Norman Corwin on ‘The War of the Worlds’
It was one year ago today we lost Norman Corwin, the poet laureate of radio, at the age of 101.
During a career that spanned more than 80 years, Corwin wrote, produced and directed for radio, television, film and the stage. He won two Peabody Medals, an Emmy, and was nominated for an Academy Award for writing.
I was very fortunate to interview Corwin in 2008 for a piece on the legacy of Orson Welles' famed "The War of the Worlds" broadcast. He spoke with great affection about Welles and recalled his performance in Corwin's “We Hold These Truths,” a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights in 1941.
Corwin was working at CBS in New York on Oct. 30, 1938, the night Welles terrified listeners with a fictitious invasion from Mars. His memories of that night were still sharp 70 year later:
"I, then a director of radio for CBS, was in a studio exactly above the studio Welles occupied. I was rehearsing a documentary program and was completely unaware that Orson had emptied the living rooms of America."
"('The War of the Worlds') first demonstrated the up-to-then unrealized ubiquity of radio and its power to affect people - in this case to scare them out of their wits, and, in many cases, their homes. The fact that this effect was unintended and accidental only increased the surprise, shock, and dismay that it engendered."
A day after our interview, Corwin contacted me by email. In the correspondence, he shared an amusing anecdote about the broadcast.
"(The) next morning I called a friend of a mine who had worked in master control the night before, and asked him what time the last call came in. He answered after 1 in the morning. The caller, he said, was a man who sounded like a truck driver from New Jersey "Lissen, mister, are you the guys who broadcast that Mars program?" My friend admitted we were. and the caller went on, "Lissen here, man, my wife hoid that program and she got so scared she FLUNG open a door and FELL DOWN A WHOLE FLIGHT OF STAIRS! Jeez, it was a wunnaful program!"
Corwin was a writer in residence at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism until his death.
You can read the entire article with comments by Joseph McBride, Michael Harrison and others at www.masslive.com
Discuss "The War of the Worlds" broadcast at the Wellesnet Message Board.