A ghostly princess: Old-time radio listening, 20 October

Quiet, Please: Pavane, the Girl with the Flaxen Hair (Mutual, 1947)

The Princess de Polignac, patron and muse of Ravel, inadvertent inspiration for a classic Quiet, Please . . . and an heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune. (Photo: Possibly public domain.)

Ravel composed Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess) in 1899, while studying at the Conservatoire de Paris, and dedicated it to the Princess de Polignac—known otherwise as Winnaretta Singer, a lesbian in a chaste but (in the context of her time) peculiarly loving marriage to the homosexual Prince Edmond de Polignac, who shared her passion for music . . . and an heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune, who used her portion of it to sponsor serious music, other arts, and sciences for the rest of her life, following her husband’s death in 1901.

The composer himself described Pavane pour une infante defunte as “an evocation of a pavane that a little princess might, in former times, have danced at the Spanish court,” an expression of his enthusiasm for Spanish customs, a passion he seems to have shared with such contemporaties as Claude Debussy and channeled into perhaps his most famous work, Bolero.

In time, however, Ravel came close enough to disavowing Pavane, largely, it would seem, because of performances he considered lethargic; he is said to have dismissed one such performance by saying the piece wasn’t called “dead Pavane for a Princess.” He would ultimately dismiss it as “poor in form” despite his striking eventual orchestration of the work.

Tonight, however, Ravel’s Pavane is anything but poor—or dead—in form. It may also be heard as a textbook exercise in the madness behind its mastermind’s method: he insists, absolutely, upon his performers playing it completely deadpan and refusing to “act”:

In postwar France, Andrew Rushforth (Ernest Chappell, who narrates) working a postwar job, believing individuals have control enough over life and its circumstances, and living in his family’s ancestral home, may learn a different idea entirely thanks to one of his quiet passions, relaxing by playing Pavane pour une infante defunte on the home’s piano.

At least, he does until the night a young orphan girl enters . . . claiming to be the princess for whom Ravel composed the piece, dancing a beguiling pavane, and claming further to come at last because she hears “her” music so often, stirring Rushforth toward thoughts of adopting her with his barren wife—thoughts that may produce heartbreak during a brief illness.

Additional cast: Unidentified. Program music: Gene Perazzo. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.

Trivia: Cooper habitually appeared toward the end of a Quiet, Please episode speaking very briefly about the coming week’s story. A week earlier, at the conclusion of “Camera Obscura,” Cooper inadvertently said “Pavane” would be inspired by a Debussy composition,La fille aux cheveux de lin—“The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.”

This work, one of Debussy’s piano preludes, is based on de Lisle’s poem of the same name from Poemes Antiques, and was composed between 1909 and 1910, but bears little apparent relationship to his friend Ravel’s composition or chosen theme.

FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .

Comedy

Vic & Sade: Fred’s Concrete Floor (NBC, 1942)—The problem is Fred Stenbottom wanting to dragoon Vic (Art Van Harvey) into laying it down for him when he and Sade (Bernadine Flynn) were invited over on the pretext of playing cards. Writer/director: Paul Rhymer.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Taking Molly Dining and Dancing (NBC, 1953)—The Smoothie of 79 Wistful Vista and his lady (Jim and Marian Jordan), out for dinner at a fancy French restaurant after a hard day’s work between them, are surprised to see Doc Gamble (Arthur Q. Bryan) with a comely lady (Mary Jane Croft) after the doctor originally begged off a bowling night to escort a visiting medical colleague—who turns out to be his visiting medical colleague. Waiter: Rolfe Sedan. Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writer: Phil Leslie.

Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Clifford Fleming (It’s coming to us, 1959)—Meteorologist Fleming (Bob Elliott) delivers weather analysis from Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Also: The Great Bob & Ray Bird continues talking despite a potshot taken toward him; a call to the answering service; and, a Bob & Ray warehouse special on barbells. Writers, according to innuendo: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.

 

Crime Drama

Broadway is My Beat: The John Webster Murder Case (CBS, 1950)—John Webster was only attending the funeral of Agnes Harper, who once jilted him at the altar, when he became a corpse himself, with a knife in the back of his throat, sending Clover (Larry Thor) on a hunt that starts with a guest book page from the parlour and continues at a lonely hearts dance club, run by the indifferent and slightly snobbish man (Francis X. Bushman) over whose rejection Ms. Harper committed suicide—or did she? Ethel Harper: Jeannette Nolan. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Additional cast: Peggy Webber, Marjorie Bennett, Ted Osborn, Stan Blackman. Announcer: Bill Anders. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.

Dragnet: The Big Paint (NBC, 1953)—A rash of car-strippings has Friday (Jack Webb) and Smith (Ben Alexander) under pressure to pursue a gang operating in several southern California cities and lifting mostly from luxury cars. Swenson: Vic Perrin. Additional cast: Jack Kruschen. Announcers: Hal Gibney, George Fenneman. Music: Walter Schumann. Director: Jack Webb. Writer: Jack Robinson.

Rocky Fortune: The Shipboard Jewel Robbery (NBC, 1953)—Accepting a job as a ship’s steward, restless Rocky (Frank Sinatra) discovers a wealthy passenger out cold in her stateroom . . . before he’s knocked cold himself, then learns the woman was robbed, the ship’s captain may be running a rather corrupt scow, and the ship’s doctor is murdered—with Fortune facing the rap for it. Additional cast: Tony Barrett, Lynn Allen, Marvin Miller, Norma Varden, Shep Meagan. Announcer: Eddie King. Director: Andrew C. Love. Writer: George Lefferts.

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2 Responses to A ghostly princess: Old-time radio listening, 20 October

  1. Sylvia Kahan says:

    The photo of “Madame de Polignac” is not of Winnaretta-Singer Polignac — it is of her niece by marriage, the Marquise de Polignac, nee Nina Crosby. There are plenty of pictures of the real WSP on the internet.
    Sylvia Kahan, author of _Music’s Modern Muse_

    • Jeff Kallman says:

      Sylvia—Thanks so much. Especially since you finally commented on the post you wanted to comment upon, and not just my brief bio page!—Jeff