Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fortnightly Book, February 15

Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.

Lloyd Cassel Douglas (1877-1951) was born Doya Douglas in Columbia City, Indiana to a Lutheran family. Douglas began to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a Lutheran pastor, but at some point, for reasons unknown, became a Congregationalist. Around about the age of 50 he began writing a novel, Magnificent Obsession, which was published in 1929 and slowly became a major bestseller; Publisher's Weekly lists it as the #8 bestseller of 1932 and the #4 bestseller of 1933. It would be made into a blockbuster movie in 1935 (which would be remade into an even more massive blockbuster in 1954 starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman) and was adapted into radio by Lux Radio Theater in 1937 (and again in 1944), and by the Screen Guild Theater in 1941, and by the Screen Director's Playhouse in 1949. From then on out, Douglas was assured a place on the bestseller lists; Forgive Us Our Trespassers was the #6 bestseller of 1933; The Green Light was #1 in 1935; White Banners was #6 in 1936; Disputed Passage was #6 in 1939; The Robe (his most famous novel) was #7 in 1942 and #1 in 1943 and #2 in 1944 and 1945 and #1 again in 1953 due to the blockbuster movie; The Big Fisherman was #1 in 1948 and #2 in 1949. Douglas himself died in 1951 in California and is laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

For this fortnightly book we go back to the beginning, with Magnificent Obsession, the tale of a man who receives a coded journal from a highly successful surgeon, Dr. Hudson, that has hidden within it the secret to greatness and power; he, too, becomes caught up in Dr. Hudson's curious obsession. But the obsession is not quite what you might think. And the book as a whole is structured as a mystery and riddle, with the answer almost, but not quite, stated.

Given that I like classic radio and this book resulted in several notable radio versions, I'll certainly also listen to one or two of them -- at least the 1937 Lux Radio Theater version starring Irene Dunn and Robert Taylor (who were in the 1935 movie) and guest-starring Lloyd C. Douglas himself, but probably also, if I have the time, the 1941 Screen Guild Theater version starring Myrna Loy and Don Ameche, and the others if I have time. It will be interesting to see how close they are to the original; like most episodes of these series, the immediate predecessor of the radio version is the film rather than the book, and Hollywood in this era tends to up the romance and downplay almost everything else.

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