Monday, November 9, 2009

"A Child is Crying"

I'm currently in the process of submitting a few changes to John D MacDonald's page on the IMDb. They're missing a few shows from the early days of television, they had a couple of sources wrong, and they're listing the wrong episode of Run For Your Life that was based on a JDM story. Still awaiting their response. Previously I sent in a correction on their entry for "Hangover" and they accepted it and made the changes with no questions asked and without requesting my sources. Kind of makes me wonder about the reliability of the IMDb...

It's focused my attention on the television adaptations and made me want to see more of the shows I've never seen, which should be an easier task now in this age of Hulu and Netflix. MacDonald had no love for what Hollywood did to his work and felt ill-used by them, to the point that he refused to allow the filming of any Travis McGee novel after seeing Darker Than Amber. More on Travis McGee, based on The Empty Copper Sea, in a later post... He was right for the most part, but it doesn't mean that everything ever filmed based on a MacDonald source is without merit. Even he acknowledged the excellence of the film based on A Flash of Green. I've tried to see as many JDM adaptations as I could and recently found what I believe to be one of the earliest MacDonald television adaptation, now available on the Internet to watch in streaming video for free.

It's a half-hour kinescope of his 1948 short story "A Child is Crying," originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories. "Child" was adapted and broadcast by two separate programs in the early days of television: Lights Out and Tales of Tomorrow. The Lights Out version aired in 1950, the Tales version in 1951. It is the Tales of Tomorrow adaptation that can be seen at The Archive.

Martin Greenberg, who edited MacDonald's only science fiction anthology, called "A Child is Crying", "a minor classic". He pointed out that the child of the story is "both the villain and the hero, functioning as an example of what was to become known as the 'Atomic Warning Story.' It is one of the best of a large number of stories on this theme published in the late 1940s." It is a brief tale of 3,800 words that takes place in the near future and revolves around a child of unique brilliance who is used by the government to further its military goals. Billy Massner "could read and write and carry on a conversation when he was thirteen months old, and at two and a half was doing quadratic equations. at four, completely on his own, he worked out theories regarding non-Euclidian geometry and theories of relativity that paralleled the work of Einstein." Now he's seven and the government wants him.

Billy's mental abilities are increasing at an amazing rate and, while never developing the gift of real prophesy, he acquires the ability to predict the future based on variables in the "cyclic rhythm." The military naturally wants to know that future and, in the end, they're sorry they asked.

The Tales of Tomorrow a
daptation is surprisingly faithful to its source. The gender of the child is changed to a female, but the actress who plays the child is professional and very convincing in her role. A few bits were condensed here and there, and the live broadcast was performed on only two or three small sets, but it's still MacDonald's story from beginning to end. The actress playing Lily ("the child") is Robin Morgan, a child star of the time and a regular on the early show Mama. She quit acting in her teens and became a radical feminist, authoring such works as Sisterhood is Powerful, Sisterhood is Global and Sisterhood is Forever (I wonder what her next title will be...)

This show was unknown to The Shines and appears nowhere in their Bibliography, nor did the Lights Out adaptation. The free viewing can be enjoyed on the Internet Archive here.


  1. The IMDB now has "A Child is Crying" listed as being produced twice on TALES OF TOMORROW (at the beginning and end of the first season) with a different cast for each. A mistake or did it prove so popular they did it twice?

  2. I'm not sure, Kevin. I've learned to be skeptical of the IMDb, especially when it comes to information that is difficult to confirm from other sources.