precise, mellifluous voice of
Alexander Scourby, trained in Shakespearean roles in the 1930's and
perfected in radio dramatic parts in the 1940's, has become a
well-known sound on Broadway, in motion pictures, and on television.
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, who
recorded about 300 books for the blind, described this as "the one work
that really means something to me." Nelson Coon, a former regional
librarian in the Library of Congress' program for the blind, has
observed in the letters column of the Saturday Review (September 9,
1961): "The dependence on and satisfaction in the voice of Alexander
Scourby among blind people is something you would not believe unless
you had been a librarian."
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.
When he graduated from high school in 1931, Scourby 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.
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) has described the quality of Scourby's voice as "the kind of resonance closely associated by listeners with bigtime 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, and 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.
Since the early 1950's Scourby worked in television as both a narrator and actor. One of his constant assignments as a narrator had been NBC-TV's Project 20 show. He narrated a ninety-minute condensation of the television series Victory at Sea for Project 20 in 1954.
As a television, actor, Scourby 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 explained, "it's hard to do good things that way." He did, however, accept 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, he lent his voice to television commercials, notably those of Eastern Airlines.
We interviewed Mr. Scourby at his farmhouse in Connecticut. He died in 1985.