Legendary Radio Writer Norman Corwin Is Alive And Well At 100!

Feature by Willard Manus

Norman Corwin, the poet laureate of radio, celebrated his 100th birthday recently, at a bash sponsored by California Artists Radio Theatre and the Writers Guild. Corwin, now in his 85th year as a working writer, came to prominence in the middle of the 20th century, thanks to his radio dramas and comedies, most of which were broadcast over CBS and attracted huge national audiences.

Corwin's We Hold These Truths, the program he wrote, produced and directed on December 15, 1941, eight days after Pearl Harbor, attracted an audience of 60 million listeners. On a Note of Triumph, his most celebrated show, broadcast on the night of Germany's surrender in World War II and depicting the struggles, sacrifices and triumphs of the war years, began with these memorable lines:

"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 the afternoon."

Corwin also went on to write movie scripts (Lust For Life, theatre works (The Rivalry, based on the Lincoln-Douglas debates), poetry, essays and books, the latest of which, Norman Corwin's One World Flight, based on the journal of his four-month trip around the world in 1946, was published in 2009 with a foreword by Norman Lear. For the past 37 years Corwin has taught in the School of Journalism at USC, where he is Writer in Residence.

Corwin's interest in radio drama hasn't waned either, as evidenced by the numerous plays he has written and/or directed in recent years for California Artists Radio Theatre. CART, headed by Peggy Webber (a famous actress in radio's heyday), has won many national and international awards for its productions, all of which are performed before a live audience in L.A. and taped for later broadcast (and eventual release on CD).

Among the CART company members who took part in the Corwin Tribute were Marvin Kaplan, Shelley Long, Richard Herd, Phil Proctor, Ian Abercrombie, Norman Lloyd and Samantha Eggar. They performed excerpts from two of Corwin's works: his 1941 comedy, Mary and the Fairy, and his 1938 network debut show, Our Lady of the Freedoms, an inspirational drama about the building--and meaning--of the Statue of Liberty. Ed Asner narrated.

The Corwin tribute--a love fest, really--took place on a Saturday afternoon in the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, before a large audience that gave Corwin a standing ovation when he entered (in a wheelchair) and took his place of honor. Master of Ceremonies was Leonard Maltin, a fan of Corwin's from childhood, and there were personal tributes from Ray Bradbury, Carl Reiner, Norman Lloyd and Hal Kanter.

A Corwin lookalike, the latter introduced himself as the writer's "evil twin," and went on to say that, "in light of Norman's wellknown interest in young women, I have arranged a date for him--with a 95-year-old!"

"Norman Corwin's 100th Birthday Tribute," was adapted, produced and directed by Peggy Webber. The production engineer was Charles Abel; sound effects artist, Tony Palermo; music composer, Kenneth Stange.

For information about California Artists Radio Theatre, call 323-882-5l94 or visit calartistsradiotheatre.org