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Carrington, Elaine Sterne

CARRINGTON, Elaine Sterne

Born 1892, New York, New York; died 4 May 1958, NewYork, New York

Also wrote under: John Ray, Elaine Sterne

Daughter of Theodore and Mary Henriques Sterne; married George D. Carrington, 1920

While growing up in New York City, Elaine Sterne Carrington's earliest ambition was to become a musical comedy star. Instead, she became the most prolific writer of radio serials, though she also wrote short stories, plays, and songs.

At eighteen, Carrington sold her first story, "King of the Christmas Feast," to St. Nicholas magazine. At nineteen, she won the first prize in a scenario-writing contest sponsored by the New York Evening Sun in cooperation with Vitagraph for a script entitled Sins of the Mothers. Two more prizes that year—one in a New York Morning Telegraph scenario contest and another in a Collier's magazine short story contest—launched Carrington's professional career. Nightstick, a play written under the name of John Ray, was lengthened and produced as a film under the title Alibi (1929).

The most frequent topic of Carrington's plays is romance and marriage in the middle class. Five Minutes from the Station: A Comedy of Life that Comes Close to Being a Tragedy (1930), features Carrie Adams, a harried but spunky housewife who secures a promotion for her husband Bert by cooking dinner for his employer.

Like the plays, Carrington's stories concern courtship, marriage, and child rearing. Plots based on secret engagements, elopements, hopeless love between people of different classes, and friction between child and stepparent are common. The central characters generally are of the middle class—wives who "like to gossip," storekeepers whose shops are "clean as a whistle," young women with "milk-white skin" and "ash-blond hair," and steady young men who like to do "the deciding."

Ten of Carrington's short stories are collected in a volume entitled All Things Considered (1939). The sentimentality of the stories is redeemed by some incisive and devastating portraits in situations critics have deemed worthy of Evelyn Waugh or John Collier. Carrington's fondness for ambiguity caused some reviewers to find "a streak of sharp satire running under the gloss." A cool, sparse style allows the characters occasionally to break free of humdrum plots.

Carrington moved to radio scriptwriting with her first series, Red Adams (1932), later renamed Red Davis. The series starred Burgess Meredith as Davis, a "supposedly typical, happy-golucky, middle class teenager, who lived in the supposedly typical small town of Oak Park." Carrington drew the plots from her own experiences as a wife and mother, incorporating (in her words) "all the pangs of adolescence from both the children's and parents' points of view."

Under the sponsorship of Proctor & Gamble, the program was renamed Forever Young, and then Pepper Young's Family (1936-56). The setting became the town of Elmwood, and Red Davis became Pepper. What began as a comedy had emerged as a thoroughgoing soap opera. In 1938 it was on the air at three different hours every day and was carried by both the NBC and CBS networks. Variety rated Pepper Young's Family"above average both in quality and popularity… .Its story stresses every day family situations, with little or no melodrama and nothing lurid or emotionally upsetting. If anything, the action is too mild for maximum dramatic effect. The pace is relatively slow and the dialogue is inclined to be a trifle innocuous."

When a Girl Marries (1939-56) became the serial that drew perhaps the largest of all cumulative radio soap opera audiences.The marriage of wealthy Joan Field to poor-but-promising Harry Davis was central but other marriages were also featured. Rosemary (1944-55) was, as the show's opening announcement proclaimed, "dedicated to all the women of today." Each episode began with "This is your story—this is you." The serial told the story of the Dawson family and centered upon Rosemary Dawson's marriage to Bill Roberts. A young working woman at series open, Rosemary quickly became the woman of domestic experience, the wife and mother endowed with the goodness and kindness required of soap opera heroines. Carrington's intense patriotism (she also wrote scripts for the U.S. Treasury Department) manifested itself in appeals to listeners to buy war bonds. In addition, Carrington's characters urged each other to buy Easter Seals, to help returning prisoners of war, or to support some other worthy cause.

Acknowledged as the originator of the radio soap opera, Carrington established a simple principle for plots that often were complex: "the life of a middle class family and the bringing up of children in an understanding way." This principle led Carrington to focus on youthful characters, complete with current slang, a focus which television soap operas of the 1970s have reestablished, The "understanding way" of bringing up children involved humor, which was often present in Carrington's scripts. Plots—in which illogic was not uncommon—were always subordinate to characters. In Carrington's words, "The story must be written about people you come to know and like and believe in. What happens to them is of secondary importance. Once characters are firmly established and entrenched in the hearts of listeners, the latter will have to tune in to find out what becomes of the characters because of what they feel for them." For over 20 years Carrington succeeded in creating characters that evoked such loyalty from listeners. Without question, the "Queen of the Soapers," as Carrington was known, had earned her title.

Other Works:

Follow Your Heart (TV drama, 1953).


Edmondson, M., and D. Rounds, From Mary Noble to Mary Hartman: The Complete Soap Opera Book (1976).

Reference Works:

CB: Who's News and Why 1944 (1945).

Other reference:

NYHT (19 Nov. 1939). New York Post (25 Jan. 1940). NYT (12 Nov. 1939, 11 Feb. 1940, 5 May 1958). Newsweek (20 Oct. 1941, 3 May 1954). Parents' Magazine (June 1942). Time (26 Aug. 1946). Variety (8 May 1940, 16 June 1943).


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