The recent passing of radio great Norman Corwin led dramatist and television writer Jerome Coopersmith, a Jablow Award–winner and former Writers Guild of America, East, council member, to contribute this appreciation of Corwin’s career.
We studied him when I was in college, and we performed his radio plays as best we could in classrooms and on the college radio station. We lifted them from a collection called “13 By Corwin.” It was the best possible source to pirate from. Corwin was a giant in radio writing.
When I learned of his death in October last year at the age of 101, all I could think of saying was, “I hope you find Pootzy.” It was a reference to “The Odyssey of Runyon Jones,” his radio play about a little boy whose dog has died, and who sets out on an interstellar journey to find the pet. Is Pootzy in Dog Heaven or — God forbid — in Curgatory? The boy visits those places and meets such characters as Father Time and Mother Nature, getting from each of them some clues as to where Pootzy might be, until — hold onto your hat — until — did you think I would tell you the ending and rob you of that beautiful surprise? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
If you do, you’ll have caught the magic of Corwin. You’re not alone. His visions could easily be conveyed to anyone who reads or listens to his work — any child, any grownup, any President of the United States. When we entered World War II, when much of the world was engulfed in darkness, President Roosevelt proclaimed as our credo, “We Hold These Truths,” the masterful radio play by Corwin that celebrates our Bill of Rights. With Roosevelt’s approval, it was broadcast over four networks to an audience that was half of America’s population. And when the war ended, Corwin’s epic “On A Note of Triumph” was broadcast. It showed us again the kind of person he was. No “hip-hip-hooray, we won!” was heard, but rather a stirring prayer for a future of peace among all of mankind.
A grateful nation responded with a One World Award, two Peabody Medals, an Oscar® Nomination, an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and an unofficial title: Poet Laureate of the American Airwaves. But I like to think that Norman Corwin would have been warmed by a greater satisfaction — that of seeing the readers of this blog rushing out to their libraries… to find out what happened to Pootzy.
A radio and TV producer named Himan Brown, an important figure in media broadcasting, passed away in 2010. On December 10th, a dramatized history of his life which I wrote was performed at the Martin E. Segal Theatre, CUNY Studios, in New York.
Mr. Brown’s accomplishments in radio drama included “The Inner Sanctum” with its signature of a creaking door and the ghostly voice of Raymond welcoming you to that place. “The Inner Sanctum,” The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre,” and many of his other shows utilized thousands of scripts by our writers.
In the 1970’s, he produced a Madison Square Garden spectacle saluting Israel for defending itself successfully against an attack by her enemies. And he produced a short film starring Edward G. Robinson. In a courtroom setting (borrowed from “Perry Mason”) Robinson condemned the Soviet Union for its anti-Semitism. I was the author of that film.
The memorial event on December 10th was performed by a troupe of wonderful actors all of whom worked with Brown in the past. They included Marian Seldes, Tony Roberts, Bob Kaliban, Russell Horton, Roberta Maxwell, Jada Rowland, and Paul Hecht who directed the show. Vintage radio clips were provided by David Saviet. The tribute was produced by Melina Brown, Hi’s granddaughter.
The principal hope of Hi Brown in his later years was that the golden age of radio might be some day revived, a move that would be welcomed by us all. Especially by those of us who remember the unique rewards of radio, the locations created by sound and dialogue that become more vivid than million dollar sets; the unequaled adventures and pleasures arising from our own imaginations, aptly described by Hi Brown as “the joy of listening.”
Jerome Coopersmith is an award-winning dramatist whose work ranges from multiple episodes of Hawaii 5-0 to Broadway’s Baker Street (a musical adventure of Sherlock Holmes). His awards include a Tony Nomination (for Baker Street), a Robert E. Sherwood Award for television writing, and Best New Play of 1998 (Reflections of a Murder) awarded by the Charlotte Repertory Theatre Festival.