Norman Lewis Corwin (born May 3, 1910) is an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing. His earliest and biggest success was in the writing and directing of radio drama during the 1930s and 1940s.
Corwin was among the first producers to regularly use entertainment -- even light entertainment -- to tackle serious social issues. In this area he was a peer to Orson Welles and William N. Robson, and an inspiration to other later radio/TV writers such as Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, Norman Lear and J. Michael Straczynski.
He is the son of Samuel and Rose Corwin and was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Corwin was a major figure in during the Golden Age of Radio. During the 1930s and 1940s he was a writer, producer of many radio programs in many genres: history, biography, fantasy, fiction, poetry and drama. He was the writer and creator of series such as The Columbia Workshop, 13 By Corwin, 26 By Corwin and others. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Southern California.
Corwin has won the One World Award, two Peabody Medals, an Emmy, a Golden Globe, a duPont-Columbia Award; he was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay for Lust for Life (1956). On May 12, 1990 Corwin received an Honorary Doctorate from Lincoln College. Corwin was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993. A documentary film on Corwin's life, A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin won an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Feature) in 2006.
Marriage and children
Corwin was married in 1947 to actress Katherine Locke
. They had two children---an adopted son, Anthony Leon, and a daughter, Diane Arlene. Corwin's wife died in 1995
Corwin is Jewish
, and his parents observed Judaism
. (His father, Sam Corwin, attended holiday services until his death at 110). While not an observant Jew, Corwin has infused much of his work with the ideas of the Hebrew Prophets. One of the prayerbooks of American Reform Judaism
, Shaarei Tefila: Gates of Prayer
, contains a portion of the Prayer
from the finale of Corwin's On a Note of Triumph
(see link to full text below).
- Lord God of test-tube and blueprint
- Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
- Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
- Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors and give instruction to their schemes:
- Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father's color or the credo of his choice:
- Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
- Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of the little peoples through expected straits,
- And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer than posterities can see ahead,
- That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.
Corwin worked as a newspaper journalist for the Greenfield Recorder
and the Springfield Republican
, and later read news over WBZA
in Massachusetts. He moved to New York City
in 1936 and created a program for independent station WQXR
. In 1938, he began working for the CBS Radio Network
. CBS scheduled Norman Corwin's Words Without Music
, the first usage of a writer's name in a program title; the series included two of his more famous works, The Plot to Overthrow Christmas
, a fantasy in rhyme, and They Fly Through The Air
, an impassioned reaction to the Spanish Civil War
In 1941 Corwin was given the timeslot and resources of the Columbia Workshop program for a full six months, under the title 26 By Corwin, which required him to conceive, write, cast, direct and produce a completely new play every seven days.
We Hold These Truths was first broadcast in December 15, 1941, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the United States Bill of Rights. Many radio and movie stars of the day featured, along with an epilogue by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. National Public Radio sponsored a new version of this program in 1991, for the Bill of Rights bicentennial.
His most famous work is On a Note of Triumph, a celebration of the Allied victory in Europe, first broadcast on VE Day, May 8, 1945.
Corwin reports being on a train "somewhere near Albuquerque" when news of the end of the European war came to him. He had been planning to produce On a Note of Triumph as a morale booster for the men overseas. But the war with Germany had ended, and he doubted the network still wished to air it. (Just in case, broadcast historian Erik Barnouw wrote, Corwin had performers ready in both New York City and Los Angeles). Corwin called his network and expressed concern. CBS radio head William Paley sent a message to Corwin on the train .... "the President says, 'now more than ever.' "
With Harry Truman's insistence that it continue, the program went on (from the Los Angeles studios of CBS Radio Station KNX), with Martin Gabel as host/narrator and with William L. Shirer (via cable from New York) re-creating his role as reporter in the Compeigne forest covering the French surrender to Germany. With an audience of 60 million listeners became one of the most famous ever produced on radio.
Corwin wrote and directed two plays produced on Broadway, The Rivalry (1959) and The World of Carl Sandburg (1960). According to Ray Bradbury, Corwin was responsible for the eventual publication of Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles.
Corwin wrote a number of motion picture screenplays, including The Blue Veil
(1951), Scandal at Scourie
(1953), Lust for Life
(1956), and The Story of Ruth
In the early 1970s Corwin produced and hosted the television show Norman Corwin Presents. In 1979 he hosted Academy Leaders, a weekly showcase for short animated films, such as those produced by the National Film Board of Canada.
Corwin wrote several books, which include Trivializing America; plus many essays, letters, articles and plays.
During the 1990s, Corwin returned to radio drama, producing a series of radio plays for National Public Radio
. He currently lectures at USC as a visiting professor.
"Golden Age" works in radio drama
Corwin wrote and produced over 100 programs during the golden age of radio. Notable programs include:
- The Plot to Overthrow Christmas - December 25, 1938
- They Fly through the Air with the Greatest of Ease - February 19, 1939
- Spoon River Anthology - March, 1939
- Descent of the Gods - August 3, 1940
- Mary and the Fairy - August 31, 1940
- Psalm for a Dark Year - November 9, 1940
- We Hold These Truths - December 15, 1941
- America at War (series) - February 14, 1942
- The Lonesome Train - March 21, 1944
- Untitled - May 30, 1944
- Home For the 4th - July 4, 1944
- El Capitan and the Corporal - July 25, 1944
- On a Note of Triumph - May 8, 1945
- The Undecided Molecule - July 17, 1945
- 14 August - August 14, 1945
- God and Uranium - August 19, 1945
- Hollywood Fights Back - October 26, 1947
- Could Be - September 8, 1949
- Document A/777 - March 26, 1950
Later works in radio drama
In recent years National Public Radio commissioned a number of new plays by Corwin; the series was called More By Corwin
- Our Lady Of The Freedoms, And Some Of Her Friends - A play about the Statue of Liberty.
- No Love Lost - A lively debate about the nature of democracy in America, in the form of an imaginary dialogue between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr; the work is based on their writings. This play featured Lloyd Bridges, Jack Lemmon, Martin Landau and Corwin's friend William Shatner. Shatner appeared in a number of Corwin productions.
- The Writer With The Lame Left Hand - Based on the life story of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. This production featured Ed Asner, Charles Durning, Samantha Eggar and William Shatner.
- The Curse Of 589 is a comedy about a physicist (William Shatner) who comes across an honest-to-goodness real life fairy, with a working magic wand.
- The Secretariat - A play on the meaning of prayer. This production featured Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Phil Proctor, and William Shatner.
- 50 Years after 14 August - A reflection on the end of World War II.
Corwin is currently a lecturer at the University of Southern California.
A selected listing of books by Corwin, excluding collections of his radio dramas:
- So Say the Wise: A Community Of Modern Mind -- New York: George Sully Company, 1929 -- A compendium of quotations, concentrating on current personalities. Compiled by Corwin and Hazel Cooley.
- Holes in a Stained Glass Window -- Secaucus, NJ : L. Stuart, 1978 -- Collection of Corwin's Essays, Articles and Poetry. Contains both Prayer for the 70s and Jerusalem Printout
- Trivializing America -- Secaucus, NJ : Lyle Stuart, 1983 -- A best-selling critique of the failings of contemporary American culture
- Norman Corwin's Letters / Edited By Jack Langguth -- New York : Barricade Books Inc., 1994 -- Compilation of letters written throughout Corwin's career.
Addendum: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas, Opera, Music by Walter Scharf, Libretto by Norman Corwin - written 1960, only performance 2000 Brigham Young University. The opera exists in manuscript form only. Composer and Librettest unable to agree on terms for further use. Scharf died in 2003.
Golden Age of Radio