February 2, 2015

1943. Soviet Play Features Heroic American War Correspondent

American News Correspondent Built Up As Hero in New Soviet Play Click
Edward R. Murrow's D-Day team in 1944 featuring some of the Murrow Boys. (Standing, from left to right): Charles Shaw, Gene Ryder, Richard C. Hottelet, Larry LeSueur, Charles Collingwood, Bill Downs, and Bill Shadel. Edward R. Murrow is sitting in front.

American News Correspondent Built Up As Hero in New Soviet Play Click

By BILL DOWNS

Moscow, July 27, 1943.
There has opened in Moscow Red Army theaters a play co-authored by Andrea Arbuzov and Alexander Gladkov called "Immortality." It is the story of guerrillas in the early war and is distinguishable by the fact that it portrays an American correspondent in one of the leading roles, the first time since the war that any American has been depicted on the Russian stage. It is also one of the few times in the history of the Soviet Union that it has been done.

The play is built around a group of students sent to dig potatoes on a collective farm near Moscow as part of the war effort. The American correspondent turns up doing a story of Soviet youth in wartime when the Germans break through and isolate the students who flee to the forests with the correspondent accompanying them. From there on the story is of their transformation into a full-fledged guerrilla unit with the typical tragic Russian ending. Only three escape death.

The author's portrayal of a correspondent called Jack Warner, identified as a representative of the "Atlantic Press," is one of the most sympathetic characters in the drama. The correspondent is depicted as about 40, greyish, with an intense interest in getting the story but with little interest in taking a personal part in the war. He is constantly taking notes and snapping pictures and making what are, to the Russian mind, wisecracks. The author allows the correspondent to jibe the Russians about their love for tragedy, maintaining that Tolstoy should have ended "War and Peace" with "everyone loving everyone else."

He is asked when the Americans are coming into the war (the play occurs in November, 1941). Warner replies "I'll have to ask my old friend, President Roosevelt."

However, after the guerrillas are surrounded and gradually killed off, Warner gets the biggest hand of the night when he grabs a machine gun, whips off his coat, and announces dramatically: "Now America goes to war." He and the remainders of the surrounded group are killed by artillery fire.

The play is overlong for American audiences. It lasts four hours, with eight scenes and four acts. Warner is perhaps more convincing as a Yankee newspaperman to the Russians than he would be to Americans. The foreign press corps is flocking to see the play. It's one of the best local stories of the war. But the first correspondent who can arrange to visit camp behind German lines will have one of the really great stories of the war.