David Ossman’s career as writer and performer extends sixty years back to the earliest years of FM and non-commercial radio, through the rock-and-roll LP and touring era, and continues in theatre productions, memoirs, and historical mystery novels.
Best known as a founding member of the four-man Firesign Theatre, with more than 20 comedy albums, two Grammy nominations and many, many hours of recorded radio and stage performances to their credit, Ossman’s solo audio work includes “How Time Flys,” for Columbia Records. The Firesign Archive is in the collection of the Library of Congress.
Ossman’s radio series, “The Sullen Art,” conversations with new poets, recorded in New York in 1960-61, produced a collection published by Corinth Books in 1963 and a much expanded volume in 2015 from the University of Toledo Press, where the collection is housed. The interviews are considered by scholars as fundamental to studies of the Beat era.
Born in Santa Monica, California in 1936, Ossman began writing and publishing his work at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, where he was editor of the daily newspaper. He published his first poetry collection, “An Offering…Without Incense” at graduation. He also began stage-acting then and continued at Pomona College, where his cast-mates included Richard Chamberlain. He graduated from the School of Dramatic Arts at Columbia University in 1958. His first radio broadcasting job came in 1959 at WBAI-FM.
At KPFK in Los Angeles, Ossman broadcast live from the first Pleasure Faire in 1973 – a program still available in the Faire archives – and participated actively as Herald and Lord Mayor over the first several years. At the very beginning of their collaborative career, Firesign performed “The Sword and the Stoned” at the 1968 Faire.
Ossman created an Arts magazine for NPR in 1982. Titled “The Sunday Show,” the five-hour weekly program ran, with Ossman as executive producer and Host, for about 25 weeks until it was abruptly cancelled after celebrating John Cage’s 70th birthday. Ossman then turned to his love of radio theatre and began adapting stories for WGBH’s “The Spider’s Web,” culminating in a two-hour telling of “The Red Badge of Courage,” and development of a new “Radio Movies” series which Ossman hosted in two characters – himself and alter-ego George Tirebiter.
Tirebiter, a character created for Firesign’s celebrated “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers” album in 1970, developed a life of his own, running for US Vice President in 1976, offering radio stories from his memoirs and finally starring in two detective novels, “The Ronald Reagan Murder Case,” set in Hollywood in 1945, and “The Flying Saucer Murder Case,” set in the tabloid year of 1953. Seven hours of his broadcasts, The George Tirebiter Collection, are offered as downloads.
With his novelist and playwright wife, Judith Walcutt, Ossman has written and produced a number of historic, prize-winning audio dramas, including the 50th anniversary recreations of Orson Welles’ “The War of The Worlds” (a Grammy nominee) and Norman Corwin’s “We Hold These Truths,” and the 100th anniversary complete 4-hour adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” The two have also collaborated on several large theatrical presentations, including Agatha Christie’s “The BBC Murders,” e. e. cummings “love is a place,” a 2019 Whidbey Island production of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and their own creative story, “Sound & Synchronicity.” Ossman also has a solo show, “Tales of the Old Cart Wrangler,” and a two-hander with his Firesign partner, Phil Proctor, “The Art of Radio.”
Ossman edited and wrote most of the introductory material for five published collections of Firesign Theatre plays from Bear Manor Books. Bear Manor also published two of his personal memoirs, “Fighting Clowns of Hollywood” and “Dr. Firesign’s Follies.” His two most recent poetry collections are “The Old Man’s Poems” from Egress Studio Press (Bellingham WA) and “Marshmallows & Despair” (NeoPoiesis Press, Vancouver BC).
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