- Published on Amazon.com
I grew up in the era when Radio was the King of home entertainment, sharing dominance with film for being the most universal source of entertainment for the bulk of the American people. During that same limited period, the 1930's and most of the 1940's, some few executives and employees of the two major networks (the third, now ABC, being owned by the same company as owned NBC and the fourth, Mutual, being a coalition of local stations) shared a dream of radio not only as the source of instantaneous news, far faster than newspapers could manage, but also of enlightenment through serious drama, music, poetry and information of all sorts not just 'news'. In the front ranks of those who, for the briefest of times, historically viewed, were allowed to create programming consonant with this objective was Norman Corwin. In memorable broadcasts he provided laughs, historical perspective, views of our world and its people as they were, and just about everything his fertile imagination could produce. He was writer, reporter, director and, sometimes, narrator and introducer, of these programs, which employed many of the best actors, composers and musicians around. Then, simultaneously, came television, the House and Senate Committees to attack free speech in America, and the increasing demand made upon programming in both television and radio, to have big audiences that would bring in the bucks. Since few of the innovative programs could pay their way (many found no sponsors forcing the networks to absorb all costs) these declined to almost nothing by the end of the 50's, with only an occasional program or series (starring a big name or 'hot' topic) could find a home (save on PBS which did not have the money to do what the networks could do). About this time, I, along with most of the vast radio audience, lost sight of Norman Corwin. After a while, the memory faded and for most it was as if he had died.
When I thought of Corwin, that was pretty much my outlook. My life began with the emergence of Big Time Radio and Corwin was part of those decades. Now, being an old radio program fan, I only thought of him when I would buy one or another of the few things someone had dug up, from who knows where, in which he had had a hand. Just a few weeks ago, the end of 2014, in watching my disc of 'Lust for Life', as the credits rolled by, I saw his name as scriptwriter. From there, it was to Amazon to see if there were any books about him; yes, and this was the one I bought.
Amazingly, he had lived until 2011, dying at the age of 101 (his father lived for 110 years). The last letter in the book is dated 1994, the first, 1927. When he became a journalist early in life (he did not go to College), he began to keep carbon copies of all his letters, which came to about ten thousand when the idea of publishing them appealed to him since a lengthy biography upon which he had worked for years, in his limited spare time, appeared beyond completion.
Throughout this lengthy work, his letters are rich in expressions of his life and work, in his interest in the lives and creations of his correspondents, and in his views of the media, politics and life of the people of the United States and the world. They are very personal expressions and very analytical when that is what is called for. They are well written. To this reader, they were fascinating and, as intended, were read as a single story, not as something to be dipped into now and again, as one wanted something brief to fill a limited reading need. They should be of interest to anyone with a concern in radio, television, movies, stage and the concert world, since he participated in all of these. They also, peripherally for the most part, give expression to the outlook of a lifelong Democrat and Liberal who stoutly remained convinced, at least for the years to age 84, that the political opposition was no better than the back end of a jackass. I was not disturbed by this fact, partly because it is a quite minor part of the totality of the letters and, partly, because, while not sharing much that he expresses about the period following World War 2 and the death of FDR, it was interesting to see the views of a man dedicated to decent human values, no matter how distant from mine was his outlook on how and who might best help the achievement of these. If you are a reader with strongly held opposing views you might well find the book a bit irritating. No matter what the difference in political views, if you want to get some insight into the problems of carrying through a project in any of the media upon which he touched and upon some aspects of the media of the period in which he lived, then this is an excellent vehicle to achieve that purpose.