Norman Corwin, who wrote verse dramas for network radio back in the days when such things were possible, has died at the age of 101. I had the great good fortune to interview him in 1996, and wrote about the experience in a column for Civilization that I subsequently posted on this blog:
This is how important Norman Corwin was: nine months before World War II ended, CBS commissioned him to write an original radio play to be broadcast on V-E Day. It was called On a Note of Triumph, and it made so powerful an impact that more than a few of its first listeners still remember parts of it word for word. “I’m going to interview Norman Corwin this morning,” I told an older friend of mine, who promptly rattled off its opening lines: Take a bow, G.I.,/Take a bow, little guy./The superman of tomorrow lies at the feet of you common men of this afternoon.
There was room on commercial radio for things like that, just as there was room for Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony, or Orson Welles directing Shakespeare. But it couldn’t last, and it didn’t. One day in 1948, Corwin ran into Bill Paley, the president of CBS, on a train from Pasadena to New York. “We’ve simply got to face up to the fact that we’re a commercial business,” Paley told his star playwright. “If we do not reach as many people as possible, then we’re not making the best use of our talent, our time, and our equipment.” At that moment, Corwin knew his own days at CBS were numbered. To make matters worse, 1948 was also the year network TV finally arrived, and it wasn’t long before radio itself was on the ropes, laid low by Milton Berle. To be sure, Corwin didn’t want for work after he left CBS–among other things, he wrote the script for Lust for Life, Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 film version of the life of Vincent Van Gogh–but the thing he loved best was a thing of the past….
Read the whole thing here.
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The Los Angeles Times obituary is here.
To listen to the 1945 CBS broadcast of On a Note of Triumph, starring Martin Gabel and scored by Bernard Herrmann, go here.
To listen to Corwin’s The Plot to Overthrow Christmas, as rebroadcast by CBS in 1942, go here.
My Wall Street Journal review of the Irish Repertory Theatre’s 2009 off-Broadway revival of The Rivalry, Corwin’s 1959 play about the Lincoln-Douglas debates, is here.
My 2006 “Sightings” column about Lust for Life is here.
Norman Corwin talks about writing On a Note of Triumph: