Norman Corwin at his 99th birthday celebration, presented by California Artists Radio Theatre. Photo by Enci Box
On May 3, Norman Corwin will celebrate his 100th birthday. Corwin, who has been called “radio’s poet laureate” is the author of such radio productions as We Hold These Truths (broadcast Dec. 15, 1941 on all four radio networks to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights (and airing just eight days after Pearl Harbor)); On a Note of Triumph (broadcast on CBS May 13, 1945, following VE Day, the end of hostilities in Europe in World War II); and Columbia Presents Corwin: Fourteen August (broadcast on CBS Aug. 14, 1945 following VJ Day and allied victory over Japan).
(A 1991 revision of We Hold These Truths, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the bill of rights, won Corwin a international gold medal, according to Anthony Tollin in the program booklet for the Radio Spirits collection “the 60 Greatest Old-Time Radio Shows of the 20th Century.”)
Not all of Corwin’s work focused on World War II, however. His Odyssey of Runyon Jones, broadcast June 8, 1941 as the 6th of Twenty Six by Corwin, concerns a young boy who visits various personages (including Father Time, Mother Nature, a giant, and the board members of “Curgatory”) in an attempt to be reunited with his dog, who was run over by a car. His Plot to Overthrow Christmas, broadcast Dec. 25, 1938 on Corwin’s Words Without Music, tells, entirely in verse, of efforts by various personages in Hell (Nero, Haman, Caligula, Medusa, Ivan the Terrible and the devil, to name a few ) to defeat Santa and Christmas. According to Tollin, Edward R. Murrow compared it with the best of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The scripts for both of these plays are among those included in Corwin’s 1942 book, Thirteen by Corwin. In his preface to that book Carl Van Doren wrote that Corwin “is to American Radio what Marlowe was to the Elizabethan stage.”
Corwin’s “Undecided Molecule”, broadcast July 17, 1945, was, according to the narration, “a rhyme fantasy concerning dangerous developments among the elements.”
His “Citizen of the World”, broadcast July 10, 1949 on CBS, concerns people around the world both well known and not so well known who (in the words of narrator Lee J. Cobb) were concerned with “doing something to make life healthier and happier in the world in which they are citizens.” The program also promoted the efforts of the then-new United Nations, with comments by people as varied as Ralph Bunche and Admiral Chester Nimitz.
Corwin was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993. According to the Norman Corwin page of the Radio Hall of Fame website, http://www.radiohof.org/adventuredrama/normancorwin.html, in 2001, National Public Radio aired six new Corwin plays under the title More by Corwin.
Among writers who acknowledge Corwin as an influence are J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5, who named the character of Lt. Corwin for Corwin. In a 1994 post praising Corwin, on the online service GENIE, http://www.jmsnews.com/msg.aspx?id=1-8952&query=Norman Corwin Straczynski not only talks about Corwin’s importance, but also recommends the book 13 For Corwin, with essays by a variety of writers, including Ray Bradbury, Studs Terkel, and Charles Kuralt.
In 1946, Corwin wrote about his travels to 17 countries. Never before published, these thoughts and reflections are being collected in book form as Norman Corwin’s One World Flight. The book is due out in September.
Corwin is being honored on his centennial by the Writers Guild of America in Los Angeles on May 1, with members of the California Artists Radio Theatre to present live performances of two of Corwin’s plays: “Mary and the Fairy” and “Our Lady of the Freedoms.”
For anyone who might happen to be in the area that day, more information can be found at http://cartaudio.org/boxoffice_CART.htm.
But if you’re not going to be in the Los Angeles area on May 1, the Chicago-based radio show “Those Were The Days” will broadcast Corwin’s plays “The Odyssey of Runyon Jones”, “We Hold These Truths”, “The Undecided Molecule”, and “On a Note of Triumph” on that day. “Those Were the Days” airs from 1- 5 p.m., central time, and can be heard on the web at www.wdcb.org.
Also the spring issue of The Nostalgia Digest Magazine, published by “Those Were the Days” host Steve Darnall, will feature an interview with Corwin and an excerpt from Norman Corwin’s One World Flight. For more information about the magazine, including where to buy it in metro Detroit, visit http://www.nostalgiadigest.com/nostalgiadigest.html
Happy birthday, Mr. Corwin.
Copyright 2010, Patrick Keating