On Wednesday, Norman Corwin died.
Most of you probably haven’t heard of him, but he was one of radio’s true poets. He shouldn’t just be in the Radio Hall of Fame, he should have written everything in it.
Corwin’s best work was somewhere between impressionistic and surrealistic, as in, “On a Note of Triumph,” or the more whimsical, “The Odyssey of Runyon Jones,” for Columbia Workshop. I remember visiting the Museum of Broadcast Communications about 15 years ago. I didn’t find much radio by Corwin at the time, but there was a videotape of one of his early 70s TV shows. It was a lot like his radio: playing with ideas in a middle-brow, Clifton Fadimanesque sort of way.
His most famous piece was “On A Note of Triumph,” produced for VE Day, and heard by about 60 million Americans as a time when there were only 140 million of them. We used to listen to a lot of old time radio on those cross-country trips, and I remember hearing this one in the car, myself for the first time, my parents probably for the umpteenth. Here it is.
We can forgive his nods to Joe Stalin. After all, it was still 1945, the Russians had done the messy work of taking Berlin, and they were on our side.
Corwin also wrote a 1-hour homage to the Bill of Rights, titled, “We Hold These Truths.” Corwin was a pretty typical mid-century liberal, before the movement had become radicalized. So while the title derives from the Declaration of Independence, most understood that the Constitution was intended to safeguard our rights, and that the criticisms of it largely revolved around its failure to explicitly include a Bill of Rights. There’s nothing in there that a Tea Party activist could object to, and much he could cheer. For instance, his explanation of the 2nd Amendment, in the mouth of an average citizen reading it for the first time:
That means if somebody gets into office and turns sour on the the people that put him there, well he can’t vex us with a standing army he way George did before the war. No sir, we people of the states, if we got arms, nobody’s going to order us to do things that the majority of the people ain’t voted for. Least not without a fight.
Charles Kuralt did a one-hour homage to Corwin that I can’t possibly hope to match. You can hear it here. It, and the rest of the links here, are well worth your time.