Thursday, October 20, 2011


By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times

October 19, 2011
Norman Corwin, the legendary writer, director and producer of original radio plays for CBS during the golden age of radio in the 1930s and '40s when he was revered as the "poet of the airwaves," has died. He was 101.

Corwin, a journalist, playwright, author and Oscar-nominated screenwriter who was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1993, died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles, said his caregiver, Chris Borjas. The cause was not given.

With his often poetic words, Corwin moved and entertained a generation of listeners tuned to the CBS Radio Network during the late 1930s and '40s, with landmark broadcasts ranging from celebrations of the Bill of Rights and the Allied victory in Europe to a light-hearted rhyming play about a demonic plot to overthrow Christmas.

He also wrote for the movies, getting an Academy Award nomination in 1957 for his script "Lust For Life", about Vincent Van Gogh.

In 1972, Group W presented a television anthology series called 'Norman Corwin Presents'. One of his stories, "You Think You've Got Troubles?", has stayed with me for two reasons. One was the fact that the main character - a "Martian" who considered his planet to be named Delala - was played by one of my favorite actors, Michael Dunn, the man who gave life to my all-time favorite TV character Dr. Miguelito Loveless.

The second reason was this final speech given by the Martian:

Since I shall, against my will, be leaving you shortly, I have asked permission to sum up my impressions of this planet and of the life I have observed here at some slight remove from it.

Let me put it this way, you human beings are god-like in many ways, and lower than the ant in many others. You can fly the air and swim under the sea, and fling your voice around the world. You can turn night into day by the flick of a switch, you can take pictures of your insides from without. You weigh the earth you stand on, harness the pull of the magnetic pole, blast off into the vacuum of illimitable space and scrape your feet on the sand pits of the Moon.
Yet when you wonder men are given a problem in humaneness, such as how to keep from killing several million other wonder men just like yourselves every twenty years or so, you're baffled. You who have formulas for harmony and chemistry and the speed of light and the annihilation of primal matter; you who understand the most profound mathematics, you still divide so poorly that there is want among abundance. You can build a city overnight and yet there are people without shelter. You understand the meaning of the spectrum of a star and yet not the meaningless of the color of a skin. You comprehend the structure of a leaf, split the atom, teach whales to frolic and fleas to dance. Yet you don't know how to grasp the simplest truths and bend them to your will.

Yet... I did not despair for you. For always within you are the seeds of your own betterment and one day they will sprout.

I knew when I first heard Michael Dunn speak those words that it might make for a good monologue for the acting classes I would be taking once I got into college. However, back then I didn't have the means to record it and then transcribe it. And I thought it lost until I found it again at the Paley Center for Media in New York as part of a 1990's TV special about Norman Corwin and his works. That special is now available for online viewing at and I highly recommend it.

But that speech has come to mean far more than just a monologue; it's message has perhaps even more meaning today. And like everything Corwin wrote, it will resonate long after his death, and perhaps even after all of ours as well.

Good night and may God bless.


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