Friday, April 22, 2016

Classic Television: Raymond Massey Reads The Bible

Opening title frame for "Raymond Massey Reads The Bible", 1951.
Opening title frame of "Raymond Massey Reads The Bible", 1951.

Raymond Massey Reads The Bible
Brief segments of Bible reading and teaching.
(produced 1951. syn. c. 1954 - ?)

Imagine this scene for a moment. Seated in an armchair in a cozy looking library is a distinguished older gentleman of about 60 years who is about to open the Holy Bible, read from it and teach you for a few minutes.

The distinguished gentleman of this scenario was Canadian/American actor Raymond Massey (August 30, 1896 – July 29, 1983). The series Raymond Massey Reads The Bible was produced by Imperial World Films, Inc of Chicago, a distributor of wrestling films.

After decades of being off the air, 6 episodes have been digitized and presented online as part of the Russ and Sylvia Davis Film Collection at the Chicago Film Archives website.

Massey sat down to film at least 65 five minute episodes in 1951. The series was written by Morton Wishengrad (1913 - 1963), a future Tony and Emmy nominated scriptwriter who also worked on the religious anthology TV series Frontiers of Faith and the Jewish radio anthology program The Eternal Light.

Russ Davis (1909 - 1969), the president of IWF found that there was not large demand for a 5 minute series right away and the films went undistributed for over two years. By 1953 the demand for more Bible-based programs and five minute fillers had increased and the series availability was announced in Billboard and Variety. It is not clear to the author of this blog how widely syndicated this series was. This may be extra hard to determine as it is unlikely local newspaper TV listings would highlight a series with a running time of less than five minutes.

Following the second World War, there seemed to be a surge in Bible-based programming on radio and on television. There were also several recordings of Bible readings and dramatizations starring other big named actors like Herbert Marshall, Charlton Heston, Claude Rains, Robert Ryan and most notably Alexander Scourby. I will write more about these recordings and broadcasts another time.

To watch episodes of Raymond Massey Reads The Bible follow these links to the Chicago Film Archives pages. There are three episodes per online video and both files are downloadable:

Raymond Massey Reads the Bible: Man’s Choice, David & Bathsheba & Rules of Living

Raymond Massey Reads the Bible: The Greatness and Divinity of Man, The Returned of the Ransomed, On the Bible

Also dear readers, if anyone remembers this series I would love to hear from you in the comments section.

Activity Idea:
Try to use modern digital technology to film a minister or teacher briefly reading the Bible in a casual or formal surrounding. Maybe plan a series of videos for your ministry's webpage or channel.

5-minute mart broadens, aids IWF bible films. (1953, Feb 14). Billboard

A guide to T.V. film series now doing job for their sponsors. (1955, May 28). Billboard. p. 27

Russ davis expands. (1954, Jun 16). Variety 195, 37.

TV film series in production since june I. (1954, Aug 14). Billboard