potential of what happened when you wrapped wire around an oatmeal box
, added a crystal diode and capacitor, and put it together with nothing more than the spoken word, sound effects, and well-placed music.
When you think about how early television drama grew out of radio, and you examine the construction of shows like The Twilight Zone
that many of us post-WWII babies cut our teeth on, it's mind-boggling how much of contemporary popular culture owes its structure to Himan Brown, who knew not just the power of the spoken word, but the endless potential of human imagination.
Himan Brown left this level of reality on June 4, 2010. As one of the speakers at the celebration of his life that took place today noted, the date of his passing was on the 109th anniversary of the granting by the U.S. Patent office of U.S. Patent RE11,913 to Guglielmo Marconi for his radio. The celebration of the life of this visionary pioneer of today's media took place on the 109th anniversary of Marconi's SECOND U.S. patent
. The speaker hoped that somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, sentient beings are enjoying Terry and the Pirates
and wondering what happens next. Here on earth, we can only hope that people like Garrison Keillor, and those who worked with and who still appreciate the work and legacy of Himan Brown, continue to foster the marriage of storytelling and human imagination that is radio theatre. And for Melina, the members of her family, and the friends who shared with the rest of us their tribute today to a man they knew as steadfast, loyal, tough, funny, kind, generous, inspiring, and yes, tough as nails, we offer our sympathies for the loss of this American original.
Other bloggerati and others paying tribute:Radio TwitSkippyMercurieIvan G. Shrieve, Jr.Abu ScooterFeliks BanelClassic Horror Film MessageboardGeorge WilliamsGlitchHarry Heuser