Academy Award Theater began its full 39 week season with a high note with Bette Davis in her Oscar winning role in Jezebel. By looking at the list of actors who appeared during the series, you can see that this series ranked up there with the Lux Radio Theater in its range of movies chosen to be dramatized as well as the actors involved. Gene Hersholt, veteran radio and movie star, spoke as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences during the first show welcoming the E.R. Squibb Co., giant pharmaceutical company as sponsor. These 30 minute programs consisted of dramatizations of movies whose pictures, players, techniques, and skills won or were nominated for the coveted golden Oscars.
The thirty nine episodes of this series aired between March 30, 1946 and December 18, 1946.
Stars and movies with Oscars were the idea – in most cases, the movie
stars recreated their academy award roles for the show, or in other cases, fine actors played the parts and gave it a different character. Both ways make for great radio drama and first class Hollywood motion picture star entertainment. The Lux Radio Theater had been doing this kind of radio show in the grandest manner for many years, but sponsor Squibb had the hubris and deep pockets to take on the competition by doing Academy Award Theater right after the Second World War. The year 1946 was pre-television, and so movies were still the major American visual art form, with radio the other popular network entertainment. In this final pre-TV time, Academy Award Theater was thought of as a premier radio production, a wow show, much like CinemaScope was to be in the 1950’s when Hollywood felt the box office blow of early TV.
The list of films and actors on Academy Award Theater is very impressive.
Bette Davis begins the series in Jezebel, with Ginger Rogers following in Kitty Foyle, and then Paul Muni in The Life of Louis Pasteur. The Informer had to have Victor Mclaglen, and the Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet (this movie was his first major motion picture role)
plus Mary Astor for the hat trick. Suspicion starred Cary Grant with Ann
Todd doing the Joan Fontaine role, Ronald Coleman in Lost Horizon, and
Joan Fontaine and John Lund were in Portrait of Jenny. How Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio were done is something to hear!
Some films are less well known, such as Guest in the House, with Kirk
Douglas and Anita Louise, It Happened Tomorrow, with Eddie Bracken and Ann
Blythe playing Dick Powell and Linda Darnell’s roles, and Cheers for Miss
Bishop with Olivia de Havilland. Each adaptation is finely produced and
directed by Dee Engelbach, with music composed and conducted by Leith Stevens. Frank Wilson wrote the movie adaptations.