Cecil B. De Mille, Bing Crosby
and Edward G Robinson.
ACTING FOR RADIO
By Cecil B. De Mille
Director of CBS Lux Radio Theater
Once when my father was writing stage plays on Broadway with David Belasco, Harper's Magazine paid him $1000 in advance for an article listing the "Ten Commandments for a Playwright."
After many weeks, my father returned the money with a note reading, "I have written the 'Ten Commandments' of Playwriting but don't dare allow them to be published for fear I might be expected to live up to them."
If I had inherited my father's caution, I'd never have promised to do an article under such a dangerous title as "How to Act for Radio." Good acting is an art, and for art there are no unbreakable rules except complete sincerity and hard work.
Bernard Shaw says that the way to learn to write is to write–and write. Similarly, the way to learn to act is to act–and act. You don't need a stage or an audience. Charlie Chaplin, perhaps the greatest pantomimist of our time, mastered most of his technique standing in front of a bureau mirror; Demosthenes, the ancient Greek orator, achieved perfect diction standing on the sea shore with his mouth full of pebbles, talking to the waves.
I know radio actors who record their voices by means of inexpensive attachments on their home phonographs, then play the records back time after time to study their own deliveries and techniques in reading lines and correct their errors.
The best beginning, of course, is to get a good teacher. Although I make it a rule never to recommend a dramatic school or coach, there are many excellent ones specializing in radio acting-and remember that acting for radio is different from any other form of the art.
In the days of silent pictures, our job was to make the audience see sound; in the Lux Radio Theater we try to make the audience hear sight. A good radio actor can project his own image–or rather the image of the character he's portraying, which is very seldom his own image-–over the air.
In the talking pictures of today, of course, pantomime remains a highly important part of dramatic technique. But what a screen actor can do with a look or a gesture, the radio actor must do with his voice alone. You may have noticed that some very fine screen actors are very poor on the air, and that some of the best radio actors, transported to the screen, seem hopelessly inadequate.
The stage actor must play to the last row in the gallery, but the radio actor plays only to that terrifyingly intimate little object called a microphone, which is the candid camera of his art. It is also an unfailing lie detector. You can't get away with insincerity on the air.
But the radio itself can give you better advice than I can. Listen to it. Study the form of radio. Study good and bad actors alike, learning from both kinds.
From this point you're on your own.
Competent guidance, constant practice, complete sincerity and concentrated study-those are the instruments to guide you over the air lanes. They're a bit bumpy sometimes, those air lanes, but they open up the most exciting vistas in the dramatic world.
Happy landings.[1942 pamphlet from KPO-NBC]