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Our Writing Lacks Something–But What Is It? CLEAR CHANNELS This Sacred Sameness By JACK SUMMERFIELD AUSTIN I have often wondered, usually between steak dinners, if I was not deprived as a child. I always get a kick out of browsing through a ten cent store. I think it must be sort of an adult form of “rocking around the clock.” About the time I am most intrigued with, say. a collapsible screw-driver set. my attention is drawn to a vegetable grater or a modern lamp shade or a brass ashtray from India. Before I am through looking I have bought everything or nothing, depending on how much money I have, and in either case, I wander out in a kind of heady frustration. This is the feeling I get also when I listen to “the Woolworth Hour.” If it’s what you are searching for, Woolworth does succeed in getting into their new CBS radio series precisely the quality you find in any one of their two thousand stores. There is a little bit of everything and a great deal of nothing. Each full-hour program includes six or seven relatively unobtrusive commercials, unobtrusive because Percy Faith plays soft music in the background and you can adjust your mental cut-off mechanism without half trying. Sandwiched between commercials are twelve or thirteen songs, op e n i n g with “There’s A Great Day Coming Mariana” and closing with “The Lord’s Prayer.” In between, the range is from Verdi’s La Traviata to Eddy Arnold’s “It Do Make It Nice.” But somehow, with the aid of the simperingly sweet settings provided by Percy Faith’s Chorus and Orchestra, the show sounds the same from beginning to end. And what more appropriate time than Sunday at noon could be found for airing a program which seems to regard sameness as sacred. There can be no doubt that the DeJohn Sisters and Ella Fitzgerald, :rill Corey and the Chordettes and Don Cherry, all appeal to a crosssection of general listeners. The trouble is there is no such thing as a “general listener,” a misnomer which refers to any one of us who listens so indiscriminately and reacts so independently that neither the sponsor nor the broadcaster can find out anything specific about him. I think we may have a good many such people in Texas. I would wager that three-quarters of the radio stations in Texas would gladly make a sacrificial offering of their most valuable discjockey for more programs like “The Woolworth Hour.” Already the most commercially successful radio broadcasters in Texas, such as Gordon \(“The Old attribute much of their success to a program schedule which includes as much as 90 per cent music. Most of the music is undeniably, even purposely, similar in orchestration and mood. I have heard a good many Texans remark recently that they wish there were more stations that “just played good music all the time.” But isn’t this something of a reaction against the punch commercial and the irritating hard-sell, the neurotic soap opera, the sadistic mystery? Who really enjoys hearing a retired farmer win $64,000 for knowing, without prompting, that there’s still a gap at Indiantown? Surely radio is destined to do m o re than provide inoffensive background music, even if this is one of the things’ television cannot do better. Surely Texas Negroes deserve more than spirituals, and rhythms and blues, even when they are directly catered to. Surely Texas Mexicans deserve more than mambos and whining guitars when programs are planned for them. It would truly be a tragedy if we had started with Bach or Brahms 30 years ago only to discover today that “Rock Around the Clock” pulls larger audience. But the naivete, rid sometimes contempt, which ems to go along with the too com 3n belief that ours is a nation of .1ve-year-old mentalities has led to rationalize banal music pro ‘s which, if they do not cater reotypes, attempt to appeal to everyone and hence are of little value to anyone. Even with the mass of choices already available on Woolworth counters, there are many products which no variety store operator has seen fit to merchandise. As in the case of the “Woolworth Hour,” we may one day suddenly realize that there is much value to be found in the specialty as well as the general product, in our minorities as well as our majority, in quality as well as quantity. A Challenge To the Editor: For so bad a play and so dreadful a production as “The Cloud of Witnesses” at San Jose Mission in San Antonio, your reviewer John Igo must have been powerfully moved to have spent so much time and care and words in writing about it. Yet he must have been unmoved to have sat through the whole performance as might be inferred from his review he did. I am sure Mr. Igo is a good poet he is an old and experienced judge of drama. I am not so sure however about his perception in judging the stage setting. Somehow I believe I prefer Lon Tinkle’s more poetic illusion: “.. . In a magically evocative set designed by Virgil Beavers … Paul Baker lined up the men at the Alamo in a scaffolding multiple in suggestive values. First, the outline was that of the Alamo facade itself; next each panel was a portrait in a gallery; then, each;panel was a niche in a cathedral facade with its appropriate saint; and by association, n e v e r with literal statement, each panel became what you please: stained-glass histories, Roualt-like portraits, even boxed coffins with a lowered scrim suggesting shrouds removed as Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, William B. Travis and other heroes came back to life, “a cloud of witnesses” in truth. .. ..” Or perhaps Lon Tinkle is a “culturehound” or one of “the arty fringe” or, even though he writes for a Dallas paper, he, like the local critics, “know where the Pressure is best buttered.” S. B. ZISMAN San Antonio \(John Rosenfield of the Dallas News knew and worked with Margo Jones. With his permission, we reprint his column upon her death two weeks ago. It is titled “Margo Jones’s DALLAS A community theater located far from Broadway and running daily over a period of thirty to forty-two weeks a year. A theater employing only professional actors at Equity rates and professionals at all other posts. A theater devoted primarily to the presentation of “hitherto unproduced” plays, varied by the revival of “classic” or dramatic masterpieces at least fifty years old. Operation of a repertory company in which all actors rank alike and are paid alike; plus the “repertory” repetition of the better plays for further seasoning of their values. This was the basis of Margo Jones’s completely “mad” idea, revealed to a few friends here in 1944. By 1945 the support had jelled among the supporters of the recently suspended Dallas Little Theater. There was encouragement in a donation by Eugene McDermott of $10,000. There was discouragement in the building situation, impossible: costs of new construction, the lack of a single available playhouse. SAN ANTONIO The Southwest, as it is, is virtually without a prophet. Harrison Smith, associate. editor of the Saturday Review, at a writers’ conference in Corpus Christi several weeks ago pointed out that there is almost no writing about the great middleclass here in the Southwest. That needed almost no pointing up. Southwestern writers or writers about the Southwest \(insued a mirage. They have none into the past of the cattle drives, the Indian raids and Mexican banditry the Seige and Fall of the Alamo, the hard-drinking Sam Houston and the Republic, the trek across the wastelands, and the coming of the railroads. Or they give their talents to chronicling the Mexican nationals who have not as yet been improved they give us Mexicans in a typically Mexican setting doing typically Mexican things the Mexican way, but they place it this side of the Rio Grande and therefore make it southwestern. Some few have taken East Texas for their material and have turned out Georgia Cracker novels, Tobacco Road stories, and hillbilly novelettes all of which just as validly or just as profitably might have been set elsewhere. Some have even gone so far as to find in Texas the last stand against the loss of the Southern plantation way of life, which has been largely on expulsion-from-the garden cultural fable in the South for nearly 75 years. And the Texas of Ferber’s Giant exists only in the feverish and adolescent imaginations of moviemaddened tourists walking for the first time through THAT department store in Dallas or through the lobby of THAT hotel in Houston. The fractional percentage of our population she tinkered with in her malicious caricature is about as representative of the Southwest as Thomas Merton is of the bohemian element of the old Greenwich Village. Mr. Smith Errs Mr. Smith errs, we think, in calling for a good old middleclass story The Margo Jones idea became an actuality, however, in the summer of 1947 when it opened in the present quarters at Fair Park with “Farther Off From Heaven,” a new script by a chap named William Inge, who is not so obscure .these days as the author of “Picnic” and “Bus Stop.” Theater ’55, which changed its numeral by. the year since Theater ’47, was impossible to explain at first. As it operated with complete economic plausibility, it began to look simple and enviable. It became one of the best-known theaters in the world. It was imitated in hundreds of communities, if only for pointing the way to arena-type presentation. As an international force Theater ’55 was treasurer for its services to the playwright, which were two. It was the outlet for the new play and often a showcase for Broadway, movie, radio or television futures. But, better, it marshalled an audience for the play without reputation, gave it vogue and inspired many other theaters to entertain new scripts for the first time. Yet Margo saw to it that Theater ’55 was a communiy theater. Technically it was and is owned by a civic non-profit group of which she was the paid managing director subject to orders. Actually, though, she was given a free hand and unquestioning support. She asem The Texas Mind THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 6 August 3, 1955 of Texas or of the Southwest. The middleclasses h e r e, as middleclasses, are for the most part like those anywhere. Novels about them would be almost indistinguishable apart from the place names and other accidentsfrom novels about any state west of the Mississippi and a good number east of it. He was right: something is missing, but it is not specifically the middleclass. He missed the feeling of something real, the solid substantial quality of life as it is lived. What he missed is something that all classes here in the Southwest have, something which is not used in writing about it. Here in the Southwest as in few other places in the United States, of two cultures. The Vermonters who speak French in the classroom through high school have it; the Louisiana French have it \(but that is a dying causethe source of the states along the Mexican border have it. The problems of adjustment, the conflicts and happy dovetailings, the adaptations and assimilationsthe mingling of the two must inescapably produce situations and people that are unlike those anywhere else, situations admirably suited for treatment in fiction, drama, and verse. There is no need to go into the past, or into the largely-fictional Western element, or into the purely Mexican, or into the Oriental splendor of a few incredibly rich oilwell owners. We have here, all about us, the raw material for a library full of writing. To an extent, Steinbeck has done some thing of what we have in mind for his own area of California. bled staff and cast, arranged operations, selected plays without asking for anything but advice. In the shock, and for many, the heartbreak of her death Sunday, can be found the nugget of her deep sincerity and love of the city she adopted and which adopted her. She left her dream and her organization intact as a civic institution, which can be carried on without so much as an amended bylaw. The Margo Jones “touch,” which she applied with the artist instinct, will be missing. Her longtime associate, Ramsey Burch, who has staged more productions of late than she, assumes her position. It was the ebullience of Margo’s personality, her capacity to get things done in a jiffy, her hunches and inspirational leadership that made things hum for so long. This, we believe, has written a chapter in the whole world history of the theater. But Dallas gave Margo a testimonial luncheon last fall to celebrate her ten Dallas seasons. The point was that Theater ’55 was a dream come not only to life but also to surprisingly long life. Those of us who were near her during those exciting years, will never get over missing her. But she left in their custody a very solid and very precious factor in the culture of Western Civilization. As never before Dallas must conserve it. Need Southwestern Writers We have too few southwestern writers. Katherine Anne Porter is somehow too detached. Tom Lea’s one southwestern novel is too cowboy. The Houn’ Dog Man might have been from Virginia or Utah. Dobie is an.historian. Many of our southwestern novels are southwestern in name only \(change the names and the story becomes a good Nevada or a good ganically out of what we have here. They are not the unique product of the forces at work here. We have been thus far in our southwestern literature too superficial. There are people here, people with real problems and faults and excellences, people with stories. Writers here think, apparently, that in order to write well, they must show in their stories that have been to New York once or that they can write a good Evelyn Waugh story; or they write a story about an English couple on the Riviera; or they compete \(unnolia school of Southern case histories of neurosis or psychosis; or they turn out pale imitation of something thought of in this part of the world as New Yorkerish but which is really a hybrid out of Partisan Review by True. William Goyen, whose new book. In a Farther Country, uses Southwestern material, including a roadrunner and a character named Marietta McGee-Chavez, states rather -plainly on the dustjacket that he is not a Southern writer, that he has been associated with Southern writers only by accident, and, in effect, that he wants no part of them. Fine. Takes Them to New York But he has taken his roadrunner and his McGee-Chavez, who frets about the clashing of her two bloods, to New York for his novel books, he says, use a language that is a regional idiom based upon Texas speech. Despite his disclaimer, his books have something in them that drags them eastward from eastern Texas. They are not southern-type southern, but they are more hillbilly than Texan, more southern than southwestern. But,