My friend Vicki Riskin is a former president of the Writers Guild, a screenwriter (My Antonia, with Jason Robards, Eva Marie Saint, and Neil Patrick Harris) and...well, she's also officially "Dr. Riskin," since she was a practicing psychologist. She also comes from what is known as "Good Stock." Her mother was the actress Fay Wray (from King Kong, of course), and her father was Robert Riskin, one of the founding members of the WGA and Oscar-winning screenwriter for It Happened One Night, and Oscar nominations for Mr. Deeds Comes to Town, You Can't Take It with You and Lady for a Day. As well as Lost Horizon and Meet John Doe, among many others. (He was also the long-time partner with director Frank Capra.)
Vicki's mother was, of course, the far-more famous of the pair, though her father's renowned writing credits were on a par. What I didn't realize until very recently, though, when talking with Vicki, was another fascinating part of her father's career.
During WWII, Robert Riskin took a hiatus from his Hollywood screenwriting career to accept the job of heading a film division of the U.S. government's Office of War Information, known as the Bureau of Motion Pictures. He oversaw the writing, production and distribution of a wide range of short movies to be shown in Europe, meant to explain more about what America was. One of them, Hymn of the Nations, was even nominated for an Oscar as Best Short Documentary. (The OWI was the organization that in 1942 created the Voice of America.)
I've been able to track down three of the best-known and most-loved of these short films, most of which had largely been lost to history, but are now online. From time to time, I'll post them, and hopefully I'll be able to find some others.
For starters though, this is that aforementioned Hymn of the Nations, made in 1944 and meant to show the importance of Italians in American life, focusing on the famed conductor Arturo Toscanini. The unidentified narrator is Burgess Meredith, but eventually the core of the film kicks in -- that's Toscanini conducting a piece written in 1860 by Giuseppe Verdi, that featured his La Forza del Destino and the national anthems of various European nations. (Notably, in this version below, the film later was edited around the 25-minute mark to remove The Internationale of our then-ally Russia.)
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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