Saturday, October 22, 2011

Radio's Poet Laureate Norman Corwin Passes On

Norman Corwin, who wrote, produced, and directed radio plays of such quality for CBS that he became known as "the poet laureate of radio," passed on 18 October 2011 at the age of 101.

Norman Corwin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on 3 May 1910. He began his career as a newspaper journalist with The Greenfield Daily Recorder-Gazette. Two years later he took a job with The Springfield Republican. At the same time Mr. Corwin was working at The Sprinfield Republican, he read the nightly news at WBZA. While at WBZA he debuted his first radio show, Rhymes and Cadences, on which he read poetry.  He later moved to New York City where he wrote publicity for 20th Century Fox. It was at this time that he approached what would be come the radio station WXQR with the proposal of a poetry show. Poetic Licence  would catch the attention of CBS, who hired him in 1938 as their director of dramatic programmes.

Norman Corwin would have an immediate success with Norman Corwin's Words Without Music. It was the first time a writer's name was used in the title of a radio show. CBS would later put him in charge of The Columbia Workshop. It aired without a sponsor and without interference from the network. Norman Corwin would later be given the show Columbia Presents Corwin. Throughout his years in radio he wrote some of the best known and critically acclaimed radio plays of all time. "We Hold These Truths" was commissioned by the United States government for the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. He wrote "On a Note of Triumph" as a morale booster for the nation and its troops late during World War II. Although best known for his more serious works, Mr. Corwin was also known to work in humour. "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas" was a perfect example of this. It was a rhyming play about a demonic scheme to do away with the holiday.

Mr. Corwin would also work in film. In 1943 he wrote the morale booster film Forever and a Day. In 1944 he provided the story for the film Once Upon a Time. In 1950 he would expand into television with a teleplay with The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. The Fifties would see him working as a writer in some capacity on such films as The Blue Veil (1951), The Band Wagon (1953), Moby  Dick (1956), No Place to Hide (1956), and The Story of Ruth (1960). He wrote screenplay for Lust for Life (1956), for which he received an Oscar nomination.

In the Sixties he wrote the films as Madison Avenue (1962) and The General and The Cockeyed Id (1964). He also wrote episodes of the series F.D.R.  The Seventies saw Norman Corwin with his own television show, Norman Corwin Presents, which ran for one season in 1972. He also wrote two Broadway plays: The Rivalry (1959) and The World of Carl Sandburg (1960).  Mr. Corwin later return to radio, producing radio dramas for National Public Radio.

Larry Gelbart, the veteran of Caesar's Hour who brought M*A*S*H to television, referred to Norman Corwin as "the Bard of Broadcasting." He was widely known as "the poet laureate of radio." There can be no doubt that Mr. Corwin deserved these titles. He was among the first creators in mass media to have nearly total control of his work, not only writing but producing and directing his radio shows as well. He was also one of the first creators in radio or television to deal with serious issues in his works. He would become an inspiration not only for Larry Gelbart, but also such other television writers as Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry, and Norman Lear.  Norman Corwin demonstrated that not only could radio aspire to be more than melodramas and music, but that it could even be high art. In a career spanning decades, he left a mark as no other radio writer could.

1 comment:

Toby O'B said...

A great tribute to a great man, Merc.....