You might not know who Himan Brown is off the top of your head, but I’ll bet you’ve run across his works. You see, Mr. Brown was one of the wizards of radio storytelling and a huge proponent of “the theater of the mind.”
His works included Dick Tracy, Inner Sanctum Mysteries, The Adventures of the Thin Man, Grand Central Station, and many, many more. Over the decades, he worked with giants like Boris Karloff and Orson Welles.
Raised in Brooklyn by Russian immigrant parents, he completed law school but then decided to follow his creative urges. Deepti Hajeela from The Associated Press tells us more:
He had good timing: The 1930s and 1940s were part of the years when radio was most popular. Shows of all kinds could be found all over the radio dial, and popular shows were must-hear appointments for many Americans.
Even as television came into prominence in the middle of the 20th century, Brown remained a firm believer in the power of radio. In 1974, he started “CBS Radio Mystery Theater,” a nightly radio program that ran until the early 1980s.
“Radio drama is the most potent form of theater I know,” he told the alumni newsletter of Grady College at the University of Georgia in 1994. “It gives you an experience no other form of theater — movies and television — can duplicate. It’s the theater of the mind.”
Mr. Brown proved with his work on CBS Radio Mystery Theater that audio drama is still viable, it just needs to be done well. I would argue that we may well see a resurgence of it in the future. After all, many people who drive a lot are fans of audio books, some of which these days are performed by a full cast.
As we become more and more mobile and more connected at the same time, I think we will see a return to the art and craft of Himan Brown. Improvements in mobile devices and radio streaming allow room for more access, and that at a time when we want entertainment but are visually engaged.
Mr. Brown has left the building, and he will be missed. What he termed “the theater of the mind” is seeing an era of increased potential. I think he would be pleased by that.