James Agee, Omnibus, and Mr. Lincoln: The Culture of Liberalism and the Challenge of Television 1952-1953

James Agee, Omnibus, and Mr. Lincoln: The Culture of Liberalism and the Challenge of Television 1952-1953

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by William Hughes
     
 

In 1952 CBS, in conjunction with the Ford Foundation, launched Omnibus, a remarkable experiment in television. The objective was to raise the programming standards of an emerging medium that figured to profoundly influence American life. The centerpiece of Omnibus during its inaugural season was "Mr. Lincoln," a series of five films about the early life of our

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Overview

In 1952 CBS, in conjunction with the Ford Foundation, launched Omnibus, a remarkable experiment in television. The objective was to raise the programming standards of an emerging medium that figured to profoundly influence American life. The centerpiece of Omnibus during its inaugural season was "Mr. Lincoln," a series of five films about the early life of our foremost political icon. James Agee, the distinguished American author, was the principal creator of "Mr. Lincoln." At the time, his scripts were hailed as 'the most beautiful writing ever done for television," and even today Agee's characterization of Lincoln remains " among the finest—perhaps the finest—film about Abraham Lincoln ever made." Regrettably, this important and sensitive work, a revealing expression of American culture at mid-century, has been consigned to the archives and has not been available to the public for many years. Author William Hughes aims to keep alive Agee's neglected masterpiece, placing "Mr. Lincoln" in the context of the period's prevailing ideology (Cold War liberalism) and conveying the institutional framework in which the work originated. In addition, Hughes takes into account Agee's personal experiences, his social and political views, and his related writings (for and about film), all of which came into play when he reworked the Lincoln legend for the television age. Based on extensive archive research and an interview with Norman Lloyd, who directed the five films, this book fully documents the cultural and historical importance of "Mr. Lincoln."

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
An interesting and historical account of early US television, this volume brings back one of the era's excellent programs and one of the finest treatments of Lincoln ever aired - a television experience lost to present-day audiences....Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.
Reference and Research Book News
When Agee agreed to write a five-part script for the infant television industry's series Omnibus, he had to work within his own and his society's ideological and institutional conflicts. His product had to satisfy the crude orthodoxy of McCarthyism and meet the expectations of his patrons to attract and inspire the middlebrow middle-class. How Agee interpreted the image rather than the fact of Lincoln for a Cold War audience (which was also dealing with the shadow and substance of the Civil War) is a study in how artists can honor their own integrity under conditions of accommodation.
CHOICE
An interesting and historical account of early US television, this volume brings back one of the era's excellent programs and one of the finest treatments of Lincoln ever aired - a television experience lost to present-day audiences....Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.
Jeffrey Couchman
Hughes has written an indispensable cultural study. He situates Omnibus and Agee himself in the context of political and corporate ideologies of the 1950s. . . . [A] fine historical and critical analysis of 'Mr. Lincoln.'
Anna McCarthy
A thorough and truly excellent account of Omnibus' place in the Ford Foundation's cultural Cold War.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780810851757
Publisher:
The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc
Publication date:
08/28/2004
Series:
Studies and Documentation in the History of Popular Entertainment
Pages:
188
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author

William Hughes taught for many years at the Community College of Baltimore County and has written extensively about film and the history of American culture. He is an associate editor of American National Biography.

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James Agee, Omnibus, and Mr. Lincoln: The Culture of Liberalism and the Challenge of Television 1952-1953 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
zootsuit44 More than 1 year ago
Masterful history and analysis of James Agee's Lincoln films for early TV. Particularly relevant now that Mr. Lincoln is once again available to the public on a recently issued DVD (which inludes some other relevant material from Omnibus. broadcast . The Lincoln films are a TV landmark. The book is the essential companion, as well as an insightful study of American culture during the early 1950s.