Norman Corwin, ‘radio’s poet laureate,’ dies at 101

LOS ANGELES (JTA) – Norman Corwin, whose soaring plays gave luster to the golden age of radio in the 1930s and 1940s, has died at 101.

Corwin, who was acclaimed as the “bard of broadcasting” and “radio’s poet laureate,” died Oct. 18 at his home in Los Angeles.

Starting as a cub newspaper reporter at 17, without a high school degree, in 1938 Corwin started his decades-long association with the CBS Radio Network at a time when radio was the primary medium of news and entertainment for most Americans.

Two of the most admired works of the multifaceted writer, director and producer, still cited as classics of the genre, were the 1941 “We Hold These Truths,” marking the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, and the 1945 “On a Note of Triumph,” celebrating the Allied World War II victory in Europe.

Though Corwin was not observant — the Boston native was raised in a traditional Jewish home, but dropped out of Hebrew school before his bar mitzvah — many of his works were infused by the concepts and personalities of the Hebrew prophets. He also wrote about Israel with fervor and admiration.

Corwin expressed his Jewish sensibilities in a prayer concluding “On a Note of Triumph,” which was later incorporated into the Reform prayer book.

Hollywood’s brightest stars vied to be in his productions.

“There is not an actor who will not drop what he is doing to be in one of Norman Corwin’s radio stories,” the late actor Charles Laughton said. “We all look up to him as a writer of the greatest importance.”

During the early 1940s, CBS presented “26 by Corwin,” which required him to write, cast, direct and produce a new play every seven days for 26 weeks.

As part of the “Columbia Presents Corwin” series in 1944, Corwin penned an ardently Zionist tribute to Tel Aviv, and in 1960 he wrote the screenplay for “The Story of Ruth,” based on the biblical heroine. In another presentation he explored the meaning of prayer in “The Secretariat.”

In 1947, Corwin organized resistance to the congressional witch hunts with a program “Hollywood Fights Back.”

Corwin received numerous honors, including the One World Award, Peabody Medal, the Emmy Award and Golden Globe. He received an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay for “Lust for Life,” with Kirk Douglas portraying painter Vincent Van Gogh.

Corwin moved permanently to Los Angeles in 1948, and until his 100th year taught classes at the University of Southern California. He was married to Broadway actress Katherine Locke, who died in 1995.

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