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49 3 Creating a Style, 1946–1955 Jules Verne’s relation to science fiction was complex and about to become critical in Hollywood’s undertakings of his work. Even if he was not the founder of science fiction (a position usually ascribed to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, published in 1818) and did not create the tradition of fantastic literary travel, such as the trips to the moon by Baron Munchausen and Cyrano de Bergerac, Verne was certainly the first writer to popularize the genre for an ongoing series of novels. No less important is that Verne largely rejected fantasy to achieve a believability not previously attempted. He believed that the literary qualities of the works by both Edgar Allan Poe and H. G. Wells would have gained by emphasizing facts.1 Wells had taken science fiction into more imaginative realms, unbounded and untroubled by the limitations of possibility that so defined Verne’s approach. Rather than Wellsian speculation, the Frenchman extrapolated from current technology, building on what was available in his time. Unlike Verne’s intricately explained explosive launch and lunar orbit described in From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon, Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) offers a sphere coated with antigravitational paint and a fanciful visit to the verdant lunar fields and bizarre insect civilization. Verne explained the distinction to interviewers . “You will remember that [Wells] introduces an entirely new anti-gravitational substance, to whose mode of preparation or actual chemical composition we are not given the slightest clue, nor does a reference to our present scientific knowledge enable us for a moment to pre- 50 Hollywood Presents Jules Verne dict a method by which such a result might be achieved. I make use of physics. He invents. I go to the moon in a cannon-ball, discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention.”2 Through such means, Verne offered the first analysis, in fictional form, of the challenges of the scientific age, from space flight to urban planning, thus securing his reputation as “the prophet of the twentieth century.” Nonetheless, because Verne’s stories are set in his own time, limiting them primarily to issues, facts, and developments of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, his narratives seem fin de siècle , increasingly remote to readers accustomed to current science fiction writers and more up-to-the-minute predictions. Verne might appear an outdated historical curiosity; such creations as the Nautilus, the mobile Standard Island in Propeller Island, and the helicopter Albatross in Robur the Conqueror embody the nineteenth-century romance of technology, cloaked in Victorian luxury. Verne’s science fiction has the unusual characteristic of prophecy set in the past, possibilities not then realized rather than the more typical forecast of imagined events in the years to come. This dichotomy and the problems it posed were about to underlie the distinct directions taken as the screen adapted Vernian science fiction. By the late 1930s, when most American homes had a radio, adaptations of Verne novels had begun to be heard over the air. There were serials of such titles as From the Earth to the Moon and Journey to the Center of the Earth, each episode running a half-hour, over the airwaves in 1937. The following year Orson Welles adapted Around the World in Eighty Days in hour form for Mercury Theater. Welles and Cole Porter subsequently turned the novel into a stage musical, a condensation of which was heard on Mercury Summer Theater of the Air in 1946 and The Railroad Hour/The Gordon Macrae Show in 1950. Soon half-hour radio anthologies were regularly adapting Verne stories. First heard was 20,000 Leagues under the Sea on Favorite Story in 1946, with the same series broadcasting Around the World in 80 Days in 1948; the story was also adapted for From the Bookshelf of the World in 1949 and Hallmark Playhouse in 1950. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea appeared on Family Theater in 1950, Hallmark Playhouse in 1951, and Family Theatre in 1953. These renditions starred such major players as Ronald Colman, Creating a Style 51 Hans Conreid, Otto Kruger, William Conrad, Louis Jourdan, Raymond Burr, and Gene Lockhart. Impelled by these broadcasts, the decline in Verne readership and publication reversed; the first book series published since the 1920s began in 1950, with Didier reprinting six Verne titles, some of which had been out of print for a decade or two. Verne was emerging...


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