Monday, September 22, 2008

The Story Behind a Sound Clip

Radio is about sound. A good sound clip is worth a thousand words for a radio program. So for each show, we producers spend a lot of time on the Internet or in video stores hunting for that perfect, short and punchy sound clip.

But sometimes the ideas come easily.

This past Wednesday's show is about a physician's journey to end nuclear madness. When Jean asked me to find some clips, the movie "On the Beach" immediately came to my mind. It's a movie with many of my personal memories.

I was introduced to this movie by a good friend and mentor of mine who was a foreign correspondent in Moscow when the movie came out in 1959 during the Cold War. A post-apocalyptic film about nuclear wars, the movie was banned in Soviet Union then of course, but many high officials in Moscow did watch it as part of their "internal reference information." My friend never forgot how shocked those officials were that the Americans could be so honest about the consequences of nuclear wars.

As a person growing up in a Communist country, I was intrigued by my friend's comments, so checked out the movie myself. The movie did not shock me but made me wonder why Hollywood has been so comfortable making and selling human disaster movies while in China that's almost impossible.

The second thing about the movie is its cast: Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire. I was surprised that Fred Astaire had no dancing at all in the movie but played a serious role. How refreshing. Ava Gardner, Jean told me that her father always fell for Ava. For me, Gregory Peck is always special because I had a chance to meet him in person.

He came to Madison to give a talk in the Memorial Union Theater on Oct. 3, 1996. I was in my second year then studying journalism at UW-Madison. The talk would make a nice article for my Chinese hometown's newspaper so I went to see him. When he walked onto the stage, I could hardly recognize him because, at age 80, he had shrunk quite a bit. But when he opened his mouth, oh, thank goodness, that magnetic voice was still the same.

He entertained the audience for a full hour with fascinating personal stories and reflections. And he answered audience's questions with a great sense of humor and honesty. The most memorable question for me is the one from a man on the balcony. He said that during his 50 years of marriage, Mr. Peck was his only romantic competitor. But he was a generous man, so could Mr. Peck fly a kiss to his wife please? Peck obliged graciously among the laughter of the audience and embarrassment of the man's wife.

At the reception after the talk, I managed to sit down with Peck and asked him two simple questions. I have forgotten what the questions were, but I always remember how kind he was to take time to talk to a nervous foreign student like me.

That evening has gone by for 12 years. Mr. Peck has passed away for five years. But because of the sound clip, all that old memory rushes back to me. From my meeting with Mr. Peck, to my mentor's comments, to the radio show, life makes interesting connections. It's one nice part of growing older.

(This entry was originally posted on Blog without Borders on Sept. 20, 2008.)

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