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Oct 19, 2011


MELISSA BLOCK, host: An icon of radio has died. Norman Corwin wrote and directed some of the most renowned dramas from radio's Golden Age. He was 101 years old.

Independent producer Mary Beth Kirchner worked with Corwin for the last 20 years of his life, when he found a new audience on public radio. She has this tribute.

MARY BETH KIRCHNER: I first met Norman Corwin when he was 80 years old. It was the 50th anniversary of one of his legendary radio programs, called "We Hold These Truths," a tribute to the Bill of Rights that aired in 1941 starring Jimmy Stewart.

JIMMY STEWART: Now, the people of the States breathe easier. It's all down on black and white...

KIRCHNER: That broadcast had an astounding audience of 60 million people.

STEWART: The parchment cracks and curls up at the edges...

KIRCHNER: Public Radio was producing an anniversary remake of "We Hold These Truths" in 1991, updated by Norman and starring dozens of big stars, including James Earl Jones.

JAMES EARL JONES: My friends, across town in Federal Hall, the first Congress is working on a Bill of Rights.

KIRCHNER: Actors, engineers and producers like me of all ages gathered round to simply listen and watch as the master dramatist was back at work.

NORMAN CORWIN: Fireworks, celebration, the Bill of Rights on its 200th anniversary...

KIRCHNER: I learned not long after that Norman Corwin's father had lived to be 110 and I thought, you know, we could have another 20 years to work together. I wanted to make documentaries about his most famous programs from World War II, like his masterpiece, "On a Note of Triumph," for VE Day and "14 August," a piece CBS commissioned Norman to write overnight for VJ Day starring Orson Welles.


ORSON WELLES: Congratulations for being alive and listening on this night. Millions didn't make it.

KIRCHNER: But Norman had other plans. He said, you know, darling, I only had 24 hours to write that program for Orson. Would you mind if I took another crack at it?


CHARLES KURALT: Congratulations on being alive and listening. Millions didn't make it.

KIRCHNER: Charles Kuralt narrated his new script, saying Norman is the writer at his feet. The rest of us sit astonished.


KURALT: War has the voice of a million muzzles and where it speaks, dust hangs in the air for weeks. Violence is consummate. No worm is safe. The bomb digs deeper than the moles.

KIRCHNER: No one ever wrote for radio like Norman Corwin. They called him the (unintelligible) and it was a long list of luminaries who gathered round those last 20 years of his life to acknowledge his extraordinary influence.

Ray Bradbury, Philip Roth, Walter Cronkite, Studs Terkel and Robert Altman. Because Norman outlived so many of his peers, he was occasionally asked in interviews how he would like his obituary to read. Norman always hated that question, but eventually came up with an answer that suited him and I have no doubt he'd want you to hear his version on this day.

CORWIN: Norman Corwin, aged 126, was killed yesterday in a duel with a jealous lover. Well, my gun jammed, you see.


KIRCHNER: I was at a wedding not long ago and happened to be seated next to a man who'd been a child actor during the golden age of radio and I mentioned to him that I'd had the honor of working with Norman Corwin for the last 20 years. And he said, you worked with Norman Corwin? That's like saying you worked with Superman. Indeed.


BLOCK: Norman Corwin died yesterday at the age of 101. Mary Beth Kirchner was his producer for the last two decades of his life. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.