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Academy Award Theater

February 20, 2013

Humphrey Bogart publicity photo from The Maltese Falcon

It’s the time of the year for the Academy Awards and you may not realize that there was a radio program called Academy Award Theater during radio’s golden age. However, while similar shows like Lux Radio Theater (which Media Heritage draws upon for our Hollywood Radio Theater program) lasted for decades, Academy Award Theater lasted exactly one season.

This was near the tail end of radio’s golden age, in 1946, about a year before television really took hold in cities across the country. Academy Award Theater attempted to capitalize on the success Lux had been enjoying since 1934 by presenting adaptations of popular and award-winning films replete with their original stars. For example, Bette Davis starred in the adaptation of “Jezebel” and Humphrey Bogart and Sidney Greenstreet reunited for a radio version of “Maltese Falcon.” However, these big-named stars did not work for free and the sponsor, Squibb pharmaceuticals, eventually tired of a weekly budget that included $5000 a week just for the stars and $1000 a week to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the right to use their name in the title of the show. Academy Award Theater lasted for 39-episodes before it was cancelled. Lux, in comparison, boasted 956 radio episodes before it went to television in the 1950s.

There was another long-running Hollywood anthology series, Screen Guild Theater, that ran from 1939 until 1952, but that program was half-hour in length and would necessitate cutting a full-length motion picture script down to 25-minutes, which often led to some massive—and sometimes amusing—story editing. For example, there was a presentation of “A Christmas Carol” that skipped over one of the ghosts!

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