Weird Circle -- "A Passion in the Desert"

Saturday, 20 June 2015 16:00 Dave Truesdale

Weird Circle aired  Honoré de Balzac's story "A Passion in the Desert" sometime in late 1943. Specific air dates for Weird Circle are scarce, but the show ran from late 1943 to early 1945, with some 78 shows being produced.

Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) was quite a character. Forever in debt, never so much as when he died, he loved dressing opulantly, living in plush surroundings, and carousing around town. To help defray his many debts he wrote nearly one hundred novels during his short life span, aggravating his publisher no end for his many last minute revisions. His first publisher, Henri Latouche, once wrote of this practice, “What the devil has gotten into you? Forget about the black mark under your mistress’s left tit, it’s only a beauty spot.” Writing to Balzac concerning his extravagant tastes (his famous jeweled walking sticks, red-leather upholstered study room, and more), Latouche would admonish Balzac:

"You haven’t changed at all. You pick out the rue Cassini to live in and you are never there. Your heart clings to carpets, mahogany chests, sumptuously bound books, superfluous clothes and copper engravings. You chase through the whole of Paris in search of candelabra that will never shed their light on you, and yet you haven’t even got a few sous in your pockets that would enable you to visit a sick friend. Selling yourself to a carpet-maker for two years! You deserve to be put in Charenton lunatic asylum."

Explaining his writing habits (he was known to write sixteen hours a day), Balzac would write:

"I go to bed at six or seven in the evening, like the chickens; I’m waked at one o’clock in the morning, and I work until eight; at eight I sleep again for an hour and a half; then I take a little something, a cup of black coffee, and go back into my harness until four. I receive guests, I take a bath, and I go out, and after dinner I go to bed. I’ll have to lead this life for some months, not to let myself be snowed under by my debts."

"A Passion in the Desert" first saw print in the December 26, 1830 issue of Revue de Paris, a new magazine begun in part to foster new talent. The story has been translated into many languages over the years, and a 1998 film of the same name was made of the story. This radio adaptation is surprisingly faithful to the story given the obvious time constraints. It tells of a deserter from the French Foreign Legion who becomes enamored of a beautiful young woman wishing to escape from her "people." They run off into the desert where our besmitten legionnaire learns the dark secret of her true existence and pays the price. It is both a seductive and harrowing tale that quickly drags the listener in to a dark place of the spirit, not to mention the poor legionnaire who finds himself in way over his head.

(Given the above picture of Balzac, can you see the likeness to the flamboyant comedian John Lovitz? I can't help but wonder how he would play Balzac given the opportunity.)

Play Time: 25:05

{Despite 1943 finding the U.S. fighting two wars, there was plenty of pulp magazine action to take young minds away from the concerns of their parents in the Fall of '43; enchantment could still be found at the corner drugstore and its magazine displays, a sampling of which is shown below.}

[Left: Planet Stories, Fall 1943 - Center: Startling Stories, Fall 1943 - Right: Weird Tales, Sept. 1943]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.