The Columbus Civic Theater's Radio Play Podcast of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

I Never Read the Book

John Ford, the director of the acclaimed 1940’s film The Grapes of Wrath, was showered with compliments for his work on the film, which starred Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell. Indeed, he won the best director Oscar for that year. When asked why he was one of the few who succeeded in adapting a novel to the screen, he famously answered, “I never read the book.”

Well, I had read the book. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was required reading in high school. But I did have the good fortune of forgetting most of it. I hated both movies made of it, each for vastly different reasons. It seems Hollywood reads Jazz Era as a signal to go big on the sets and costumes and cars. The heart of the book is much smaller.

A story of great love that in life is never fulfilled lies in every one of us. At the beginning of the book, we accept Fitzgerald’s idea of the American Dream in form of great wealth, when he was saying it was great love all along. We find this out in the end. The journey is what makes it breathtaking. We can see our loss and ill-defined dream in Gatsby's situation if only we could tell someone of it.

The process of adaptation, in this sense, begins with understanding the arc of the story, from beginning to end and why the beginning is where it is. We are not aware of just how poor Gatsby was when he first met Daisy; Daisy just assumed he was just as wealthy as she because he was disguised in uniform. Their stars should have never crossed, but they did, and Gatsby spends his life planning his reunion with her.

What scenes are mandatory and what parts are not is easy to see keeping this in mind. What’s hard is letting go of the wonderfully written parts that are shed to keep the narrative streamlined. The drag is the verbosity – words that are literally best left unsaid – artful and beautiful in the written medium. Those words were left in the book.

What survives in our wonderfully acted radio play is sound, mostly dialogue and narration, sounds of interiors and the natural world, and music, generally jazz. This project took the members of the Civic several months of hard work, and its result is like a mini-series, one that you can listen to nearly anywhere, with ear buds, in the car, at home.

So, if you enjoyed this production, stay tuned for more. If you’re really enthused, donate. It keeps us going.


Richard J Albert

Artistic Director