Norman Corwin, 1910-2011

Norman Corwin, America’s poet laureate of radio, has died at 101. From his obituary at the LA Times:

Norman Corwin, the legendary writer, director and producer of original radio plays for CBS during the golden age of radio in the 1930s and ’40s when he was revered as the “poet of the airwaves,” has died. He was 101.

Corwin, a journalist, playwright, author and Oscar-nominated screenwriter who was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993, died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles, said his caregiver, Chris Borjas. The cause was not given.

With his often poetic words, Corwin moved and entertained a generation of listeners tuned to the CBS Radio Network during the late 1930s and ’40s, with landmark broadcasts ranging from celebrations of the Bill of Rights and the Allied victory in Europe to a light-hearted rhyming play about a demonic plot to overthrow Christmas.

The obit goes on to quote praise of Mr. Corwin from Ray Bradbury, Norman Lear, and many others, living and dead.

Mr. Corwin’s “Big 4” radio dramas are:

  • Between Americans
  • We Hold These Truths, a celebration of the Bill of Rights
  • On a Note of Triumph, a paean to the end of World War II in Europe, frequently called “the greatest single radio broadcast of the 20th Century”
  • 14 August, written on hearing of the dropping of the atomic bomb and Japan’s surrender

You can listen to all four of these great programs in their original form here.

On a Note of Triumph opens:

So they’ve given up. They’re finally done in, and the rat is dead in an alley back of the Wilhelmstrasse.

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.

Here’s a lengthy quote from it, “The Prayer” segment:

Lord God of trajectory and blast,
Whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent
So it withers in the sun for the just to see,
Sheathe now the swift avenging blade with the names of nations writ on it,
And assist in the preparation of the plowshare.
Lord God of fresh bread and tranquil mornings,
Who walks in the circuit of heaven among the worthy,
Deliver notice to the fallen young men
That tokens of orange juice and a whole egg appear now before the hungry children;
That night again falls cooling on the earth as quietly as when it leaves Your hand;
That freedom has withstood the tyrant like a Malta in a hostile sea,
And that the soul of man is surely a Sevastopol
Which goes down hard and leaps from ruin quickly.
Lord God of the topcoat and the living wage
Who has furred the fox against the time of winter
And stored provender of bees in summer’s brightest places,
Do bring sweet influences to bear upon the assembly line:
Accept the smoke of the milltown among the accredited clouds of the sky:
Fend from the wind with a house and a hedge
Him who You made in Your image,
And permit him to pick of the tree and the flock,
That he may eat today without fear of tomorrow,
And clothe himself with dignity in December.
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 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.

Norman Corwin was the great celebrator of the America that never was, the America that I believe in, and we could sorely use him today. May he rest in peace.

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