THE FREE COMPANY PRESENTS:
A COLLECTION OF PLAYS ABOUT THE MEANING OF AMERICA

For what avail the Plow or Sail
Or land or life, if freedom fail?

     The Free Company was formed by a group of American writers concerned that, with the approach of WWII, American's should remember the fundamental freedoms and rights for which they might well have to fight. Volunteering their talents without compensation, each of the writers created a radio play about some distinguishing aspect of America, about freedom of speech and the press, the right to a jury trial, equality before the law irregardless of race or creed. As James Boyd, Chairman of The Free Company explained, the authors' conversations about what distinguished America from other countries, what made the country worth defending, led to a shared conviction that it was the rule of law and the Bill of Rights which formed the "bedrock of the system guarding the citizen in his inalienable basic freedoms and establishing against even the law itself, his sanctity as an individual."

     The authors who belonged to The Free Company included some of the best known and most accomplished writers of the period: Maxwell Anderson, Sherwood Anderson, Stephen Vincent Benet, Marc Connelley, Paul Green, Archibald Macleish, William Saroyan, Robert F. Sherwood and Orson Welles. All were part of what Michael Denning has called "the cultural front," a loose association of liberal artists, writers, and filmmakers who sought to transform american culture during the Depression just as workers -- and the government -- were attempting to transform the country's social and economic relations.

     The radio dramas they created thus reflect an attempt by artists at a critical juncture in the nation's history to shape American's conception of their individual and collective identity. They are also signficant in what they tell us of the power -- imaginative and political -- of radio in its golden age, before it became the commericalized and homogenized medium it is today. They also complicate and enrich our notions of the artistic careers of each of the authors. And, of course, they also provide us with a piece of that remarkable "soundscape" of the interwar period, of those audible cultural texts with which most Americans would then have been familiar but which we have largely ignored as a resource for understanding their times.

     What we offer here is merely a begining, the radio dramas themselves. With time and with luck, we'll try to put them into fuller context, providing fuller accounts of the authors, of the social and political controversy that the programs set off and that eventually drove them from the air, and of the relation between radio as an art form and other forms of the day. For now, however, sit back and listen to The Free Company Presents.

Airtime for each program is approximately 30 minutes; each QuickTime file weighs +/- 38 mb; when selected, each program will open a small separate window while it loads.

The People With Light Coming Out Of Them
A loving invocation of small town America written by William Saroyan and starring Burgess Meredith, Henry Fonda, John Garfield, Edmund Gwenn, Nancy Kelly and Tim Holt. Originally broadcast February 23, 1941.
The Mole on Lincoln's Cheek
Written by Marc Connely, this play argues for intellectual freedom and against censorship. It features Burgess Meredith, Robert Young, and Charles Bickford. Originally broadcast March 2, 1941.
An American Crusader
Written by Robert Sherwood, this is an historical drama about Elijah Lovejoy, abolitionist newspaper publisher and martyr to the ideal of Freedom of the Press. It features Franchot Tone, Gail Patrick and Burgess Meredith. Originally broadcast March 2, 1941.
One More Free Man
James Boyd is the writer of this drama about Freedom of Speech. It features Betty Field, Dorothy McGuire, Elia Kazan. Directed by Norman Corwin. Originally broadcast March 16, 1941.
Freedom's A Hard Bought Thing
Writen by Stephen Vincent Benet, this is a story about a slave who catches the disease of "Freedom." Features Eric Burroughs, James Boyd, Harrington Lewis, Georgette Harve and the Juanita Hall Singers. Originally broadcast March 23, 1941.
His Honor, The Mayor
Orson Welles wrote this story of "Freedom of Speech" in a small American town. It features Welles, Ray Collins, Agnes Moorehead, Evertt Sloane, Paul Stewart, and Erskine Sanford. Originally broadcast April 6, 1941.
A Start In Life
Written by Paul Green, this story about the daily indignities of the lives of an African-American family. It features Canada Lee and Luis Van Rooten. Originally broadcast April 13, 1941.
The States Talking
A blank verse drama written by Archibald MacLeish, in which the states answer the criticisms of Europe, especially the Axis Nations. Burgess Meredith is the host; it was directed by Irving Ries and Leif Stevens conducted his own score based on American folk song Manuscripts in the Library of Congress. Originally broadcast April 20, 1941.
The Miracle on the Danube
Maxwell Anderson wrote this drama of a Nazi Captain who is visited by Christ and undergoes a spiritual and political conversion. It features Burgess Meredith and Paul Muni. Originally broadcast April 27, 1941.
Above Suspicion
Initially, this script was to have been written by Sherwood Anderson. When he died a month prior to the broadcast the project was evidently completed by other members of the Company. The story of a visitor from Nazi Germany who has great difficulty understanding basic values of American life. It features George M. Cohan, Paul Henreid, Eddie Ryan Jr., Lily Valenti, Betty Jane Tyler, and Earle Chaney. Originally broadcast May 4, 1941.
     For additional radio programs from the 1930s, please go to AS@UVA On The Air, the virtual radio station from the American Studies Programs at the University of Virginia.