The First Radio Play Printed in America
NANCY BANCROFT BROSIUS
AWARDED FIRST PRIZE IN THE WGBS RADIO DRAMA CONTEST
With an Introduction by
THE RADIO PLAY
In the surprisingly few years that radio broadcasting has been in existence
and, with phenomenally rapid strides, become one of the leading sources of
entertainment and amusement in the land, our impresarios of the air have laid
considerable stress upon the productions of plays via the air route. Many
plays have been enacted before the microphones of many a radio station; some
of these in the studios; others put on the air as they were being presented
before a regular theater audience.
But, few plays of the world's store of dramatic literature are good radio
plays. In some cases pieces have been broadcast which were tremendously
successful when done on the stage but turned out to be sadly ineffective on
What is the reason for this? It is really a hard question to answer, because
it is exceedingly difficult to determine definitely the qualities that make a
good radio play. WGBS, one of the New York broadcasters, set out to answer
this for itself by conducting a contest for the best original play written
expressly for broadcasting. Originally, this contest had been announced to end
in three weeks' time; at the end of the three weeks, however, the poor judges
were nowhere near the end of the road. Plays from all parts of the country,
and Canada, as well, fairly swept down upon them in a terrific deluge--plays
came from writers in remote hamlets, plays came from persons in the big
centers of our civilization.
After several postponements the contest was finally closed and the judges
awarded first prize to Miss Nancy Brosius, a young librarian of Cleveland, for
her comedy, "Sue 'Em!" (The judges were Oliver M. Sayler, writer on the
theater; Charles J. Herold, of the Publishing Department of Bretano's, and
Dailey Paskman, director of Radio Station WGBS.)
He or she who would a radio dramatist be may learn a few pointers by studying
Miss Brosius' piece.
For instance, you will find that the radio play should be short. (One of the
stipulations in the contest was that the play should not take longer than
thirty minutes to perform.) Here the reason is obvious: the attention of the
listener is apt to wander when the play is long.
Then, the cast of characters should be as small as possible. If there are many
persons n the play talking it is hard to differentiate them.
The dialog should be written cleverly enough to hold the attention of the
listeners. A good comedy, such as "Sue 'Em!", with amusing lines and
situations, is effective for broadcasting, if it is not talky. On the other
hand, plays that are tense and gripping are also suitable for sending out on
the air. An example here can be afforded by the broadcasting of scenes from
Eugene O'Neill's "Emperor Jones" last year by Paul Robeson, the Negro actor,
from the WGBS studio. The terror of the half-crazed, superstitious Negro lost
in the West Indian jungle was truly something to thrill the listeners.
"Sue 'Em!", it may be pointed out here, is the first play, written especially
for the radio, to be published in America. When Mr. Sayler announced the
winner of the contest over the air, he made the following remarks concerning
the piece, which are particularly apt for quoting here:
"It won't be fair to to take the edge off that production (referring to the
first radio performance) by telling in advance the story of this most human
and amusing little comedy. To satisfy your natural curiosity, however, I can
tell you that it is a dramatic and humorous incident straight out of daily
life--the life that you and I know in this country to-day. Miss Brosius has
chosen for her characters a family of a father, a mother, a daughter, and a
son, who might have lived next door to the Potters, whom J. P. McEvoy
introduced to fame.
"Here is the same homely dialog, straight off the tongue of contemporary
America. Here are the same homely incidents and excitements that vary a drab
existence. Miss Brosius, however, hasn't imitated McEvoy. Her characters are
her own, sharply individualized; her story is her own and distinctly original.
Best of all, her technique is admirably adapted to the exigencies of
broadcasting. As you read the manuscript you hear these people talking. You
visualize them yourself without any effort. Each of the four figures is so
sharply defined that there is no mistaking who is talking. I am not saying
'Sue 'Em!' would not play well on the actual stage. It would. It will likely
enter the repertory of many a Little Theater. But the author bore in mind
throughout her work the conditions that surround radio drama....
"The most frequent fault which the judges found among the manuscripts was a
failure to remember that radio drama, unlike good little children, is heard
but not seen. A number of plays were submitted which might interest a Little
Theater, but the dependence on the eye was too great. Still another fault
which was frequently encountered was the choice of a subject so fantastic that
all methods by which illusion is gained in an actual theater would be
necessary to make the play convincing.... The contest has proved most
satisfactory, marking a milestone in the still youthful history of the Radio
While "Sue 'Em!" is one of the first plays written especially for the radio--
and the first one to be published in this country--there are certain to be
many more to follow. The technique of radiodramatizing is a distinct thing, as
these pioneers in a new field are finding out. Writing a play to be produced
before the microphones is as different from writing a play for the legitimate
stage as is the preparation of the movie scenario.
Some of our intellectuals have been rather scornful in their attitude towards
the radio. But, already George Bernard Shaw has recognized its importance. Not
so many months ago from a British radio station Shaw read his play
"O'Flaherty, V.C." Nearly all of England "tuned in" that evening and the
dramatist expressed himself as being pleased with the experiment. And more
recently the novelist, Cosmo Hamilton, declared that the novel of the future
would not be printed but would be radioed by the author himself. A wild idea,
perhaps, but then, I wonder how wild the idea of people listening to our
voices on the other side of the Atlantic would have seemed to the man and
woman of several decades ago?
Beyond a doubt, not a few men who are doing fine things for the stage to-day
may to-morrow be writing for the theater of the air. And who knows what Shaws
and O'Neills the radio will give birth to?
New York, December 16th, 1925.
SUE 'EM! was first produced by members of the Provincetown Players at WGBS on
Tuesday evening, December 29th, with the following cast:
MRS. DORN ... JEANIE BEGG
MR. DORN ... EUGENE LINCOLN
EFFIE DORN, their daughter ... MARION BERRY
BILL DORN, their son ... JOHN HUSTON
The announcer at your radio station will read the following introduction to
acquaint the listeners with the setting and characters of the play:
"Picture to yourselves a typically middle-class American apartment--rather
shabby and run down. Here the action takes place--in the living room of the
Dorn household, at seven o'clock in the evening. Mrs. Dorn, middle-aged and of
a settled disposition, is played by Miss _____. Her husband, the part taken by
Mr. _____, has been a patient listener ever since that fatal day when he
stepped before the altar. While not necessarily hen-pecked, his wife manages
to rule the establishment. The daughter, Effie, Miss _____ enacts the this
rôle, has little to interest her outside of the movies, parties and new
clothes--like thousands of others. The son, Bill, played by Mr. _____, is not
held in high esteem by his family, but then prophets are often without honor
in their own country. Not that Bill's supposed to be a prophet in any sense,
but he's certainly more than his folks give him credit for. See if you don't
agree in the end!
"Now, our curtain is ready to rise, and our actors are standing in the wings--
awaiting their cues. Mrs. Dorn is the first you are to hear from. Ready!"
MRS. DORN. Here's your slip, Effie, and I wish to Heaven you'd keep better
track of your underwear. Here I am all hot and sweaty and it's past time to
get in for the first show. You don't seem to think I got any ambition left to
have a good time just because I ain't young any more. Here's your pa, went out
to get a cigar, and he's been gone twenty minutes. He don't care if I do miss
the first part of the picture. Cares more for his smoke than he does for the
plot. I s'pose he's gabbin' away at the cigar store and me waitin' here and
then not knowin' where I'm at when we do get there.
EFFIE. Now, ma, quit jawin' at me! How can I remember if I had a clean slip?
You didn't remind me. There's pa now. I hear him comin' down the hall.
[Returns to bedroom.]
MRS. DORN. An' of course he'll have some excuse.
[MR. DORN enters from the dining room. He is much older than his wife, tall,
thin and stooped. His voice is high and quavery.]
MRS. DORN. Well, it's a wonder you wouldn't just stay all evening. Missed the
first part of the picture now--might as well stay home and be done with it.
What in the world kept you so long?
MR. DORN [Rubs his right leg painfully]. Aw, nuthin.
MRS. DORN [Putting on her hat]. No use to go so late as this, but still I
ain't gonta miss the little fun I do get outa life just because I can't get in
at the start. What kept you so long?
MR. DORN. Well, I wouldn't been so late if that darn policeman knew when to
close his trap. Talked like a soused ward boss--and all just so much hot air.
MRS. DORN. What are you talkin' about? What policeman?
MR. DORN. Down at the corner.
MRS. DORN. Well, what were you talkin' to a policeman about? Of all things!
MR. DORN. Oh, just talkin'. Come on, if you're in such a hurry to get to the
show. I don't want to miss the start of it any more than you do.
MRS. DORN. Well, I want to know before I go a step out of this house, what you
was talkin' to a policeman about. Seems like I don't know what goes on in my
own family any more. What was you talkin' about, William Dorn?
MR. DORN [Meekly]. About my leg.
MRS. DORN [Grimly]. Do you mean to tell me you're in one of those bootleggin'
affairs and me here innocent of it all along?
MR. DORN [Snarls]. No, it's my leg!
MRS. DORN. Your leg? What leg?
MR. DORN. My right leg. Come on now, I wanta see that movie.
MRS. DORN. NOT till I know about your leg. Not a step!
MR. DORN. Well, it was a truck.
MRS. DORN. A truck? It sounds worse and worse. These trucks ain't got such a
good name any more. You might as well tell it all, William Dorn.
MR. DORN. Well, he said I was jay walkin' an' he took my name.
MRS. DORN. Who did?
MR. DORN. Both the policeman and the truck driver.
MRS. DORN. But your leg? What's that got to do with it?
MR. DORN [Angrily]. No wonder you got to get in at the first of the movie to
know what it's all about. Can't you see--I was hit in the leg by the truck.
MRS. DORN. Great heavens! I knew you'd be hit sometime. Can't even cross the
street without lookin' to see what's comin'! I've saved your life a dozen
times, William Dorn, and I knew it'd happen sometime. Haven't I warned you
about jay walkin' time and time again?
MR. DORN. Well, I guess there ain't much you ain't warned me about--sometime
MRS. DORN. Well, if you can't keep out of the way of trucks, I'm glad you did
get hurt! Served you right to get bawled out, too.
MR. DORN. Well, my God, I ain't complained none. I ain't even scratched! There
ain't a mark even on my leg. I wish you'd come on, I'm tired of waitin'.
[The telephone rings and EFFIE comes in to answer it. BILL also appears at his
bedroom, in his shirtsleeves, carefully adjusting his collar and tie.]
BILL. Hear you're going in for bootlegging, Dad. But you'd better watch your
MR. DORN. Don't get lippy, young man!
EFFIE [Turns from telephone]. Ma, Aunt Grace is on the phone. She says she
can't come to-morrow.
MRS. DORN. All right. Tell her your pa was hit by a truck.
EFFIE [At telephone]. Did you know pop was in an accident, Aunt Grace? Hit in
the leg by a truck. Yes, hit in the truck-- [Pause] I don't know. We never
thought about that. Wait, I'll ask mom. Mom, Aunt Grace wants to know if
you're going to sue 'em?
[MR. and MRS. DORN start, stare at each other suddenly and sharply and there
is a dramatic pause. A flash of excitement crosses MRS. DORN'S face--she
hesitates, stammers and finally blurts out the words.]
MRS. DORN. Well, I guess we will sue! Tell her yes, we sure will--of
EFFIE. 'Course we'll sue! What's that? [Pause.] Ma, she says Mr. Blair got a
MRS. DORN [Excited]. Ask her if she can find out who his lawyer was! Now pa,
you might just as well be honest about your leg. Just because you don't
complain , it's no reason you're not bad hurt. You'd suffer torture before
you'd squeal, but this ain't a house for martyrs. I want the truth about that
leg. Effie, write down that lawyers address. Set down, pa, and don't strain
MR. DORN. It ain't them that's hurt--it's here around the calf.
MRS. DORN. Well, how does it feel? Numb?
MR. DORN. Yes, numb and pain, too.
MRS. DORN. Just what I thought! It's an awful combination. Either one is bad
enough, but when it's numb and painful, too, look out!
MR. DORN. Seems like it hurts worse and worse. It's shootin' all over my leg
and hip now. I guess I'm hurt worse than anybody knows!
MRS. DORN [Takes off her hat]. Don't guess we can get to the movies to-night.
Not with an accident like this in the house!
MR. DORN [Drops into a chair]. I gotta sit down! Feel kinda faint like! Maybe
my heart's been affected.
MRS. DORN. Well, I should say so! Most anything can be affected in a case like
this. Better let me look at your leg. Come over and lay on the couch. [MR.
DORN rises in apparent agony, attempts to walk, leans against the table. MRS.
DORN rushes to his aid and almost carries him to the couch where he sinks,
panting and gasping.] Careful! Don't strain yourself! There!
EFFIE. Ma, are we gonta have a trial at the court house?
MRS. DORN. Trial? I should say we are going to have a trial! If an honest man
can't walk across the street without bein' attackted by one of those reckless
truck drivers, we'll just show the world that they can't always get by with
it! [MR. DORN groans.]
[BILL has been standing in the doorway for a few minutes, watching his
EFFIE. And will I be in the trial? What'll I wear?
BILL [Mockingly]. The charming young daughter, arrayed in a light green
aigrette, bordered with glistening spangles, caught at intervals with rows of
brilliants, was never more--more--more alluring, never more--
EFFIE. Mamma, make him stop!
BILL. What shall I wear at the trial, ma? My new--
MRS. DORN. Bill, you don't do right by Effie--worryin' her--
EFFIE. Ma, will I be in the trial--will I?
[MR. DORN groans louder].
MRS. DORN. I'll plan the trial later. Right now I've got to keep your pa's
heart from goin' back on him. Bill, you run out and fix some damp towels--now,
pa, I'll look at your leg. [Draws his trousers back from his leg.] Effie, you
call up Mabel and tell her you can't go to the club meeting to-night, now with
your pa in this condition.
[EFFIE goes to phone. BILL brings the towels to his mother.]
MRS. DORN. These towels'll take out some of the fever.
BILL. Guess I'll be goin' on, now. Be back before long.
MRS. DORN. Do you mean to tell me you're goin' out when your pa's maybe
got heart failure? May pass out on our hands any minute?
BILL. Now, ma, I won't be gone long. Have to see that guy I told you about. So
MRS. DORN. Well, I guess I can bear it all alone but it's hard on a woman.
[Examines his leg.] I can't see much on your your leg, pa, but sometimes when
there ain't no bruise, it's the very worst sign. Then it's internal.
EFFIE [At phone]. Yes, Mabel, he got hurt in the leg.
MRS. DORN. Tell her he's hurt internal.
EFFIE. He's hurt on the inside.
MRS. DORN. And his heart's gone back on him.
EFFIE. He's got heart trouble, too.
MRS. DORN. And maybe his kidneys are affected--I guess they're knocked loose.
EFFIE. I guess to-morrow he'll be sick in bed with a nurse.
MRS. DORN. He will not!
EFFIE. No, he won't, ma says.
MRS. DORN. But he'll likely have to be operated on.
EFFIE. He's gonta be operated on to-morrow. [Pause.] Yes, sure we'll sue 'em.
Yes, I'll be in the trial. I'll let all the club girls know when it's comin'
off. [Pause.] Yes, I guess he'll be operated on to-morrow. All right, good-by,
MR. DORN [Rises to a sitting position, his voice frightened and weak]. I don't
want mo operation. It makes you sick at your stummick and all.
MRS. DORN [In excitement]. Now you lay down there. You're a sick man and you
can't get your nerves all riled up!
EFFIE. Ma, how much are you gonta sue for?
MRS. DORN. Two thousand. Look at him there, pantin' like a fish. Nerves all
gone to pieces--
EFFIE [Awed]. Two thousand dollars! Gee! What'll we do with it?
MRS. DORN. I've got it all planned. We're gonta have a trip to my sister's
first in Idaho. We'll stay there all summer.
EFFIE. When'll we have the trial? Right away?
MRS. DORN. Yes, I won't stand no dilly-dallyin' with a case like this.
[Telephone rings. EFFIE runs to the phone.]
MR. DORN [With resignation]. It don't seem like I ought to have an operation.
There ain't no blood.
MRS. DORN. Well, I only wish there was blood! I might think you had a chance
of gettin' well if you was bleedin' somewhere. I guess you're bleedin' inside.
[MR. DORN groans louder. MRS. DORN rubs his leg violently.]
EFFIE [At phone]. Ma, it's Mrs. Pringle. She says she heard pa was almost dead
in an accident. Mabel told her. She says she'll be over to-morrow morning.
MRS. DORN. Well, tell her I guess we'll be at the hospital with pa in the
EFFIE. I guess the operation will be at ten o'clock--they most always are. We
don't know which hospital yet. We'll let you know. Good-by, Mrs. Pringle.
MRS. DORN. An' when I give my testimony at the trial maybe I
won't sail into these truck drivers. I'll show 'em up. Tryin' to murder an
innocent pedestrian. Nobody's safe these days. What I won't tell that
EFFIE. Ma, when are we goin' to Idaho? Will I have some new clothes for the
MRS. DORN. I'll tell the world you will. An' I'll have a few myself, too.
EFFIE. And what are you gonta do with the rest of the money, ma?
MR. DORN [Weakly]. We might buy a loud speaker.
MRS. DORN. Loud speaker, nothin'. An' I ain't never had a kitchen cabinet an'
married twenty-two years. An' never a piece of real Haviland. Now you funny
around, Effie, and help me with this invalid. Get me the camphor bottle. We've
got to keep his nerve up.
MR. DORN [Tries to rise but is pushed back by his wife]. I don't want know
operation an' I ain't gonta have one. I'm bad enough as it is. My heart's
jumpin' and my head whirlin' and I ain't gonta be cut into. I'm gonta talk to
the doctor first. [Falls back.]
MRS. DORN. That you ain't, William Dorn! You do as I say an' no side
conversations with that doctor, either. You just keep still an' let me talk. I
guess I know your condition. [EFFIE appears at door with bottles.] Effie,
seems to me your pa's sinkin'. Look how funny he looks around the nose.
EFFIE. Seems to me we oughta call the doctor. His eyes look kinda wild.
MRS. DORN. Yes, call Dr. Higgins! Tell him pa's in a terrible state. Almost
[EFFIE starts for the phone and just then BILL staggers in from the dining-
room. His hair is rumpled, his collar loose, his tie hanging loose and his
face is filled with terror.]
EFFIE. Bill, what's the matter?
MRS. DORN. Did you get scared about your pa and come back?
BILL [In gasps]. No--no! It's awful! I can't tell you! [Drops in a chair by
table and his head sinks to his hands in misery.]
MRS. DORN. Bill Dorn, what's come over you? Tell me this minute!
EFFIE. Bill! What's happened?
BILL [Groans]. Oh--oh!
MRS. DORN. More trouble, I guess! Tell us what's happened. [Rushes to
BILL. Well, I wasn't driving fast--and that fool man stepped right out in
front of the Ford. Didn't look at all--swear he didn't! Then--I--I--oh--I--oh,
I knocked him down and they took him to the hospital and they say he's gonta
die, and it's me that killed him! I killed him--just think, I killed a man!
MRS. DORN. Bill Dorn!
EFFIE. But he ain't dead yet, is he?
MRS. DORN. Look at your pa--and he ain't dead yet either.
BILL. But this man's back is broken. The doctor only gave him a few
hours to live.
MRS. DORN. My land!
EFFIE. Did they arrest you?
BILL. Sure they did. But I got to go to the police station to-morrow at nine.
My boss told 'em he'd stand for me appearing all right. I had 'em call him up.
He's high up in politics.
MR. DORN. It wasn't your fault, was it?
MRS. DORN [Angrily]. Of course it wasn't his fault. What do you mean?
BILL. The policeman said I wouldn't be sent to the pen for it, but he said I'd
be in for a big lawsuit because the man's a friend of the mayor and he'll
leave a wife and four children.
MRS. DORN. Lawsuit? What do you mean?
BILL. Why, the widow will sue me.
MRS. DORN. Sue you? But you said it wasn't your fault! Of course she can't sue
BILL. But she will, though. She'll say I killed her sole support. There won't
be anybody but me to support her.
MRS. DORN [Furiously]. Do you mean to tell me that you've got to support that
man's wife and his four children for the rest of your life, just because he
didn't have enough gumption to walk across the street like a human instead of
EFFIE. Oh, ma, you ought'n to talk that way about a dead man. Ain't nice to
say a dead man walks like an ostrich.
MRS. DORN. Keep still! He ain't dead yet!
BILL. Oh, I'm ruined! I'm ruined!
MRS. DORN. Well, just remember that I'll be in that trial. I'll tell the jury
a thing or two. We'll see who'll win that lawsuit!
BILL. Oh, if his family sues, they'll get it all right. Sob stuff, you know.
Jury in tears, widow in black, four hungry children. I'll have to sell my lot
and give 'em half my salary the rest of my life. [His head sinks into his
hands again.] It's not fair, though. I couldn't help it!
MRS. DORN. Blamin' it all on the driver! Ain't that the limit?
MR. DORN [Weakly]. How much will she sue you for?
BILL. Oh, maybe a hundred thousand dollars.
MRS. DORN [Suddenly elated]. But you got insurance, Bill! We never thought
BILL. No, just my luck. Thought I'd let it run over till I got my next check--
it was due last Saturday--so I haven't a cent of an insurance.
[MR. DORN'S condition is forgotten. He sits up, waves his arms about, but this
goes unnoticed. BILL is the center of attention. They all speak excitedly.]
MRS. DORN. I ain't gonta stand for it. I won't have it. Tryin' to beat an
innocent boy out of his life's wages. Doesn't the law make you be careful!
Sure it does! It's all the fault of these jay-walkin' boobs! Never look up--
just dash across the street and they want damages for playin' the fool!
I won't stand for it for one!
MR. DORN [On his feet now]. We'll appeal to the higher courts.
EFFIE. Oh, will I be in two trials, ma?
MRS. DORN. Just because she's got four children she thinks she can twist the
jury around her finger! I'll tell that jury how people cross the streets these
days. I'll show 'em up. I'll make 'em listen to reason!
MRS. DORN. We won't stand for this houndin' of innocent men, an' makin'
'em support a family all their lives, and not guilty of nothin' at all!
EFFIE. Ma, will I be in both trials? In pa's and in Bill's, too?
MRS. DORN. Don't ask so many questions with me nearly crazy. Seems like I
don't know which way to turn!
MR. DORN [Rushes to table and bangs his fist on the table]. It's a free
country an' I ain't gonta stand for no such treatment of my son! What's the
man's name that was killed? I'll look into this.
MRS. DORN. What street was it on?
EFFIE [Slowly]. Gee, we can't go to Idaho if we've got to give 'em a hundred
thousand dollars, can we, ma? 'Cause you'll only get two thousand dollars from
pa's trial an' if you have to give them a hundred thousand--
MRS. DORN. Stop your chatter! Seems like I can't think no more. Pa, can't you
do nothing about it?
MR. DORN [Picks up his hat and hurries toward door]. I'll go down to the cigar
store and find out--
MRS. DORN. No, you don't go to that cigar store! You stay here!
BILL. There's nothing to do. We may as well give up and pay to support his
MRS. DORN. Not me, Bill Dorn. I don't stand injustice and I won't! I'll fight
to the finish. I'll let it be known from coast to coast that an innocent boy
is the victim of dishonest crooks and thieves! I won't stand it--I won't!
BILL. It's not fair and you won't let them get away with it, will ya, ma?
MRS. DORN. Not I! No thieving rascals will browbeat me! I'll stand by you
through thick and thin.
BILL. Mostly thin--eh, ma?
MRS. DORN. Thin?
BILL. Yes--thin! All this--thin--thin--
MRS. DORN. What do you mean?
BILL [Laughs]. Oh, just something funny that struck me.
[BILL suddenly rises, he slowly stretches his arms high above his head, and
breaks into a gay chuckle. Then he straightens his collar, smooths his hair
and reaches for his hat. He laughs again. They all stare at him in amazement.]
BILL. Gee, that's a good one! [More amazement.] Some worm and some turnin'!
Say, folks, it's all a joke! I haven't hit or killed a soul--just thought I'd
make up a story and see how you'd act if that suing business worked the other
way. Didn't like it much, did you? Well, I'll be stumbling on now, folks. Hope
dad pulls through the operation all right. If you need a night nurse, let me
know, ma. So long.
[All are amazed and dazed for a moment.]
MRS. DORN. He thinks he's awful bright, don't he?
[MR. DORN lights a cigar thoughtfully.]
EFFIE. Well, then, I guess we ain't goin' to Idaho--are we, ma?
MRS. DORN. Oh, hush.