Saturday, June 12, 2010

Imagine that

I love old time radio shows. The Shadow, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, The Man Called X, The Weird Circle, Gunsmoke, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and many others. I found a website where I downloaded a whole slew of programs and I'll be sest for years to come with hundreds of programs. I enjoy the intelligent, clean comedy and the action/mystery series, although sometimes corny by today's standards, still provide entertainment.

Like any good book, those radio shows allowed your mind to visualize the scenes. Through sound effects and voice inflections, you could imagine the bad guys confused by the mysterious voice of Orson Welles as he laughed as the invisible Shadow. One of the first Shadow mysteries I remember was one where the Shadow was trapped in a room with an electrified door. Through a window, the bad taunted and then released lethal gas. The Shadow outfoxed the bad guy by shorting out the electric system, releasing the door. Another episode had the Shadow on top of a tall building trying to talk down a sniper.

I can listen to those old shows while washing dishes, dusting (yes, mom, I do dust every once in awhile) or completing other projects, and the mind will still actively imagine the scenes being played out. Even characters I've read in books or have seen on TV are still enjoyable over the radio.
Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen.

A couple of years ago at a writers' conference, I listened to the guest speaker, and she said writers had one of the best jobs because they could do anything, be anything, create anything. So true. If you can imagine it, and you can make it real for others, then you can write it. Simple things like a Fibber McGee and Molly program to a X-Minus 1 space drama.

Donald Westlake wrote about his character Parker, a thief. One of the books he tried to write had various comical things go wrong with Parker's latest scheme. The problem Westlake ran into was that it didn't fit the Parker character. A few years later, he resurrected the story with another character, John Dortmunder and the comedic aspects worked. I love the visualization in the Dortmunder books. His characters come alive because each is unique. That's the way the old radio programs were, too. Each character created by the actors and actresses were unique...yet, in some ways, they were the same.

Sounds funny, but you could expect a lot of similarities. The bad guys pretty much sounded alike with harsh New York Bronx or Brooklyn accents or like they were all talking out the corners of their mouths. The women criminals all were brassy and hard while the heroines all sounded breathy and beautiful. But they were all unique in that you could always imagine their looks. Each crook had a little Edward G. Robinson in them. Each dame could be Lauren Bacall.

Many times, you were familiar with the actors who voiced the roles because they also starred in movies. Dick Powell, Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, just to name a few. Their radio roles were similar to their movie roles, so that fit. Others were more vague. I always picture the lovely Margo Lane, the Shadow's assistant, to be curly, dark haired with a subtle beauty, pretty, but not in an Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe way. Richard Diamond's girlfriend, Helen, and Sam Spade's secretary, Effie, both sounded perky with a touch of ditz, darker blonde, with smooth, rounded cheeks, and short.

When I was writing Beta, I ran across a couple of scenes which came alive for me and after I wrote them I knew I had written something good. I'm not being immodest, because I think writers should feel that their work is something good if they are personally affected by it. In a few of the scenes with the kidnapped girl, I was moved by what I had written. I thought if I could feel that way, others could, too. I hope so. When I write about Mallory's office, I liken it to a scene in Moonraker. Bond comes through the door with M, both wearing gas masks, expecting to see a lab; instead, they enter Draco's huge elaborate office. I loved that scene and stole the grandeur of the bad guy's office for Mallory's. It fits her quirky character.

I hope, too, that I've created a climactic scene in Night Shadows when the heroes are fighting the shadows in the art exhibit. When doing research I ran across this particular site and was so moved, I knew almost instantly I had found the right location. Thanks go to Virginia for suggesting it. I hope the reader will be able to imagine the eeriness. The neat aspect about that room really exists; you can go look at it for yourself.

This post's idea came to me because I'm currently reading one of the many stories featured in the old Shadow magazine, on news stands everywhere...well, sixty years ago. Although the magazine's stories differed from the radio program's a lot, they're still enjoyable, if predictable. As I often joke with friends about the murder rate in Cabot Cove with Jessica Fletcher, I find it a wonder that any bad guy is left in New York with the body count racked up by the Shadow's automatics. It was nothing for the cloaked figure to take on ten, fifteen, twenty foemen at a time. Yes, you had to suspend reality because none of the bullets ever made contact with the lone hero while every one of his shots found their mark.

But, that's the fun of imagination and can do anything.

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