The 1940 CBS radio series “Forecast” was a summer showcase for ideas for new series… what television later called “pilots,” and a drama about an Indiana newspaperman was part of the series’ first edition.
However the newspaperman story wasn’t the series idea: It was to be called “The American Theatre” and would produce a new radio drama each week based on a different American work of fiction.
The pilot episode July 15, 1940, used Booth Tarkington’s 1899 novel “The Gentleman from Indiana” as its source, with John Houseman doing the adaptation and directing… shoehorning the tale into a half hour.
The husband-and-wife team of Frederic March and Florence Eldridge starred, and apparently were to continue in new “American Theatre” episodes if the series idea had been accepted. Perhaps they were to become the core of a repertory company like Houseman’s and Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater.
Instead, Academy Award winner March made three films in 1941, and next played a (sometime) newspaperman in the title role of the 1944 “Adventures of Mark Twain.”
Houseman became active and the United States government propaganda effort during World War II. But in 1941, he also found time to direct an episode of another CBS anthology series, The Columbia Workshop production of”The Trojan Women,” according to radio historian J. David Goldin’s RadioGoldindex.com
“The Gentleman from Indiana” already had been adapted for a silent film in 1915, but the radio production makes no reference to that version.
The novel fleshes out the characters quite a bit more, but even in Houseman’s half-hour we still get the crusading –perhaps reckless — newspaperman taking on corrupt politicians and gun-slinging white-capped vigilantes. And we get a valiant woman editor taking over for him when he is hospitalized.
Houseman had been associated with not only Mercury Theatre, but also — for a while — Welles’ film newspaper-related film project, “Citizen Kane” until he and Welles parted company. Coincidentally, another Tarkington novel was the basis for Welles’ film “The Magnificent Ambersons.”
I haven’t looked at Houseman’s autobiography yet to see whether he reveals more about this radio production. Something for the to- do list.
For more about “Forecast,” see DigitalDeliToo’s guide to the series.