Norman Corwin, 1910-2011, poet laureate of radio of the 1930s and 1940s
October 20, 2011 7:47 PM   Subscribe

"In radio there was never a term equivalent to boob tube or couch potato." — Norman Corwin, writer, director and producer in the golden age of radio, has died at the age of 101.

His memorable radio specials include "We Hold These Truths," broadcast 8 days after Pearl Harbor, which included a live address by President Roosevelt, and "On a Note of Triumph," broadcast on the day WWII ended in Europe. He also wrote and directed "The Undecided Molecule," a 1945 radio play in rhyme, starring Groucho Marx, Robert Benchley, and Vincent Price.
posted by exphysicist345 (21 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember reading recently that he was a hero of Rod Serling's but it never occurred to me that might still be alive. Quite a life he lived.
posted by jeffen at 8:04 PM on October 20, 2011


He was doing radio dramas for NPR only a few years ago. He also was a personal friend of William Shatner, so, of course, the Shat starred in his "The Curse of 589".
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:10 PM on October 20, 2011


Here is an audio tribute from my local public radio station. Love his self-penned obit.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:12 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Corwin's first radio drama was "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas" (audio player at bottom of page), which was aired in December 1938, six weeks after Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds". It didn't cause the same kind of panic, but it has been re-played and re-created almost as many times. (Here's the full script) The version I linked featured the voice of future Grandpa Walton Will Geer... no, NOT as Santa Claus... as The Devil. Also the narrator was a very young Henry Morgan (NOT to be confused with Harry Morgan). The sardonic radio satitist seemed to have a little trouble with the whimsical rhyming script. (It was also a year after Dr. Seuss published his first children's book - many have noted similarities.)

I recall seeing a TV re-creation on public TV in L.A. in 1969 that was one of the things that made me want to be on the radio. Sadly, I was a couple decades too late.

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posted by oneswellfoop at 8:36 PM on October 20, 2011


.

I love OTR and am thankful for his contributions.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:40 PM on October 20, 2011


"On a Note of Triumph."

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posted by Iridic at 8:41 PM on October 20, 2011


.

This past week I heard "The Undecided Molecule" on XM radio. It was fantastic.
posted by Jumpin Jack Flash at 8:51 PM on October 20, 2011


In radio there was never a term equivalent to boob tube or couch potato

Radio-inactive?
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:57 PM on October 20, 2011


"In radio there was never a term equivalent to boob tube or couch potato."

Radiohead?


On a Note of Triumph (May 1945)
"The superman of tomorrow lies at the foot of you common men of this afternoon...unspectacular but free..." Old fashioned radio bombast is overdue to come back in style.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:05 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK, the full quote is: “In radio there was never a term equivalent to boob tube or couch potato. The eye is so literal, whereas the ear makes a participant of the listener. The listener becomes the set designer, the wardrobe mistress, the casting director. You can listen to ‘Carmen’ on radio. Carmen in person may weigh 350 pounds, but to the listener she’s a beautiful, steamy lady with a rose in her teeth.”   [from the NYT obit]
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:12 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Twangy voice, folk guitar:

We're gonna tell the postman
next time he comes around
that Adolph Hitler's new address
is the Berlin buryin' ground.

Round and around Hitler's grave,
round and around we go,
gonna lay that filler down
so he won't get up no mo'

Hitler went to the Russian front
where every bullet missed him
caught a case of Stalingrad
that spread all through his system.

3 part harmony!
Round and around Hitler's grave, round and around we go...


This makes the American response to the death of Osama bin Laden look tasteful and restrained. On the other hand, Hitler.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:18 PM on October 20, 2011


That's Woody Guthrie's twangy voice. As for the subject matter, he kinda had a rep to keep up.
posted by Iridic at 9:26 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks Iridic. This is actually a lot less bloodthirsty than other WWII work I've heard from Woodie Guthrie:

People of every color
Marching side by side
Marching 'cross these fields
Where a million fascists died
You're bound to lose
You fascists bound to lose!


That's dancing on a mass grave.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:38 PM on October 20, 2011


.
posted by Kinbote at 9:45 PM on October 20, 2011


"In radio there was never a term equivalent to boob tube or couch potato."

Couple months ago, I took my zero interest, computer/Xbox game playing non-reading, basically idiot 14 year old nephew down to the local Radio Shack franchise, at the end of my street, to buy enough stuff to build a crystal tuned (cat whisker) AM set. They didn't have any of the basics, and none of their brain dead, tattoed, cell phone selling staff had any clue what a 1 micro-farad ceramic capacitor might even look like.

50 years ago, I was enthralled by the voices coming out of the night, on my own crystal set, to the point that I went to school nodding off at the bus stop, after being up all night, listening to Chicago, and Havana, and Nashville, and Corpus Christi, and other places that I'd look up on school maps and globes. Yeah, I get Facebook, and Twitter, and the Web, but no kid I know gets capacitors, resistors, or variable inductors, or the worth of remaining SSW stations.

Accessing a Web site isn't any personal link to someone far away, in the same way building a crystal set, and tuning a whisker, with a steady hand, in order to listen to someone talking into the dark, trying to reach you, was.

And that was the reason none of us, reaching out to receive, by the hand tuned microvolt, what was being sent, sometimes, by the hand charged, battery powered milliwatt, was ever a "boob" or a "couch potato." Unlike my idiot 14 year old nephew, who is flunking high school social studies, math and physical science, and who can't read at 6th grade level, but knows a lot about all the latest video games, and the iPhone 4S, whatever that is, but who, through the power of the Internet, knows, times several hundred porn sites, exactly what a "boob" looks like and is "supposed" to be.

When it is trivial to contact others, what they say, and what you exchange, is often nothing less than trivial/Twitter.

Yeah, grar, getoffamylawn, etc. After you build a working cat whisker AM set, using a single sided razor blade as your damned detector.
posted by paulsc at 9:45 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


a crystal tuned (cat whisker) AM set.

I built one of those when I was a kid... and it didn't work. All the grown ups had been talking for days about how awesome it would be to tune in all those far away stations, and then we turned out to be incompetent at radio-building. Talk about a let-down.
posted by Forktine at 11:37 PM on October 20, 2011


No radio slaves because radio goes with you -and it did even when radios had to be plugged in and "portables" with wet batteries weighed a ton. The sound is your companion, not your captor.
posted by Cranberry at 11:39 PM on October 20, 2011


paulsc et al: if you're looking for very basic radio bits, The Xtal Set Society is your friend.
posted by scruss at 4:33 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


jeffen: I remember reading recently that he was a hero of Rod Serling's but it never occurred to me that might still be alive.

It blows me away that Serling's influences outlived him by a long shot. His english teacher, Helen Foley, is still alive too.

Fun fact: the Art Carney character in the TZ classic Night of the Meek is named for Norman Corwin.

.
posted by dr_dank at 5:30 AM on October 21, 2011


local Radio Shack ... none of their brain dead, tattoed, cell phone selling staff had any clue...

At least during the decades that they put out a catalog every year ... and always had a copy on the counter ... you could whip that out and point to one. Next time ask for the parts section, can't be all that big any more.
posted by Twang at 5:34 AM on October 21, 2011


. ) ) ) ) ) )
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:19 AM on October 21, 2011


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