As a kid I couldn't understand why my school chums didn't rush home from P.S. 33 to catch Jack Armstrong on radio. I guess each in his own way wanted to be the All-American Boy in rough play, whereas I chose to be Jack in my imagination. If my friends knocked on the back door between 7:30 and 8 PM on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays, I ignored them—lying low on the parlor rug with my ear riveted to the Philco console listening to the Lone Ranger. Radio now as it's supposed to be doesn't exist.
Of course, in the golden age of television which learned from radio, I still had to use my ears. Unfortunately, TV forgot that lesson. Notwithstanding that Soaps are loaded with dialogue, the sad truth is that they've been reduced to conversational drivel—O where be ye, Helen Trent and Mama Goldberg? In truth, today's TV is just a backdrop to more important things—like writing this(?). On extremely rare occasions I do actually watch TV, such as in some miniseries where they try to respect the intent of the author, or where the action and body language actually enhance some dialogue that the producers let slip in between gore and battered cars.
In the grand old days, I went to the movies when I wasn't listening to Jack or the masked rider. Young folks might not understand this about old movies: you see, in the 30's and 40's they were required to use English!—no one could accuse Jimmy Cagney of slurring his words. Of course, there was one guy Jimmy was in a couple of gangster movies with who talked like he had marbles in his mouth, but years later José Ferrer gave him elocution tips for his role in Caine Mutiny. Pacino types in those days were unemployed because all the tough guy roles were taken by those who knew our language. Today's tough guy couldn't have gotten a screen test even as a Dead End Kid since the nation then wasn't multilingual—and cussin' wasn't allowed.
In those days they say Hollywood was like a training center where actors actually got better as they got experience. Even though Gary Cooper was always Gary Cooper, he was always a better Gary Cooper. Today, unlike Dustin Hoffman who improves with age, most actors are going nowhere—they just get worse. I blame Brando for that: it's not that most modern actors can't act; they follow Brando's example and just don't want to.
On the other hand, there are some who do want to act, especially the women. Meryl Streep, though no Bette Davis, at least braves speaking roles. Then, of course, there's Jane Seymour, but Hollywood doesn't have anything that meets her standards—bless TV miniseries—same goes for Richard Chamberlain. Still, Hugh Grant and Tom Cruise seem to get speaking roles, but there just aren't enough to go around for those who want to act. Maybe if Hollywood weren't intimidated by the grunt and groan gods, actors of potential could get a crack at emulating Ronald Colman. There might be glint of hope, though, having had his fling as mayor Clint has become serious enough to begin to sound like Randolph Scott. Ah, for the days of Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power and Cary Grant! — let alone, Olivia, Lana, and even Hedy with her accent.
The car-chase czars and the gory hounds should look at the old prints and get back to the script board like Mel Gibson did in taking on Hamlet. If someone with a feel for language could have written a serious speaking role for Rosanna Arquette, who might have been the greatest since the Hepburns—along with Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman—Hollywood just might rediscover talkin' pictures—just as they unearthed Don Ameche, the original Jack Armstrong.