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One World Flight header art

The One World Flight Radio Program

Dee-Scription: Home >> D D Too Home >> Radio Logs >> One World Flight
Wendell Willkie arrives on an ATC DC-8 at Cairo Airport during his own One World Flight
Wendell Willkie arrives on an ATC DC-8 at Cairo Airport during his own One World Flight

Wendell Willkie and unidentified constituent read Willkie's One World manuscript circa 1941
Wendell Willkie and unidentified constituent read Willkie's One World manuscript circa 1941

This Pierce wire recorder is similar to that used by Lee Bland, the CBS engineer who recorded Norman Corwin's interviews and observations during their 37,000 mile flight around the world
This Pierce wire recorder is similar to that used by Lee Bland the CBS engineer who recorded Norman Corwin's interviews and observations during their 37,000 mile flight around the world.

Time Magazine cover of their Monday, January 27 1947 with an article about The World and Norman Corwin
Time Magazine cover of their Monday, January 27 1947 with an article about The World and Norman Corwin

Wendell Willkie's best-selling One World first published in 1943
Wendell Willkie's best-selling One World first published in 1943

Lee Bland and Norman Corwin embark on their One World Flight
Lee Bland and Norman Corwin embark on their One World Flight

Norman Corwin's personal logs were used to prepare Michael Keith and Mary Watson's fascinating One World Flight: The Lost Journal of Radio's Greatest Writer.
Norman Corwin's personal logs were used to prepare Michael Keith and Mary Watson's fascinating One World Flight: The Lost Journal of Radio's Greatest Writer.

Background: The One World concept

One World--the phrase that has struck cold chills of naked fear into every Republican and Dixiecrat worth their elephant ears since the time of Abraham Lincoln himself. The notion that the Earth's inhabitants are all in a joint undertaking to keep peace, prosper as individual nationalities, stand ready to help neighbor or fellow nations to recover from catastrophic natural adversity, and to progress as a planet of forward thinking, past-wisened cooperative member nations.

A pretty lofty notion to be sure:

  • the notion that the League of Nations and the United Nations and NATO sprang from
  • the notion that disarmament conferences and international climate conferences sprang from
  • the notion that international relief efforts have sprung from over the years
  • the notion that a world community of well-meaning citizen-nations can work better together than individually for the ultimate benefit of the planet as a whole

The term 'One Worlder', a popular Republican perjorative of the 21st Century, comes from an unlikely source: a twice-failed Republican candidate for President of The United States, who accomplished more for his country by failing to gain its presidency than if he'd have succeeded.

Wendell Willkie, a former democratic businessman and successful corporate attorney, switched parties to enter the 1940 Republican Presidential Convention and Presidential race as a Republican. Though wildly successful in making the switch, gaining his new party's nomination and running against a highly popular Democratic President, the Republican voters throughout the nation never really trusted Willkie. He famously lost to FDR by over 5,000,000 votes in 1940.

But it was as an emissary of the United States that Willkie most contributed to national security. Willkie wasn't simply a rainy day one-worlder. He saw the bigger picture. He witnessed the big picture first-hand. He wasn't simply another chicken-hawk posturing for the war-related industrial military complex continuency back home. He put the pieces together as they were presented to him.

When he returned home after that four-month odyssey, he returned home a different man. Within eight months he'd written and published One World, his treatise about the concept of One World of nations, all aware of each others' obligations, expectations and individual aspirations. One World within which The Golden Rule is not only the morally correct universal philosophy, but an economically imperative philosophy as well. One of Willkie's final observations from One World's chapter, Our Imperialisms At Home, follows:

"Freedom is an indivisible word. If we want to enjoy it, we must be prepared to extend it to everyone, whether they are rich or poor, whether they agree with us or not, no matter what their race or the color of their skin. We cannot, with good conscience, expect the British to set up an orderly schedule for the liberation of India before we have decided for ourselves to make all who live in America free."

In cooperation with The Foreign Policy Association, The Willkie Memorial of Freedom House, and The Common Council for American Unity, Wendell Willkie inaugurated the One World Award, awarding a grant of a world tour similar to that taken by Willkie himself, to an individual exemplifying the spirit of the One World ideal. That first annual award was given to playwright, Norman Corwin, in recognition of the innumerable other projects he'd undertaken with both CBS and in aid of The CIA, The War Department, or the State Department over the years.

Willkie's One World becomes Corwin's One World Flight

From the February 17th, 1947 edition of the Canton Repository:

47-02-17 One World Flight Crosby Review
WHILE IN MOSCOW on his round-the-world air trip, Norman Corwin, whose "One World Flight" series of broadcasts may be heard Tuesday nights (CBS 10 p.m.), interviewed among other persons Vasillii Ardamatsky, the Soviet radio committee's chief editor of literature broadcasts.  The interview contained hte usual amount of cautious gobbledygook characteristic of all statements from Soviet officialdom, but it also revealed that Russian audiences are not much different than our own.     "The (Russian) listeners," said Mr. Ardamatsky, "like good broadcasts . . . They want high quality."     "How do they indicate that they want high quality--by letters?" asked Mr. Corwin.
     "WE HAVE read a good many letters on making bad broadcasts," said Mr. Ardamatsky.  "They all send in a great many letters which make sad reading."  This is an experience shared by all American broadcasters, who may find comfort in knowing the Russian masses are not so oppressed they can't find time to squawk about radio programs.     "How long does it take them to forgive you?" asked Mr. Corwin.  The Russian's answer is a classic.  The Russian listeners, he said, were quick to forgive the broadcasters for an annoying program because five other equally annoying broadcasts soon came along to distract their attention.     In this respect, Mr. Ardamatsky pointed out triumphantly, Russian radio was no different from radio in any other country.
     THE INTERVIEW was transcribed on a wire recorder and in conclusion Mr. Corwin asked Mr. Ardamatsky to deliver some message to the American people "about radio, about peace, about the future."     The Russian's candor instantly disappeared at the mention of such controversial words as "peace" and "the future."  His reply indicated that Mr. Ardamatsky will never get into any trouble with the Kremlin for making loose statements.     "I prefer to talk about the weather," he said.  "The weather shouldn't be upset by all sorts of artificially manufactured storms . . . I say--weather of the world, clear!"
     "FOR YOUR APPROVAL" (Mutual 5 p.m. Saturdays) is a showcase for new radio programs tried out for listener reaction and presented in the wistful hope that some advertiser may be interested enough to sponsor some of them.     The program is less experimental than CBS's "Columbia Workshop" and is conducted on a far lower plane.  Nevertheless, it does offer an outlet for new and untested programs.  Most of the recent innovations have been quiz programs, as if there weren't enough of that commodity on the air already.  However, one of them, "The Seven Arts Quiz," was a fairly literate program as quiz shows go.  Here are a few of the questions:     1.  A certain popular movie star is known in Italy as Topolino, in Sweden as Musse Pig, in Japan as Mikikuchi, in Central America as El Raton Miguelito.  What do Americans call him?     2.  What were the sources of the book titles "The Grapes of Wrath," "The Sound and the Fury," "Of Mice and Men" and "For Whom the Bell Tolls"?     3.  Who said, "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair?"     4.  What composers wrote into their scores (a) a wind machine (b) a typewriter?     5.  In what American play is there a family called the St. Clares?
     THE ANSWERS:  1.  Mickey Mouse.  2.  In order:  "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Macbeth," Robert Burns' poem "To a Mouse," a sermon by John Doone.  3.  It wasn't Sinclaire Lewis but Mary Heaton Vorse.  4.  (a)  Richard Strauss in "Don Quixote."  (b) Ferde Grofe in "Tabloid."  5.  "Uncle Tom's Cabin."  

From the Monday, Jan. 27, 1947 edition of Time Magazine:

Radio: The World & Norman Corwin

The nearest (though not very near) thing to a fine artist in the medium of U.S. radio is Norman Corwin. Few dramatists reach so wide an audience—a fact that last February helped him win the first Wendell Willkie One World Award: a round-the-world trip designed to dramatize, as did Willkie's, the adjacence of everywhere.

Corwin took off in June with CBS Recorder Lee Bland and 225 pounds of magnetic wire-recording equipment. Four months, 42,000 miles and 16 countries later they had 100 hours of recorded interviews with prince and fellah, commissar and coolie, pundit and stevedore. The English transcript filled 3,700 typed pages. For three months Corwin, four recording engineers and six typists chewed at this great bulk, finally worked it down to a hard core. Last week, the first of 13 One World Flight broadcasts incorporating the material was aired over CBS.

It was a shrewd paste-up of the clipping from Corwin's recording tape, connected by thin strips of narrative and commentary. In trying to give a serious, upright report, Corwin occasionally let his show lag, repeat itself, get incoherent. But at its many high points One World Flight had a sudden, heady power. The high points were all excerpts from Corwin's wonderfully perceptive, intimate sound track.

  • A London peddler, howling unintelligible Cockney among gear groans and horn toots: "Cut iris, cut cauliflower, Yorkshire blue peas and brand new potatoes."
  • The low, agile, almost dainty voice of Clement Attlee, gently remonstrating: "After all ... you can't expect all the problems of that war, and a good many left over from the first world war, to disappear overnight. . . ."
  • The minor, nerve-scraping chant of Arab women on Egypt's Independence Day.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru's voice, as full of infinitesimal currents as the Ganges, and as mysterious: "People are not alike. Nations are not alike. Everybody is not the same or as clever or strong as everybody else."
  • Mikail M. Borodin, editor of the Moscow Daily News, in English as thick as borsch: And there are people who would start a world conflagration . . . in order that it be warm. . . ."
  • The Widow Camelia of Lanuvio, Italy, who lost her husband, her two children and most of her other relatives in a bombardment, telling her story in a voice so astoundingly massive that she might be speaking the mourning of all Europe.

Said Corwin diffidently of his work: "I hope you'll excuse the pretentious comparison, but I think of the series like Pathfinder planes which precede a raid and light a target. My series may not score a hit, but it may light up an area that has not hitherto been explored. . . . Anyway, it's all there for history, if history is interested."

Mrs. Wendell Willkie and William Paley bid Norman Corwin God's speed prior to embarking on his four-month flight tour.
Mrs. Wendell Willkie and William Paley bid Norman Corwin God's speed prior to embarking on his four-month flight tour.

It was that One World grant that made it possible for Norman Corwin to embark on his own 37,000 mile journey of discovery of the One World ideal that Willkie had envisioned:

  • What had the intervening World War done to that ideal?
  • How had it affected the international community's resolve to approach, reevaluate, or continue to undertake Willkie's obvservations of a One World philosophy?
  • Was a war-weary world even prepared to address such an undertaking?

Those are the questions Norman Corwin and his crew hoped to answer--or at the least address--during their 37,000 globe circling journey.

From the Billboard Magazine review of January 25, 1947:

Superb Corwin Preem Reveals Bigotry, Ignorance Rampant

By Jerry Franken
     NEW YORK, Jan 18.--One World Flight, a 13-week series based on material gathered by Norman Corwin on his recent round-the-world flight under the auspices of the Willkie Foundation and the Common Council for American Unity, had its preem Tuesday (14) over CBS at 10 p.m.  The program is one that is lofty in purpose, compelling in its simplicity and frightening in much of its content.  It is a superb example of the great work radio documentaries, in the hands of an outstanding writer, can do.  It is--at least if the first program was any indication--devoid of arty, phony theatricalism -- for Corwin knows that the dramatic nature of his material needs no lily gilding.  And it is, finally, and most unfortunately, destined to be heard by a minuscule portion of the available radio audience, because CBS has seen fit to put the program in the death watch, opposite Bob Hope.

     For the fact is that, to some measure, the news of Corwin's program itself was overshadowed by CBS's neat nip-up, preaching one policy and practicing another.  It is all very well for Bill Paley to make a high-minded speech at the recent NAB convention.  It is all very well to inaugurate a Lyman Bryson get-to-know-radio program Sunday afternoons.  But when the chips are down and an opportunity is presented to sock really a good-sized audience with so vital a public service program as Flight, CBS apparently prefers easy preachments to actual practice.  Web has, for instance, Sunday from 2 to 2:30 p.m. open just for the record.
          War and Peace
     Fact is that Corwin, and his medium CBS , have a momentous something to tell radio listeners.  That something is that many of the same forces--ignorance, intolerance and bigotry--which led to World War II are just as strong today as they were when Fascism first went on the prowl in Spain and Germany.  If there was any keynote to the first program of the series it was that while millions hope for the future, their hopes are offset by the despair engendered by those who adhere to intolerance.

     Initial stanza set the tenor of the remainder of the series, presenting a vocal mosaic of interviews tape-recorded by Corwin and Lee Bland during their flight.  Quality of the recordings was, unhappily, more than casually inferior, but the grim statements of many of the interviewees counteracted it.  Later programs will relate flight details, stop by stop, first show giving an all-over impression.

     Format was simple, with Corwin as narrator, and using contrasting interviews, many of which were in foreign languages and translated by on-the-spot interpreters.  One such interviews, with an Italian woman who lost virtually her entire family, was, perhaps the program's leit-motiv.  Recording, on which the woman told of the loss of her husband and two of her three children, her lack of money to feed either herself or her remaining son, concluded with the weeping woman expressing her sorrow and her fears that "she has no idea at all what she can hope to look for."
          Fears New Hostilities
     Others whose voices were heard included a Danish cabinet officer, "I am very much afraid of it (another world war) in fact"; a Russian editor," ...The reactionaries are still cherishing the hope of some day using Fascism in order to kill you and me and every man...who professes...Democracy"' the Australian dock-hand who admired Hitler and his practice of anti-Semitism; the anti-Russian Filipino woman, who despite first-hand war experiences was still, incredibly, for war against the Soviet; and the American officer who shared her viewpoints and who, according to an interview with a woman UNRRA worker, rated a punch in the puss from a fellow-officer for expressing his sentiments--on V-J Day at that.

     There were others more hopeful--but the pro-war element, to this reporter, seemed to dominate, topped off by the moving, heart-rending closing, in which Corwin repeated a fragment of the widow's interview and concluded:  "This voice, and the echo of guns only lately stilled, and the silence of the cemeteries...The begging of alms, and the whimper of hungry children; this voice, and the mute rubble of wasted towns and cities--these were the sounds of need:  Need for the hope and for the reality of a united world."
          Corwin Good Choice
     Selection of Corwin as winner of the first Willkie Flight Award, on the basis "of contributions already made to this ideal," was a singularly happy one.  The material with which he has returned amply justifies the selection, too.  One World Flight is a program which should be heard universally--how sad that CBS's "business as usual" tactics have hindered its progress.

Mr. Franken's article raises some interesting insights into the scheduling and production side of CBS's One World Flight. Scheduling One World Flight opposite The Bob Hope Show virtually ensured that, in spite of Corwin's extraordinary appeal, the politics of the post-World War II military-industrial complex and its thousands of Washington lobbyists would have little to fear in the way of audience share for One World Flight. What they couldn't have counted on was One World Flight's enduring appeal throughout the following six decades.

Norman Corwin's Own Observations.

Norman Corwin made the news in Billboard magazine a few more times during the 13-week run of One World Flight. In Billboard's January 18, 1947 issue it recounted some of Corwin's fascinating insights into the Radio facilities he visited around the world during his 37,000 mile trip:

  • He found the Radio headquarters in the Scandinavian world some of the ''most magnificent in the world.''
  • He said that the Copenhagen Radio facilities made Radio City in New York ''look like a garage.''
  • He further observed that the Radio headquarters in Norway made Radio City look like a ''two-story garage.''
  • He observed about French Radio facilities, ''C'est a Rire!''
  • He prounounced the BBC facilities ''adequate but dreary.''
  • In Russia, Corwin observed, ''radio is one of the lesser arts'' that they use ''functionally.'' Even more telling, Corwin observed that the Russian Government was only then beginning to return confiscated receivers to the people.
  • He pronounced Indian Radio, headquartered in New Delhi as the third best setup he saw during his travels, second only to those in Scandinavia.
  • Corwin termed Chinese Radio the most 'piratical,' with the operators having ''no sense of copyright.'' He also opined that Chinese Radio was under ''the long thumbnail of the government'' even then.
  • Corwin found Japanese Radio listeners to be avid soap opera fans, post-World War II.
  • Corwin liked Australian Radio, explaining,''The Aussies buy my scripts . . .and pay well.''

Corwin also observed that he'd recorded some 150 hours of impressions during the trip. Those 150 hours were eventually edited down to the two and a half hours, plus some four hours of live commentary that eventually comprised the thirteen weeks of CBS' One World Flight. Corwin observed that his purpose in making the trip was to seek out ''the expression of friendship between nations and among men."

Corwin clearly succeeded in his purpose. Beyond the initial airing of One World Flight in 1947, Corwin's impressions and observations during the series have reached around the world several hundred more times through the enduring recordings of One World Flight from The Golden Age of Radio.

Series Derivatives:

Genre: Anthology of Golden Age Radio Propaganda Dramas
Network(s): Columbia Broadcasting System
Audition Date(s) and Title(s): None
Premiere Date(s) and Title(s): 47-01-14 01 Introduction - In The Wake of World War
Run Dates(s)/ Time(s): 47-01-14 to 47-04-08; CBS; Thirteen, 30-minute programs, Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m.
Syndication: CBS Radio Productions
Sponsors: Sustaining
Director(s): Norman Corwin; Guy Della-Cioppa ; Lee Bland [Engineer]
Principal Actors: Norman Corwin and Lee Bland
Recurring Character(s): Norman Corwin and Lee Bland
Protagonist(s): None
Author(s): None
Writer(s) Norman Corwin
Music Direction: Alexander Semmler
Musical Theme(s):
Announcer(s): Lee Vines
Estimated Scripts or
Episodes in Circulation: 12
Total Episodes in Collection: 12
RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide, Mason City Globe-Gazette.

Notes on Provenances:

The most helpful provenances were the log of the RadioGOLDINdex and Mason City Globe-Gazette radio listings.

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The One World Flight Program Log

Date Episode Title Avail. Notes
Norman Corwin One World Testimonial Dinner
[Public Service special from Columbia's Western Division, from the Florentine Room of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, honoring Norman Corwin on the occasion of his winning the One World award]

Introduction - In The Wake of World War
Premiere Episode
Tuesdays, 9 p.m.

47-01-14 Mason City Globe-Gazette
One World Flight dealing with his 37,000 mile global air voyage in search of signs that point to an enduring peace, will be launched by Columbia's famous Norman Corwin. "It's going to be one of the strangest and newest kinds of production known to radio, says Corwin who recently returned from a 4-month journey with stop-offs in 17 countries as winner of the One World award given jointly by the Council for American Unity and the Willkie Memorial of Freedom House.
1st Leg - Clipper to Great Britain
47-01-21 Mason City Globe-Gazette
(9 p. m.) What some of Europe's leading statesmen, scientists and artists are think in in connection with world unity, will be reported in Norman Corwin's "One World Flight." Former Mayor LaGuardia, who on behalf of the Willkie Memorial foundation, presented Corwin with the One World award which made possible the radioman's 37,000-mile voyage, will repeat the presentation speech he made on the original occasion Feb. 19, 1946.

Shortwave rebroadcasts of Norman Corwin's One World Flight series, the second of which will be aired over WGAN at 10 p m today, are making the program available to listeners over two-thirds of the earths inhabited areas Through the combined efforts of CBS Shortwave and the State Department Office of Information and Cultural Affairs, the show is beamed to Europe, the Near East, Latin America most of Asia, Malaya, the East Indies, Australia and New Zealand.
2nd Leg - France, Denmark and Norway
47-01-28 Mason City Globe-Gazette
(9 p. m.) With Norman Corwin as narrator, the 3rd broadcast of "One World Flight" recounts Corwin's European experiences and presents recorded interviews with cabinet members, intellectuals, ordinary citizens, and survivors of the resistance against the Nazis in Scandinavia.
3rd Leg - Stockholm, Sweden and Krakow, Poland

47-02-04 Morning Herald
Proceeding slowly toward the end of his 13-week cycle of One World Flight, Norman Corwin on CBS at 10 p.m.. is to turn next to Sweden and Poland. An important share of these broadcasts are recordings that he made on the trip.

47-02-04 Mason City Globe-Gazette
(9 p.m.) Dramatic contrasts between Sweden's relative prosperity and Poland's incalculable devastation will be the subject of Norman Corwin's report on "One World Flight."
4th Leg - Moscow
47-02-11 Mason City Globe-Gazette
One World Flight (9 p m.) How various countries of Eastern Europe are pursuing the tasks of economic reconstruction and political reconstitution will comprise Norman Corwin's "One World Flight" broadcast.
5th Leg - Moscow to Prague
47-02-18 Mason City Globe-Gazette
9 p.m. ) Norman Corwin's "One World Flight" report treats of his experiences in Czechoslovakia. In addition to Corwin's cogent observations on the Czech scene, you'll be hearing the wire-recorded voices of Edouard Benes and a representative group of Czechs, including laborers, writers, students and diplomats, all giving their ideas on the prospects for world peace and quiet.
6th Leg - Italy
47-02-25 Mason City Globe-Gazette
9 p.m. ) Norman Corwin's "One World Flight" makes a stop-over in Italy, with Corwin, as narrator, introducing wire-recorded interviews with the real and humble of that war-impoverished nation.
7th Leg - Cairo, Egypt and Karachi, India
47-03-04 Wisconsin State Journal
9 p. m. — One World Flight (WBBM): Norman Corwin reports on Egypt and India.
8th Leg - Calcutta to China and Japan
47-03-10 Wisconsin State Journal
Corwin's "One World Flight" dramatic series has been going along at a dazzling, clip. It is no longer news that Norman can make his typewriter sit up and warble ... The wallop of the program comes from the recorded interviews with statesmen and citizens of foreign nations. Listen tothem voicing their hopes and fears and you get a graphic diagnosis of a world running a perilous fever. Corwin has cracked the scrivener's most difficult problem: He makes political and diplomatic issues engrossing and enlightening — by translating them into terms of human beings

9th Leg - Tokyo to Manila
47-03-18 Mason City Globe-Gazette
9 p.m. ) Wire-recorded interviews with Manuel Roxas, president of the new Philippine republic, and U. S. Ambassador Paul V. McNutt, will help
Norman Corwin tell the story of the young nation's hopes and strivings for peace and security in an uncertain world. Corwin's discussions with the plain people of Manila — laundrymen, restaurant workers, chauffeurs and others — will convey the magnitude of reconstruction problems.
10th Leg - Manila to Australia
47-03-25 Mason City Globe-Gazette
9 p.m. ) Australia' s will to world peace will be documented by Norman Corwin in "One World Flight." Corwin will present wire-recorded interviews with Prime Minister Chifley, Premier McKells of New South Wales, deckhands, sheep shearers, educators, factory workers and others,
Last Leg - The Dominion of New Zealand
47-04-01 Mason City Globe-Gazette
9 p.m. ) New Zealand, Antipodal stronghold of democracy, will be the subject of Norman Corwin's "One World Flight" broadcast. Corwin will report his experiences as observer at a regular session of the New Zealand cabinet and describe the country's way of life, its aspirations and achievements, in wire recorded interviews with Prime Minister Peter Fraser pupils at Rongatai school, and doctors discussing public health legislation.
Final Impressions
[ Last Episode ]
47-04-08 Mason City Globe-Gazette
9 p.m. ) World Traveler Norman Corwin summarizes his finding on the state of the world, collected in 37,000 miles of travel through 17 countries, in the final broadcast of "One World Flight."

Fiorello La Guardia announced as recipient of 2nd One World Award.

The One World Flight Radio Program Biographies

Norman Lewis Corwin
(Creator, Director, Writer, Narrator)

Newspaperman, Journalist, Poet, Writer, Screenwriter, Playwright, Producer, Director, Political Activist, Professor, Humanitarian
(1910 - 2011 )

Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.


1929 Rhymes and Cadences
1938 Columbia Workshop
1938 County Seat
1939 Words Without Music
1939 The Pursuit Of Happiness
1939 So This Is Radio
1940 We Take Your Word
1940 Forecast
1940 Gulf Screen Guild Theatre
1940 Cavalcade Of America
1941 The Free Company
1941 We Hold These Truths
1942 This Is War
1942 An American In England
1942 The Victory Front
1943 The Cresta Blanca Carnival
1943 Norman Corwin (Audition)
1943 Long Name None Could Spell
1943 Passport For Adams
1944 Silver Theatre
1944 Columbia Presents Corwin
1944 Texaco Star Theatre
1944 This Is My Best
1944 The American School Of the Air
1945 On A Note Of Triumph
1946 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre
1946 Mercury Summer Theatre
1946 Stars In the Afternoon
1947 One World Flight
1947 Hollywood Fights Back
1949 Author Meets the Critics
1949 What's the Word
1949 The New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
1950 Document A/777
1950 Faith In Our Time
1952 Lux Radio Theatre
1979 Sears Radio Theatre
1983 Six By Corwin (NPR)

Norman Corwin at his creative best, ca. 1944

Norman Corwin in NBC Studio with Peggy Burt, ca. 1937

Norman Corwin camps it up during a rare in-costume moment during RCA's Magic Key, ca. 1937

The Maestro, in his element, ca. 1942

Norman Corwin in control booth for 1945's Untitled for Columbia Presents Corwin
Norman Corwin in control booth for 1945's Untitled for Columbia Presents Corwin

Corwin's Lair, looking down from the control booth, directing Season One of Columbia Presents Corwin, ca. 1944
Corwin's Lair, looking down from the control booth, directing Season One of Columbia Presents Corwin, ca. 1944

Corwin, flanked by Regina Reynic to his right and Deems Taylor to his left, with Bernard Rogers at the piano, ca. 1947
Corwin, flanked by Regina Reynic to his right and Deems Taylor to his left, with Bernard Rogers at the piano, ca. 1947

Norman Corwin, directing live radio program, ca. 1944

Corwin discusses We Hold These Truths script with Jimmy Stewart, ca. 1941
Corwin discusses We Hold These Truths script with Jimmy Stewart, ca. 1941

On A Note of Triumph 78 RPM Record, ca. 1944
On A Note of Triumph 78 RPM Record Label, ca. 1944

Two great Radio Normans--Lear, left and Corwin, right, ca. 2005
Two great Radio 'Normans'--Lear, left and Corwin, right, ca. 2005

Orson Welles, left and Norman Corwin, right, going over Fourteen August script, August 14, 1945
Orson Welles, left and Norman Corwin, right, going over Fourteen August script, August 14, 1945

Norman Corwin, ca. 2005

Corwin examines his first, well-deserved Oscar, ca. 2005

Norman Corwin is approaching one hundred years of age as we prepare this biography. Corwin's father Samuel lived to the age of 112. We can only hope that Samuel's sons will be as long-lived as the father. Norman Corwin's continuing legacy of thought-provoking, insightful, brilliantly crafted and prosaic commentary on the human condition have fashioned Norman Corwin into one of American History's greatest writers, visionaries, dramatists and philosophers.

Born and raised in East Boston, Corwin was transfixed by Radio as a medium from its initial broad casts. A child prodigy, Corwin was reciting poetry at the age of five, writing full-length stories at the age of seven, was a voracious reader, and an avid classical music proponent since the time he was a child. Reportedly first listening to a makeshift crystal set assembled by his older brother Al, from a cylindrical Quaker Oats box, both brothers soon became avid Radio enthusiasts.

Mentored by a devoted high school English teacher, Corwin acquired a life-long interest in poetry, especially that of Keats, Shelley and The Brownings. Upon early graduation from high school, Corwin began working as a journalist at the age of 17, with Massachusetts' Greenfield Recorder, then the Springfield Republican. Covering a variety of local community interest stories, Corwin's efforts covered sporting events--written in iambic pentameter no less, local color activities, movie reviews, and human interest stories.

His first exposure to professional Radio broadcasting came with an opportunity to air an interview regarding one of the human interest stories he'd written about. Station WBZA soon needed a newsreader and sought to have the position filled with someone from the local newspaper. Corwin fit the bill perfectly. By 1929 Corwin had fashioned his own broadcast over WBZA, a combination of piano interludes interwoven with Corwin's orginal poetry readings. He called the program Rhymes and Cadences. If this sounds a reminiscent chord, it's instructive to remember that this is how the legendary Orson Welles embarked on his own Radio career, airing a similar format entitled Musical Reveries in 1936.

Indeed, the similarities between these two great Radio visionaries is entirely appropriate. We've chronicled Orson Welles' extraordinary career elsewhere, but it's instructive to point out the fascinating series of parallels in the Radio careers of both Radio legends. You may recall that Orson Welles undertook his own wanderlust through the United Kingdom and Europe as a young man. Norman Corwin's exposure to The Continent came in 1931, as he traveled to Europe with his older brother, Emil. The fomenting fascism, social and religious unrest, and political turmoil he witnessed first-hand throughout Europe very much shaped the path Corwin's broadcasting career would take from that point forward.

Corwin returned to the U.S. and in 1935 began working as a full-fledged newsman for Radio WLW in Cinncinati, Ohio. Almost immediately encountering one of the Post-Great Depression sore spots first-hand, Corwin learned that any on air reportage of collective bargaining efforts--even organizing for collective bargaining--were grounds for immediate dismissal. He objected to the policy and soon found himself fired after only two weeks on the job. He ultimately took up the issue with the ACLU's backing and eventually got the policy changed--long after he'd departed Cincinnati.

The next stop for Corwin was The Big Apple, where he found work as an entry level publicist for 2oth Century-Fox. He soon leveraged his contacts there to yet another proposal for a local poetry/musicale format program to Radio station WQXR. He was soon airing another program similar in format to Rhymes and Cadences, this one cleverly named Poetic License. First airing in 1936, Poetic License showcased some of New York's early poetry luminaries, among them Louis Ginsberg, father of legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

The first major network to take an interest in Corwin was NBC, who invited Corwin to appear on RCA's Magic Key, beginning in 1937. NBC was less than impressed and in a moment of fortuitous serendipity for Corwin, released him from his obligation to NBC. Fortuitous, because within a year, a CBS executive would hear one of Corwin's Poetic License broadcasts and offer Corwin a position as Radio Director for $125 a week. Needless to say, that was astounding pay for a young man of that era.

So it was that a few days shy of his 28th birthday, Corwin began directing CBS' on-air engineering, writing, and production efforts for the first time. Within a few months he was tapped to direct his first Columbia Workshop experimental drama, The Red Badge of Courage, airing July 9, 1938.

In yet another ironic crossed path with Orson Welles, the night of October 31, 1938 found Corwin rehearsing the pilot for a newly proposed poetry program he was developing, tentatively titled Norman Corwin's Words Without Music. In the studio just below Corwin, none other than Orson Welles and Mercury Theatre of The Air were broadcasting their infamous War of The Worlds broadcast. Oblivious to what was taking place, Corwin reportedly only learned of it once CBS' switchboards began lighting up on every floor.

Produced by no less than legendary William N. Robson, Norman Corwin's Words Without Music ultimately aired in production a month later, with Corwin agonizing over the slightest nuance of each broadcast. It was during Corwin's Words Without Musc broadcast of December 25, 1938 that he introduced his famous "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas" to a listening audience, a program that would be repeated over and over again throughout CBS' history.

Within a year, Corwin had written, directed, produced and broadcast two of his most enduring masterpieces: The Plot to Overthrow Christmas [Words Without Music] and They Fly Through the Air with The Greatest of Ease [Columbia Workshop]. By then helping others develop their own experimental Radio dramas, Corwin found himself directing Earl Robinson's stirring Ballad for Americans, and Lucille Fletcher's biting satire, My Client, Curley. Earl Robinson would go on to collaborate with Corwin on several of his Columbia Presents Corwin productions.

Mr. Corwin took most of 1940 to work as a screenwriter for RKO Studios. Unimpressed, Corwin soon realized that he'd had far more artistic freedom back at CBS. So it was that upon returning to CBS, he was offered control of fully six months worth of Columbia Workshop programming. The resulting 26 By Corwin was Norman Corwin's first unbridled artistic opportunity in Broadcast Radio.

What followed were 26 weeks worth of Norman Corwin's dramatic passion. Corwin's creativity could be fully unleashed and fully explored for the following 26-week marathon of writing, directing, producing and agonizing over the result. But the agony couldn't last long, since from moments after each broadcast's sign-off, the process would begin anew, with carte blanche and all that a blank piece of paper means to a creative person--both the pros and the cons.

In the end, he pulled it off--in spades. 1941 became one of the most triumphant years of Corwin's creative work experience to date. Indeed to this day, several of those twenty-six Corwin efforts have become standalone classics of the Golden Age of Radio. Corwin wrapped up the year in extraordinary fashion with one of Radio History's most stirring paeans to American Democracy ever aired--We Hold These Truths. We Hold These Truths was a multimedia celebration of America's Bill of Rights. The broadcast was heard by the largest single audience in Radio History up to that point. Its timing was absolutely exquisite--indeed, almost prescient, given the life-altering developments of the morning of December 7, 1941. The project wasn't developed as a response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Indeed it was still under development and being written by Corwin the afternoon that he first heard the news about the attack.

Starring no less than Jimmy Stewart, Edward G. Robinson, Orson Welles, Edward Arnold, Lionel Barrymore, Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Marjorie Main, Rudy Vallee and Bob Burns, the score was written by legendary composer Bernard Herrmann. And almost as a footnote to this remarkable production, FDR himself addressed the country during the production. The Star Spangled Banner was performed by the full New York Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by no less than Leopold Stokowski himself. The mind reels to imagine a Radio broadcast with that much prestigious talent during one airing today. Call it 1941's version of 'We Are The Children'. That's about what it amounted to. The costs alone today would be astronomical.

We Hold These Truths holds up just as well today. I have yet to share an airing of my recording of We Hold These Truths with anyone without evoking a remarkable reaction from them--young, old, and every age in between. It's quite simply one of the most stirring, patriotic, genuinely moving reminders of what this country has fought to defend for almost 240 years as of this writing.

Needless to say, by 1942 Norman Corwin's work was rapidly approaching legendary status. Nor did he shirk from the challenge to pursue even greater triumphs. His broadcasting excellence surmounted even commercial network rivalries. He was commissioned by the Office of War Information to develop the stirring This Is War series which was mandated to air simultaneously over all four major networks.

During 1943, Norman Corwin was dispatched to England to cover the War effort from their perspective. A unique joint effort of The BBC and U.S. broadcasters, the amazing recordings Corwin returned with resulted in the wonderfully inspirational An American in England series, showcasing the indomitable spirit of Wartime Great Britain. The resulting series was quite understandably one of the War effort's most inspirational series to that date.

As hard as it is to imagine, Corwin's penultimate masterpiece had yet to be produced. I say penultimate, for good reason, as you'll soon discover. . .

With the end of the War in Europe in sight, Corwin undertook to develop an hour-long, live studio observance of the end of War in Europe. The resulting On A Note of Triumph became Corwin's crowning masterpiece. Again scored by Bernard Herrmann, not only did it set another record for largest simultaneous listening audience, it was pressed as a 78 RPM record for further distribution. The first pressing sold out almost overnight, as did a hardcover print of the script, which became an overnight best-seller in its own right. Both the records and scripts were pressed and published again and again to keep up with the unprecedented demand.

Corwin, aided by Orson Welles, rose to the occasion yet again, with even less preparation, as V.J. Day finally--and quite unexpectedly--arrived on 14 August 1945. L'Affaire Gumpert was the Columbia Presents Corwin program that had been scheduled for airing on August 14th. Never one to shirk a challenge, Norman Corwin, with less than eleven hours' notice, threw together the final epitaph on World War II, with a minimal sound track, a single sound effect and only Orson Welles' magnificent voice as his primary artistic tool. And yet, irrespective of the absurd limitations placed on this single, 15-minute program of the run, you see the effort of Radio's two giants, converging to produce a miraculous post-script to the most bloody, expensive, gut-wrenching five years our young Nation had ever experienced. And quite frankly who else could possibly have ever pulled it off but these two geniuses?

To this day, one needs to pinch oneself to be reminded of the extraordinary constraints imposed on both Welles and Corwin to pull off Fourteen August at all. And yet they did it. And they could only have done it over Radio. In the final analysis, they did what both their extraordinary backgrounds had prepared them to do--and at the time that their country needed their special individual talents the most. It's beyond prosaic. It was fated. It was beyond Kismet. It was their destiny from the moment each of them separately undertook their first independent Radio broadcasts, each in their own rendition of a mixed poetry/musicale format. The ironies and coincidences are beyond serendipity. They're cosmic.

As announced, L'Affaire Gumpert was indeed Corwin's last Columbia Presents Corwin. Anything else would have been post-climactic. What could possibly have topped Fourteen August? The entire nation was sharing a combination of mass delerium and a combined, cathartic sigh of immense relief. It was time to move on. The machinery of War was destined to be scrapped and fashioned back into the plowshares that many of those same machines of War had been manufactured from.

And so it was with the two giants of Radio. Each ultimately going their own way again. Each having shared a cosmic moment of catharsis with an entire Nation. What could possibly have topped the emotion of that singular moment of 14 August?

There's no question that Norman Corwin, despite his amazing professional triumphs of the World War II years, went on to even greater triumphs for the remander of his storied career. As recently as 2005, he worked tirelessly to help produce and promote 2005's Ocscar winning Documentary Short Subject, On A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin. How fitting a tribute, but some might well ask, what took them so long?

We love our heroes. And we need our heroes even more today, as we engage in an economic battle for our financial survival. Much the same survival effort Norman Corwin's own parents had to endure while Norman was still in high school. And so we come full circle. Asking even more from our heroes. Hoping they'll remind us why we fight, why we endure, why we never give in to adversity. And why we vainly expect our heroes to always be there for us at the very instant in history when we need them the most.

Thank God Norman Corwin isn't going anywhere, anytime soon, bless his heart.

[Update: Norman Corwin passed away in his sleep on October 18, 2011 at the age of 101. ]

Wendell Lewis Willkie
Republican Presidential candidate; corporate lawyer

Birthplace: Elwood, Indiana, U.S.A.

Education: Indiana University

1940 Presidential Candidacy spots
1941 Mobilizing For Human Needs
1942 United China Relief
1942 Free French Week Program
1942 The March Of Time
1943 Information Please
1943 One World
1943 Open Letter On Race Hatred
1944 Memorial To Raymond Clapper
1944 The Crusade For A New World Order
1945 New World A' Coming [Willkie's One World book]

Wendell Willkie on cover of Life magazine during 1940 Presidential Campaign
Wendell Willkie on cover of Life magazine during 1940 Presidential Campaign.

Willkie not too subtlely invokes Abraham Lincoln on the campaign trail for the Republican nomination for President circa 1940
Willkie not too subtlely invokes Abraham Lincoln on the campaign trail for the Republican nomination for President circa 1940.

And when invoking Abraham Lincoln doesn't work for Republicans, clever campaign buttons like the one above ensure victory. Ooops. Willkie didn't win, did he. . .
And when invoking Abraham Lincoln doesn't work for Republicans, clever campaign buttons like the one above ensure victory. Ooops. Willkie didn't win, did he. . . .
The rate of Wendell L. Willkie's rise to national and international prominence in the 1930s and early 1940s was breathtaking to say the least, and his impact on American politics and international relations can still be felt today.

Though his memory is usually reduced to the 1940 Republican presidential candidate who lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt by nearly 5 million votes, it's something of an injustice to make him into a mere historical footnote.

Indeed, virtually all of Wendell Willkie's most enduring accomplishments occured after the 1940 election, in the four years before his untimely death in 1944 at the relatively young age of 52.

Wendell Lewis Willkie was born in 1892 into a comfortable middle-class family of exceptional reputation in the central Indiana town of Elwood. Both of his parents were attorneys--his mother was one of the first women to pass the bar in Indiana. After graduating from Indiana University, Willkie briefly practiced law in his parents' law firm until 1917, at which point he joined the U.S. Army to fight in World War I.

Following the war, Willkie moved to Akron, Ohio, where he briefly worked for the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company before joining a private law practice. Willkie's considerable courtroom skills enhanced his reputation in the Akron legal community, and this precipitated his rise in the city's social ranks and in the local Democratic Party.

It was in Akron that Willkie became aware that he had a gift for public speaking, a skill he would use later to achieve national prominence.
New Deal Critic Willkie moved to New York City in 1929, where was legal counsel to the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, the nation's largest electric utility holding company. Holding companies such as the C & S were essentially parent companies of several smaller subsidiaries. This arrangement, new at the time, allowed a small number of shareholders to control a large number of companies, and in the utility business, this meant unprecedented control over energy sources.

FDR thought the government should regulate the energy business, and so he established the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), his most ambitious New Deal project. Certainly, the TVA was a flood-control program, but equally important to FDR, it was also a way to reduce the control that private companies had over the electrification of the Tennessee River Valley. Willkie gained national attention in the mid to late 1930s when, as president of C & S, he battled the TVA in highly public forums, most notably when testifying before congressional committees.

Willkie's opposition to the TVA endeared him to the many Americans who were uncomfortable with the revolutionary reforms contained in FDR's New Deal legislation. In 1939, Willkie switched parties and registered as a Republican when it became obvious that he might ride anti-New Deal sentiment into the White House. In 1940, volunteers established hundreds of Willkie Clubs around the country in an unprecedented grass-roots effort to raise the profile of their choice for president. Willkie was also favored by many editors and writers at national magazines and newspapers. However, as a newly declared Republican who had never before held public office, Willkie faced strong opposition within the GOP for that party's presidential nomination.

When delegates and party leaders gathered in June for their convention in Philadelphia, however, they found themselves deadlocked: none of the leading candidates could win enough delegates to win the nomination. Although Willkie arrived at the convention with the fewest number of delegates (he hadn't entered any primaries), his supporters slowly and steadily won the nomination for him by convincing enough delegates that he was the best compromise candidate. Willkie's victory on the sixth ballot was dubbed "The Miracle at Philadelphia." Willkie's running mate was Sen. Charles L. McNary of Oregon, who was chosen to give the ticket more appeal to voters in the western states.

Soon after the convention, however, it became clear that Republican leaders and rank and file party workers were not going to work very hard for Willkie, who they distrusted in large part because he was so recently a Democrat. Although Willkie waged a vigorous campaign against FDR, he was distracted on numerous occasions by skirmishes with GOP leaders. This, combined with the reluctance of many voters to change leaders while America was on the verge of entering the war in Europe, were two major reasons for Willkie's defeat in November. Although Willkie received more votes than any previous GOP candidate had ever managed to get, he carried only ten states, including his home state of Indiana.

Willkie's lasting service to the nation, however, came after his defeat, and after America's entry into World War II. Almost immediately after the election, Willkie made it clear to Roosevelt that he would support the administration's war efforts, and Willkie became an outspoken opponent of Democratic and Republican leaders who wanted to return America to its pre-World War II isolationism.

In August 1942, FDR asked Willkie to make an airplane flight around the world as his special envoy to show the world that although America was engaged in a vigorous political debate at home, she was united in her desire to combat fascism throughout the world. What better way to do so, Willkie and FDR reasoned, than to have the President's political opponent make a goodwill tour of America's allies. Willkie's 50-day trip included stops at battle zones in Africa, the Soviet Union and China, which he reported on in a radio speech to the nation soon after he returned and in a best-selling book, One World, published in 1943. The highly influential book made a well-supported plea for post-war international cooperation and solidified Willkie's role as a major force in American politics.

“We must fight our way through not alone to the destruction of our enemies but to a new world idea. We must win the peace.”

Willkie also devoted much of his energy during this period promoting civil rights and civil liberties. A consistent theme of One World and Willkie's later writings was the idea that America wouldn't be able to oppose colonialism in the post-war period until she first ended her own colonial attitudes toward her racial minorities, and in particular black Americans. And in late 1942, Willkie went before the Supreme Court to defended a member of the Communist Party in a landmark case regarding civil liberties (Schneiderman v. United States). Willkie won the case, but lost much political support for having defended a communist. In this regard, Willkie said: "Those who rejoice in denying justice to one they hate, pave the way to a denial of justice for someone they love."

Wendell L. Willkie died in October 1944, a year and a half after writing One World and shortly after a second--failed--attempt to capture the 1944 GOP presidential nomination. Willkie expressed the following in a letter to a friend shortly before he died:

"If I could write my own epitaph and if I had to choose between saying, 'Here lies an unimportant President,' or 'Here lies one who contributed to saving freedom at a moment of great peril,' I would prefer the latter."

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