Tangent Online

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Favorite Story -- "The Diamond Lens" by Fitz-James O'Brien

E-mail Print

Favorite Story (1946-49) aired Fitz-James O'Brien's (1828-62) novelette "The Diamond Lens" on September 20, 1947. The story originally appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 1, Number 3, for January 1, 1858.

Famed debonair Hollywood film star Ronald Colman (1891-1958) hosted the show, the premise being that famous personalities of the time were invited to offer their favorite stories for dramatization.

"The Diamond Lens" relates the tale of a professor who has discovered an entire world in a drop of water by looking through a powerful microscope of his own invention, and his fascination and obsession with a beautiful young woman he espies within. The professor is played by William Conrad (1920-1994), who created and was the voice of Marshall Dillon on radio's Gunsmoke (1952-61) before the show moved to the small screen and James Arness was given the role for television. Conrad was the voice of many a radio character, and while he was passed over for the role of Marshall Dillon when Gunsmoke arrived on television (primarily because of his...portliness), Conrad would land roles in successful television series' such as Cannon (1971-76), Nero Wolfe (1981), and Jake and the Fat Man (1987-92). Conrad also was the voice of the narrator on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show (1959-64) and The Fugitive (1963-67). Conrad was a fighter pilot in World War II and left the service with the rank of captain.

{Below: Publicity shot for the radio version of Gunsmoke, circa 1952. Left: Howard McNear (1905-1969) as Doc Adams, Center: William Conrad as Marshall Matt Dillon, Right: Parley Bear (1914-2002) as Dillon's "assistant" Chester Wesley Proudfoot. Standing: Georgia Ellis (1917-1988) as Kitty Russell. It's interesting to note that among a few other tv (and film) roles each, that Howard McNear would go on to play Floyd the Barber, and Parley Bear the Mayor of Mayberry inThe Andy Griffith Show (1960-68). Georgia Ellis was best known for her radio portrayal of Kitty. She also appeared in a few episodes of tv's Dragnet in the 1950s, as well as in a trio of movies in the early 1940s.}

The Atlantic Monthly (now just The Atlantic) saw its first issue published in November of 1857. It was founded by Francis Underwood, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others. It quickly became one of the most respected--and read--magazines in the country, publishing not only timely non-fiction but fiction from many of the most renowned writers of the time, so Fitz-James O'Brien was in grand company when his story appeared in the magazine's third issue. "The Diamond Lens" has been reprinted so often since it first appeared that plain common sense counsels against a comprehensive recounting of its lengthy publication history here.

Enjoy now this "proto" science fiction story from an author who died much to soon (at age 33), but whose imagination was kindred to that of many of us today.

Play Time: 28:03

{Interior art below by Morey, from Amazing Stories, December 1926.}


-- Early genre magazine issues reprinting "The Diamond Lens" --

{Left: Amazing Stories, Dec. 1926 -- Center:Weird Tales, April 1929 -- Right: Amazing Stories, Oct. 1933}