Norman Corwin

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Norman Corwin
Norman Corwin with cherished typewriter, 1973
Born Norman Lewis Corwin
(1910-05-03)May 3, 1910
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died October 18, 2011(2011-10-18) (aged 101)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Writer and professor
Spouse(s) Katherine Locke (1947–1995; her death; 2 children)

Norman Lewis Corwin (May 3, 1910 – October 18, 2011) was an American writer, screenwriter, producer, essayist and teacher of journalism and writing. His earliest and biggest successes were 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 of Orson Welles and William N. Robson, and an inspiration to other later radio/TV writers such as Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, Norman Lear, J. Michael Straczynski and Yuri Rasovsky.

He was the son of Samuel and Rose Corwin and was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Corwin was a major figure during the Golden Age of Radio. During the 1930s and 1940s he was a writer and 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 was a lecturer at the University of Southern California.

Corwin won a 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, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Lincoln College. In 1996 he received the Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa from California Lutheran University. Corwin was inducted into the National 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. Les Guthman's feature documentary on Mr. Corwin's career, Corwin aired on PBS in the 1990s. He was inducted into the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Diamond Circle in 1994.[1]


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. Katherine Locke died in 1995.

Religious views

Corwin was Jewish, and his parents observed Judaism. (His father, Sam Corwin, attended holiday services until his death at 110). While not an observant Jew, Corwin 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.

Early career

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.[citation needed]

We Hold These Truths was first broadcast on December 15, 1941, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the United States Bill of Rights. It was written at the "invitation" (Corwin's word) of the U.S. Office of Facts and Figures. Corwin reports being on a train on his way to California to produce the program when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came to him. He sent a telegram to Washington at the next stop, asking if the OFF still wanted the program done. When he got to Albuquerque, a telegram was waiting for him: "the President says, 'now more than ever.'"[2] Many radio and movie stars of the day featured, along with an epilogue by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With an audience of 60 million listeners it became one of the most famous ever produced on radio.[3]

In 1942, Corwin and Edward R. Murrow combined to produce An American in England on CBS radio. Corwin intentionally avoided interviewing government officials, choosing instead to focus on everyday people and how they were affected by the war. He made weekly reports from England via shortwave August 3 – September 7, then did four more episodes December 1–22 after he had returned to New York City.[4]

Columbia Presents Corwin (1944) offered stories ranging from serious to whimsical. 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. Not knowing where he would be when the end came, broadcast historian Erik Barnouw wrote, Corwin had performers ready in both New York City and Los Angeles. 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. Corwin wrote a similar program for CBS, Fourteen August, which was broadcast on V-J Day.

Corwin was the first winner of the One World Award established by the Common Council for American Unity along with the (Wendell) Willkie Memorial of Freedom House. The award's winner was given an around the world trip. He won the award for his contributions in the field of mass communication to the concept of the world becoming more unified. In June 1946, he set out from New York for a 4-month journey. He interviewed both world leaders and ordinary citizens, accompanied by a CBS recording engineer with 225 pounds of magnetic wire recording equipment. His 100 hours of recorded interviews was transcribed and took up 3700 pages. The CBS network then molded his work into a 13 part documentary that was aired in the Winter and Spring of 1947. Programs featured Great Britain, Western Europe, Sweden and Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Egypt and India, Shanghai and Cities of the Far East, The Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand.[5]

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.[citation needed]

Composer David Raksin's "reverent orchestral theme" for the 1950 MGM film The Next Voice You Hear... was later published with original lyrics by Corwin as a hymn, "Hasten the Day".[6]

Middle career

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 (1961).

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 films which had won or been nominated for an Adademy Award.[7]

Corwin wrote several books, which include Trivializing America; plus many essays, letters, articles and plays.

Later career

In the 1980s Corwin was one of the writing teachers of J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the television series Babylon 5. Stracyzynski named a recurring character in the series, David Corwin,[8] after Norman. On the rec.arts.babylon5.moderated Usenet newsgroup, Stracyzynski wrote a series of posts on Norman Corwin's work.

During the 1990s, Corwin returned to radio drama, producing a series of radio plays for National Public Radio. In 1993, Corwin was finally inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame after a long career. And in 2001, NPR aired six new plays by Corwin under the title More By Corwin.[9] He also lectured at USC as a visiting professor[10] and was also on the Advisory Board of the National Audio Theatre Festival. Corwin celebrated his 100th birthday in May 2010. Corwin died at the age of 101 on October 18, 2011.[11]


"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.

Published works

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) was written in 1960; sole performance in 2000 at Brigham Young University. The opera exists in manuscript form only. Composer and Librettest unable to agree on terms for further use. Walter Scharf died in 2003.

See also


  1. "PPB Diamond Circle Recipients"
  2. Corwin's notes in "More by Corwin"
  3. "Norman Corwin's Radio Classic, 60 Years Later" National Public Radio sponsored a new version of this program in 1991, for the bicentennial of the United States Bill of Rights.
  4. Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Pp. 26–27.
  5. Keith, M.C. (2008). Norman Corwin's One World flight: The found journal of radio's greatest writer. Journal of Radio and Audio Media, 15, pp. 261–277.
  6. Kaplan, Alexander (2009). David Raksin. "David Raksin at MGM (1950–1957)". Film Score Monthly (CD online notes). Los Angeles, California, U.S. 12 (2).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Straczynski, J. Michael (Jms at B5) (1996-02-16). "Re:David Corwin". The J. Michael Straczynski Message Archive. Synthetic Worlds. Archived from the original on 2015-05-02. Retrieved 2015-05-02. Yes, David Corwin was named for Norman Corwin, whose work you should investigate if you do not know it. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Radio Hall of Fame". Norman Corwin. Retrieved 2011-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Grimes, William (2011-10-19). "Norman Corwin, Pioneer of Radio, Dies at 101". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • "Radio Hall of Fame". Norman Corwin. Retrieved 2011-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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