“When [Richard Wright] learned I was from Chapel Hill he assumed immediately that I knew Paul Green, with whom he had written the play Native Son. He said, ‘The sleepiest man I ever saw.’ He laughed and talked and laughed that laugh which he later admitted was his first line of defense, though it felt that afternoon like offense. He claimed that Green would go to sleep when they were writing dialogue for the most exciting moments in the play. ‘I’d say a line and look over and there Paul would be asleep.’
“Five years later when I was again in Chapel Hill, teaching, I met Hugh Wilson, a cousin of Paul Green’s, who told me how exciting and dangerous those weeks were when Wright was in town working with Green on the play. ‘Of course he couldn’t stay at the Carolina Inn and there was no other place, so we got him a room down on Cameron Avenue in that big Victorian house behind those two giant magnolias. When the Ku Klux got wind he was there in a white neighborhood, they put out word they were going to kill him. Wright never knew that. Night after night Paul and I walked shotgun on that block. Paul would go up Ransom and I’d go down Cameron for a block or so and then we’d walk back and stand on the corner awhile, then patrol again. All night. I don’t know how Paul could write the next day’….”
— From “Richard Wright: The Visible Man” by Max Steele in the Paris Review (Fall 2003)
On this day in 1919: Professor Frederick Koch’s Carolina Playmakers debut with a trio of short plays in the Chapel Hill High School auditorium. Leading the bill: “The Return of Buck Gavin, A Tragedy of the Mountain People,” written by Thomas Wolfe, who also plays the part of Buck.
Among Prof Koch’s other notable early students: Paul Green, Jonathan Daniels and Frances Gray (Patton). By 1928 Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times will write that “what Professor Koch has accomplished, not only in Chapel Hill, but through the state, is nothing short of extraordinary.”
You can see costume items from “The Return of Buck Gavin” in the North Carolina Collection Gallery exhibit “Making a People’s Theatre: Proff Koch and the Carolina Playmakers,” from now until May 31.
“In the autumn of 1940 James Boyd, the engaging historical novelist and essayist from North Carolina, recruited an outstanding cast of writers to prepare a series of radio scripts…. Unsponsored and unpaid, this group called itself the Free Company and took as its mission a dramatic presentation of the Bill of Rights. ‘Our only purpose,’ Boyd explained, ‘is to remind people, in this hour of danger, how precious the American way of life is.’
“The writers felt determined to reach the broadest possible audience and by May 1941 there were, indeed, more than 5 million faithful listeners. Despite the self-evident ‘Americanism’ of the scripts, however, more conservative listeners and the Hearst papers disliked the internationalism and liberal tone….
“Boyd’s ‘team’ included William Saroyan, Archibald MacLeish, Stephen Vincent Benet, Orson Welles and Paul Green. Their 11 programs were heard on CBS and enjoyed extensive rebroadcasting despite the flak…. More than 7,000 copies of the scripts were sold, and the Free Company received more than 10,000 fan letters.”
— From “Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture” by Michael Kammen (1991)