Norman Corwin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Norman Corwin
Norman Corwin with typewriter, 1973
Norman Lewis Corwin

(1910-05-03)May 3, 1910
DiedOctober 18, 2011(2011-10-18) (aged 101)
  • Writer
  • producer
  • director
  • professor
(m. 1947; died 1995)

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. His work was very influential on successful creative and performing artists, including Ray Bradbury, Charles Kuralt, The Firesign Theatre, Robert Altman, and Robin Williams among many others.

He was born to Samuel and Rose Corwin in Boston, Massachusetts. A major figure during the Golden Age of Radio, his work was very influential both at the time and later. He has been called "The Grand Master Of American Audio Theatre." 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. After leaving the CBS Network, he was Head of Special Media Programming for the United Nations in the early 1950s, producing radio programs explaining the U.N.'s organization and goals, and documenting some of its efforts worldwide. He was a lecturer in Journalism at the University of Southern California until he was 97.

Corwin won a One World Award, two Peabody Medals, an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, 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]

On Corwin's 100th Birthday, the Writers Guild Of America West gave him a "Gala" in Hollywood, which was hosted by Leonard Maltin and featured live performances of two of his favorite works and birthday speeches and reminiscences by many people, including Carl Reiner, Hal Kanter, William Shatner, and others. On that occasion, the National Audio Theatre Festival organization announced the creation of the Norman Corwin Award for Excellence in Audio Theatre, which is given annually to an individual or group who have made significant contributions to the art form in the United States.

Early years[edit]

Norman Lewis Corwin was the third of four children. His parents were Rose, a homemaker, and Sam, a printer.[2] They raised their family in East Boston, MA, before moving to Winthrop, MA when Norman was thirteen. Norman graduated from Winthrop High School, but unlike his brothers, he did not attend college. His earliest goal was to be a writer.[3] Because of his interest in writing, he sought a position in journalism and was ultimately hired by the Greenfield (MA) Recorder as a cub reporter when he was only seventeen.[4] In Greenfield, he reported on the courts and was also a film critic.[5] Several years later, Corwin was hired by the Springfield (MA) Republican.

Radio career[edit]

While living and working in Springfield in the early 1930s, he became involved with radio broadcasting. He first worked as the radio editor of the Springfield Republican[6] and subsequently began broadcasting his own radio program. The date of his first broadcast has been reported as early as 1931 by R. Leroy Bannerman;[7] but the Springfield (MA) Republican reported that his first program, Rhymes and Cadences, a show during which Corwin read poetry, and his friend Benjamin Kalman offered musical interludes on the piano, debuted in March 1934 on WBZ in Boston and WBZA in Springfield.[8] As radio editor of the Republican, he became known for his column "Radiosyncracies," which he published under the pseudonym 'Vladimir Shrdlu.' He also worked as a news commentator over WBZ and WBZA.[9] In June 1935, Corwin accepted an executive position in Cincinnati at station WLW.[10] By 1937, Corwin was hired to host a poetry program called "Poetic License" on New York station WQXR, which led to his being hired by the CBS Radio Network to produce and direct cultural programs. He remained with CBS until 1949.[11]

The first program he produced and hosted for CBS was "Words Without Music," the goal of which, Corwin said, was to make poetry more entertaining. It went on the air over CBS affiliate WABC in New York in early December 1938.[12] Corwin continued to produce and host a wide range of programs for CBS. In December 1941, he created a program to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the United States Bill of Rights: We Hold These Truths was first broadcast on December 15, 1941. Corwin said it was written at the "invitation" of the U.S. Office of Facts and Figures. He recalled 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.'"[13] 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.[14] In 1941, he received a Peabody Award for that program.[15]

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.[16]

Corwin's 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 Compiègne forest covering the French surrender to Germany. Corwin wrote a similar program for CBS, Fourteen August, which was broadcast on V-J Day. This critically acclaimed broadcast earned him a Distinguished Achievement Award from Radio Life magazine.[17]

Corwin was also 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.[18] 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.[19]

Post-CBS career[edit]

After leaving CBS in March 1949, Corwin went to work for the radio division of the United Nations;[20] in charge of special projects, his first production was "Citizen of the World" in July 1949.[21] He ultimately left radio around 1952; some sources say he was frustrated by what he felt was radio's over-reaction to Mccarthyism;[22] other sources say he left radio after persistent accusations that he was a Communist sympathizer, a charge which he always vehemently denied.[23] The House Un-American Activities Committee also named him among a number of other entertainers and performers in a 1951 list of alleged Communist sympathizers. The list included conductor Leonard Bernstein, actor Lee J. Cobb, and architect Frank Lloyd Wright.[24] After leaving radio, Corwin and produced some work for television, including his first televised play, "Ann Rutledge," which starred Grace Kelly.[25] He also 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 Academy Award.[26] Corwin wrote several books, which include Trivializing America; plus many essays, letters, articles and plays.

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,[27] after Norman. On the rec.arts.babylon5.moderated Usenet newsgroup, Stracyzynski wrote a series of posts on Norman Corwin's work.

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".[28]

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.[29] He also lectured at USC as a visiting professor[30] 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.[31]

Marriage, children, and family[edit]

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.

The Corwin family had longevity in its genes. Norman's father, Samuel, died in 1987 at age 110. His older brother, Emil, retired at 96 from a distinguished federal government career, and died in 2011 at age 107. Norman Corwin also died in 2011, at age 101.

Religious views[edit]

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.


"Golden Age" works in radio drama[edit]

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[edit]

In recent years National Public Radio commissioned a number of new plays by Corwin; the series was called More By Corwin.

Published works[edit]

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.


  1. ^ "PPB Diamond Circle Recipients"
  2. ^ William Grimes. "Norman Corwin, Pioneer of Radio, Dies at 101." New York Times, October 19, 2011, p. B18.
  3. ^ R. Leroy Bannerman. Norman Corwin and Radio. University of Alabama Press, 2002, pp. 14–17.
  4. ^ William Grimes. "Norman Corwin, Pioneer of Radio, Dies at 101." New York Times, October 19, 2011, p. B18.
  5. ^ "For Radio Listeners." Washington (DC) Evening Star, June 10, 1945, p. C9.
  6. ^ "Will Take Position with Station WLW." Springfield (MA) Republican, June 10, 1935, p. 4.
  7. ^ R. Leroy Bannerman. Norman Corwin and Radio. University of Alabama Press, 2002, p. 17.[ISBN missing]
  8. ^ "Rhymes and Cadences Opens This Afternoon." Springfield (MA) Republican, March 27, 1934, p. 11.
  9. ^ "Bazar by St. James Guild Will Be Event in East Springfield." Springfield (MA) Republican, December 8, 1935, p. 4C.
  10. ^ "Will Take Position with Station WLW." Springfield (MA) Republican, June 10, 1935, p. 4.
  11. ^ William Grimes. "Norman Corwin, Pioneer of Radio, Dies at 101." New York Times, October 19, 2011, p. B18.
  12. ^ "Radio Programs and Highlights of Nearby Stations." Lexington (KY) Herald, December 4, 1938, p. 2.
  13. ^ Corwin's notes in More by Corwin
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ "Award in Drama to be Given Friday to Corwin." Springfield (MA) Republican, April 5, 1942, p. 10.
  16. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  17. ^ "Sideshow of Radio Attractions." Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, June 30, 1946, p. D9.
  18. ^ "Norman Corwin Receives Honor." Springfield (MA) Republican, February 19, 1946, pp. 1, 16.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "Corwin With UN." Springfield (MA) Union, March 15, 1949, p. 24.
  21. ^ "Programs on the Air." Canton (OH) Repository, July 6, 1949, p. 21.
  22. ^ William Grimes. "Norman Corwin, Pioneer of Radio, Dies at 101." New York Times, October 19, 2011, p. B18.
  23. ^ "Informants' FBI Reports Read In Court." Canton (OH) Repository, June 9, 1949, pp. 1, 8.
  24. ^ "Solons Hang Red Label on Two Oscar Winners." Portland Oregonian, April 5, 1951, p. 7.
  25. ^ "Sunday Highlights." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 12, 1950, p. T12.
  26. ^ "The Telegraph" – via Google News Archive Search.
  27. ^ 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.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  28. ^ Kaplan, Alexander (2009). David Raksin. "David Raksin at MGM (1950–1957)". Film Score Monthly (CD online notes). Los Angeles, California. 12 (2).
  29. ^ "Radio Hall of Fame". Norman Corwin. Archived from the original on 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2011-04-28.
  30. ^ "Norman Corwin - People at USC". Archived from the original on 2010-08-26. Retrieved 2010-12-08.
  31. ^ Grimes, William (2011-10-19). "Norman Corwin, Pioneer of Radio, Dies at 101". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-13.

Further reading[edit]

  • Jacob Smith and Neil Verma (eds.), Anatomy of Sound: Norman Corwin and Media Authorship. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016.[ISBN missing]
  • Wayne Soini, Norman Corwin; His Early Life and Radio Career, 1910–1950. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2021. ISBN 978-1476686417


Listen to[edit]

External links[edit]