by Alaska is home – Version 1.0 – Aug 24, 2009
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The precise, mellifluous voice of Alexander Scourby, trained in Shakespearean roles in the 1930’s and perfected in radio dramatic parts in the 1940’s, became a well-known sound on Broadway, in motion pictures, and on television, where as Harriet Van Horne has observed, he is “the most sensitive and knowing narrator in the business.” His most appreciative audience, however, is found among the nearly 80,000 borrowers of Talking Books, the recordings of literature produced under the supervision of the Division for the Blind of the Library of Congress for the use of the legally blind. Scourby, during his lifetime recorded over 500 books for the blind and has described his recording of Audio books as, “the one work that really means something to me. “Nelson Coon, a former regional librarian in the Library of Congress observed in the letters column of the Saturday Review (September 9, 1961): “The dependence on and satisfaction in the Voice of Alexander Scourby among the blind is something you would not believe unless you had been a librarian.” However, the Audio Book that Alexander Scourby was most proud of was his narration of the Holy Bible. Millions of records, cassettes, CD’s, DVD’s and now digital downloads have been sold. The bestselling book has become one of the best selling audio narration of all times and to this very day is still recognized as the very best narrator of the Bible. Since the first recording of the Bible in 1953, his gifted voice has brought, and continues to bring, comfort, joy and inspiration to untold millions all over the world and that has earned him the well deserved title as “The Voice of the Bible”. Although Scourby recorded over 500 different books, he considered the Bible to be his most important. He describes why in the following statement:
“The Bible is the one book that I am most proud of. It has the power to inspire, encourage and change the lives of people who hear it. I know this because over the years, many people have written me thanking me for recording the Bible. I have been greatly humbled and moved by the many letters I received from people around the world telling me how God used the Bible narrations to comfort and encourage them during a difficult period. Others stated their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, was changed simply by listening to the Bible. Others stated that they were even healed as they listened to the Bible. I really stand in awe in pondering that nothing else I have done during my entire life time has had such a powerful and positive impact on people as my recordings of the Bible. I offer you the most rewarding gift you will ever have an opportunity to give someone you love … the recording of THE KING JAMES BIBLE …the world’s most important book and a gift of a lifetime for anyone who receives it.”
It’s very seldom that someone can continue to touch the lives of millions every day well after their death, but Alexander Scourby has done exactly that since his death in February of 1985, as his one of a kind voice continues to reach out and touch the lives of millions through his narrations of the King James Bible.
The Early Years
By Dr. D.A. Waite
Alexander Scourby was born in Brooklyn, New York on. November 13, 1913 to Constantine Nicholas and Betsy (Patsakos) Scourby, both of whom were immigrants from Greece. His father was a successful restaurateur and wholesale baker and an ill-advised investor in some motion-picture failures.
Reared in Brooklyn, New York Scourby was a member of a Boy Scout troop there and later a cadet with the 101st National Guard Cavalry Regiment. He attended public and private schools in Brooklyn, spending his summer vacations in New Jersey, upstate New York and at a cousin’s home in Massachusetts. Dismissed from Polytechnic Prep School, he finished his secondary education at Brooklyn Manual Training High School, which he described as “an ordinary high school that had an awful lot of shop.”
As an adolescent, Scourby, who was co-editor of the magazine and yearbook at Manual Training High School, envisioned a career in writing. But he came to realize, as he has said, that writing was for him “absolutely the most painful thing in. the world” and that he “could never meet a deadline,” whereas he found the reading aloud of plays easy and enjoyable. Encouraged by some of his teachers, he began to turn his attention to acting. He made his stage debut with the high school’s dramatic society, as the juvenile in Augustin MacHugh’s The Meanest Man in the World.
When he graduated from high school in 1931, Scourby, not yet having abandoned the idea of a writing career, entered West Virginia University at Morgantown, West Virginia to study journalism. During his first semester at West Virginia he joined the campus drama group and played a character role in A. A. Milne’s comedy Mr. Pim Passes By. In February 1932, as he was beginning his second semester, his father died, and he left the university to help run the family’s pie bakery in Brooklyn.
About a month after Scourby returned to Brooklyn, he was accepted as an apprentice at Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theatre on 14th Street in downtown Manhattan. At the Civic Repertory he was taught dancing, speech, and make-up, and was given his first professional role, a walk-on in Liliom. In 1933 Scourby and other Civic Repertory apprentices joined together to form the Apprentice Theatre, which presented plays at the New School for Social Research in New York City during the 1933-34 season.
Scourby’s first role on Broadway was that of the Player King in Leslie Howard’s production of Hamlet, which opened at the Imperial Theatre on November 10, 1936 and went on tour after thirty-nine performances. Returning to New York and unemployment in the spring of 1937, Scourby was introduced to the American Foundation for the Blind’s Talking Book program by Wesley Addy, a member of the Hamlet cast and Scourby’s roommate on the tour, who was recording plays at the Foundation.
The American Foundation for the Blind offers to the 450 agencies concerned with the estimated 400,000 sightless persons in the United States more than 100 services that would be difficult or impossible for individual agencies to provide on their own. The Talking Book service was conceived by Dr. Robert B. lrwin, then executive director of the Foundation, after a survey in 1929 which revealed that only 15 percent of the sightless population was sufficiently skilled at touch reading to enjoy books in Braille. In 1934 an act of Congress authorized governmental financing of the project and the American Foundation for the Blind, under the supervision of the Library of Congress, began issuing readings of complete books by professional actors on long-playing records. As many as 500 Talking Books of fiction, nonfiction, drama and poetry were produced annually (partly by the AFB and partly by the American Printing House for the Blind, and distributed by the Library of Congress to thirty-two regional libraries serving nearly 80,000 blind borrowers.
The Talking Books that Scourby recorded for the blind number in the hundreds and range from the
Bible and the
Iliad to Gilbert
Highet’s Talents and
Geniuses. The majority of the recordings are novels, both contemporary, such as
Ship of Fools and classic, such as
War and Peace and
The Idiot. Besides his work for Talking Books, Scourby did readings for his own company, Lectern Records. Paraphrasing Gregory Ziemer, the director of public education at the American Foundation for the Blind, Kevin Wallace in the New Yorker (November 3, 1962) has said that Scourby “rates as high with Talking Book fans as Sinatra does with the popular-ballad public.”
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Talking Book Productions Establishes the Alexander Scourby Narrator of the Year Awards.
Alexander Scourby was so well thought of for his narrations, of close to 500 books for the AFB during his life time, that in 1986 they established the Alexander Scourby Narrator of the Year Awards. These annual awards honor the excellence of the top narrators around the country. They are named after the Alexander Scourby because he is regarded as having the greatest voice ever recorded. However, of the hundreds of book he recorded, the Bible was his most treasured narration and in April 2005, his recording of the King James Bible was entered into the prestigious National Recording Registry, the one and only Bible narration ever to be given that distinguished honor.
Alexander Scourby was the first to record the Bible in the early 1950’s and he did it on long play records, some of which are still around. Over the years, millions of people have heard this cherished narration of the Bible, along with the many other books that Scourby recorded for the AFB.
Traditionally, narrators from production facilities from all over the country are considered every year for the Alexander Scourby Narrator of the Year Awards. The awards are heard at a live ceremony in New York City and are a yearly event where people from across the country compete for the top honors. Those attending also get the honor to hear the top narrators from around the country.
One judge for the event stated recently, “Alexander Scourby is recognized as having the Greatest Voice ever recorded. Every year we attend this annual event looking to see if someone out there will appear that can excel, or at least approach, his great talent, but as of today none has emerged. I think we look to these yearly awards with anticipation that maybe we will find the next Alexander Scourby, but personally I just don’t think we will ever see or hear another like him. He was truly one of a kind, a great master in his field that gave us priceless recordings and his mastery, like other great masters, will probably never be equaled”.
After auditioning at the American Foundation for the Blind in the spring of 1937, Scourby was cast in a small part in a recording of “Antony and Cleopatra”. During the following summer he was again, the Player King in a production of “Hamlet” at Dennis, Massachusetts that featured Eva Le Gallienne in the title role. When he returned to the American Foundation for the Blind later in the year to record plays he was told that the company of actors was filled, but that he might record a novel if he wished. “That was the beginning of it,” he said in scanning his career years later adding, “The recordings for the blind are perhaps my greatest achievement. Most of the things I look back at in the theater were either insignificant parts in great plays or good parts in terrible plays. So it really doesn’t amount to anything, whereas I have recorded some great books.” The greatest one being “The Bible”.
Theater, Flim and Television
In Maurice Evans’
Hamlet, which opened at the St. James Theatre in New York on October 12, 1938 and ran for ninety-six performances, Scourby played Rosencrantz. Later in the same season he appeared with Evans in Henry IV, Part I as the Earl of Westmoreland and the following year he toured with Evans in King Richard II as one of the hirelings of the king.
A writer in Variety (May 16, 1962) described the quality of Scourby’s voice as “the kind of resonance closely associated by listeners with big time radio. Scourby began working in radio in 1939 and by the early 1940’s he was playing running parts in five of the serial melodramas popularly known as soap operas, including Against the Storm, in which he replaced Arnold Moss for two years. He narrated the Andre Kostelanetz musical show for a year, using the pseudonym “Alexander Scott” at the request of the sponsors his voice was heard on many dramatic shows, including NBC’s Sunday program “The Eternal Light” (with which he was to remain, despite heavy commitments elsewhere, through the 1950’s). On Superman, his was the voice of the title character’s father in the one program devoted to the prodigy’s origins. During World War II Scourby did broadcasts beamed abroad in Greek and English for the Office of War Information.
Meanwhile Scourby had been keeping a hand in the theater by doing summer stock. He returned to Broadway in late 1946, replacing Ruth Chatterton as the narrator in Ben Hecht’s “A Flag Is Born”, a one-act: dramatic pageant produced by the American League for a Free Palestine at the Alvin Theatre. On December 22, 1947 he opened with John Gielgud in Rodney Ackland’s dramatization of “Crime and Punishment” at the National Theatre in New York, playing Razournikhim, friend to Gielgud’s Raskolnikoff.
Scourby was one of the founders of New Stages, a drama company that went into operation in a small theater on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, New York City in the 1947/48 season. During its two-year existence, the company presented Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding, Edward Caulfield’s Bruno and Sidney, and two plays by Jean-Paul Sartre and The Victors.
In Sidney Kingsley’s “Detective Story”, which opened at the Hudson Theatre on March 23, 1949 and ran for a year and eight months, Scourby played Tami Giacoppetti, the tough racketeer. Almost immediately after “Detective Story” closed, Scourby began rehearsing another Kingsley role on Broadway, that of lvanoff, the old Bolshevik friend of Rubashov in “Darkness at Noon”, a dramatization of Arthur Koestler’s novel. The play opened at the Alvin Theatre on January 13, 1951, with Claude Rains playing Rubashov, and ran for 163 performances. When the Theatre Guild revived George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan later in the same year, with Uta Hagcn in the title role, Scourby was cast as Peter Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais. The play was presented at the Cort Theatre from October 4, 1951 to February 2, 1952.
Scourby’s first motion-picture appearances were in two films with Glenn Ford, “Affair in Trinidad” (Columbia, 1952) and “The Big Heat” (Columbia, 1953). He subsequently played a Greek officer in Korea in “The Glory Brigade” (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1953) and a Biblical character in “The Silver Chalice” (Warner Brothers, 1959), and he again appeared with Glenn Ford in “Ransom” (MGM, 1956). “None of the pictures I’ve done have been really important or very good,” Scourby later said, “with the exception – and it is debatable – of “Giant.” In “Giant” (Warner Brothers, 1956), the film version of Edna Ferber’s novel that starred James Dean, Scourby played Polo, the old Mexican ranch foreman. He later had a role in “The Big Fisherman” (Buena Vista, 1959). During his flurry of motion-picture activity in the 1950’s, Scourby, who had been living with his wife and child in an apartment near Columbia University in New York City for ten years, bought a home in Beverly Hills, California. Calls for Scourby to work in New York, however, soon made the Beverly Hills residence as much a commutation point as a home.
Back on the New York stage, Scourby played Rakitin in Emlyn Williams’ adaptation of Turgenev’s “A Month in the Country” and Peter Cauchon in Siobhan McKenna’s interpretation of Saint Joan, both presented at the Off-Broadway Phoenix Theatre in 1956. Again at the Phoenix, he played King Claudius in Hamlet in the spring of 1961, bringing to the role, as Howard Taubman noted in the New York Times (March 17, 1961), the appropriate “fret of fear and decay.”
In 1963 Scourby was given the featured role of Gorotchenko, the Communist commissar who stalks a White Russian noble couple fleeing the Revolution, in “Tovarich”, a Broadway musical by Lee Pockriss and Anne Croswell based on the comedy by Robert E. Sherwood and Jacques Deval, The musical opened at the Broadway Theatre on March 18, 1963, with Vivien Leigh and Jean-Pierre Aumont as Scourby’s prey. “The signal tribute to Alexander Scourby . . . ,” Norman Nadel observed in the New York World-Telegram and Sun (April 2, 1963), “was the hearty hissing opening night as he strolled on stage. In polished villainy, he has no peer. Soon after “Tovarich” closed on November 9, 1963, after 264 performances, Scourby began rehearsals in Los Angeles for a Theatre Group presentation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Sea Gull”, in which he starred with Jeannette Nolan for forty performances beginning on January 10, 1964.
In the early 1950’s Scourby worked in television as both a narrator and actor. One of his constant assignments as a narrator was the NBC-TV’s Project 20 show. He narrated a ninety-minute condensation of the television series “Victory at Sea” for Project 20 in 1954. His assignments for the program included Three, Two, One, Zero, about the atomic bomb, and three religious documentaries using great paintings to tell the Bible story: “The Coming of Christ”, a “Christmas show”; “He Is Risen”, a “Easter show”; and The Law and Prophets of the Old Testament.
As a television actor Scourby has had major roles in dramas presented on such notable programs as Playhouse 90, Circle Theater, and Studio One. He refused to tie himself down to a series, because, as he has explained, “it’s hard to do good things that way.” He, however, accepted occasional parts in Daniel Boone”, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., “The Defenders” and other set-format dramatic shows. Most of the filmed shows were made in California.
Partly to give himself more time on the East Coast, after 1960, he lent his voice to certain television commercials, notably those of Eastern Airlines and was the voice of choice of numerous Advertisers as a voice over for their commercials. Scourby became one of the highest paid voice over talents of his day and if advertises couldn’t get Scourby they would instruct their agents to get them a Scourby voice. He narrated numerous TV documentaries, including the highly proclaimed CBS TV series, “The Body Human”. His voice until this very day is recognized as one of the best voices God ever created.
Alexander Scourby and Lori von Eltz were married on May 12, 1943. Mrs. Scourby, the daughter of the late motion-picture actor Theodor von Eltz, was an actress known to television, Broadway and motion-picture audiences as Lori March. The Scourby’s had a daughter, Alexandra, born on March 27, 1944. Scourby was five feet ten and one half inches tall and weighed about 167 pounds. His hair was grayish black and his eyes were bluish green. Scourby had no political affiliation and no religious affiliations; however, he was a very spiritual person and all through his life he praticed the simple principle in the Bible of the Golden Rule. He simple treated people the way he would want to be treated and had kindness in his heart. He carried that through in his work and always wanted to give the very best no matter what he was doing. He once said,
I offer you the most rewarding gift you will ever have an opportunity to give someone you love … the recording of THE HOLY BIBLE …the world’s most important book, and a gift of a lifetime for anyone to receive.
Alexander Scourby died of a heart attack on February 22, 1985 in Newtown, Connecticut at the age of 71. This was one incredibly talented and gifted man who gave much more that he ever got and his voice continues to give on until this very day.
We sincerely hope you enjoy the newest Alexander Scourby presentation of the King James Bible in the new Scourby Bible APPs, the Newest Way to Access the Oldest Book.