July 2009

THE DAY I MET NORMAN CORWIN


My second film is titled “The Poet Laureate of Radio: An Interview with Norman Corwin.” It was supposed to be my second film or any film for that matter. It was a single interview for what will be my third film, “Radio Changed America,” a documentary on the history of radio and the parallels with the birth of the Internet.


Norman Corwin is probably the greatest writer-director-producer from the
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Golden Age of Radio. He wrote and directed the first four-network broadcast, “We Hold These Truths,” in 1941 starring James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles among others. 63 million people heard the show. That was half of the US population at that time. President Roosevelt closed the program. His other wartime credits are too numerous to cover. Edward R. Murrow even produced one of Corwin’s series from London in 1942: “An American in England.”


I prepared like a madman for this two-hour interview in December 2004. Mr. Corwin was 94 at the time. It was to be the most important interview I had done to date, rivaling even the great Art Linkletter. So naturally, as things go in the movie business, disaster after disaster struck. It rained. Poured! I was concerned for Mr. Corwin’s health on such a damp, blustery day. Then my producer Dave Sanford had a family emergency. Then my other producer (and sound operator) Chris deLiz caught the flu and could not risk infecting Mr. Corwin. That left me, my cinematographer and my son, the grip… (A grip is a person who essentially lifts and moves things on a movie set.) He was quickly promoted to sound mixer for this once-in-a-lifetime interview. I was sick to my stomach! However, as is also customary in the movie business, I swallowed my fear and went to pick up (and meet for the first time) radio legend Norman Corwin at his house in west Los Angeles.

We arrived back at the Culver Studios lot for the interview on time. Everything was ready to go. I smiled, asked my questions and sat entranced by the depth and breadth of his answers. We spoke not just of his radio career, but also of topics such a modern radio and TV, the war in Iraq, and what it means to be an artist in this life. Mr. Corwin was so impressed with the interview that he suggested it be released in its entirety to the public. I did some editing, added title cards and music cues and remixed some of the audio. That was all there was to it. The film was released in late 2006 and earned praised from none other than movie critic Leonard Maltin.

Even more unexpected was a friendship that developed between me and Norman (by the way, it took two years until I could bring myself address him by his first name). As I write this he is 99 years old. I have recently begun an effort to have this long-forgotten American icon recognized with either the Congressional Gold Medal or the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I want this to happen by the time he turns 100 years old on May 3, 2010. If you’re interested in signing the petitions, please go to www.PoetLaureateOfRadio.com. If you’d like to learn more about Norman Corwin, please visit www.NormanCorwin.com. Check him out!

I’m just saying…

AFTER TWENTY YEARS

I just worked as an extra for the first time in twenty years! (See my post on “The Curious Case of Matlock-itus”). The film is called “Take Me Home” and I play “man-opening-office-door.”


The filming was in an office building over this past weekend, which means that the air conditioning was shut off! The heat was intense but I never heard a cross word from either cast or crew. Amazing! This was one excellent set to be on! Even more impressive, the director Sam Jaegar (many know Sam from “Eli Stone”) is also the star. I acted in three scenes in my film “Daybreak” and nearly lost my mind while Sam carries the pressure of the starring role. He was both affable and firmly in charge (a rare combination). Did I mention it was hot as hell in the building? Directing and leading a crew is hard enough in mild conditions, so I was doubly impressed!

Check out the movie website at www.takemehomemovie.com and listen to Sam’s podcasts about filmmaking. This guy is one to watch! My thanks and kudos to the entire crew and movie’s producers. It was great fun to be a part of this gem of a movie.

I’m just saying…

SUPER COOL KRIS ROBERTS ON A MILLION DOLLAR WEEKEND


When I was young, all I wanted to do was be a disc jockey on the radio. I can remember listening to “Million-Dollar Weekends” on WISL 1480 AM, Shamokin, Pennsylvania. I could never figure out why they called the weekends “Million-Dollar.” No one ever won more than a free Big Mac on WISL… Tom Kutza hosted the morning show as he had almost since the station went on the air in 1948, Bernie Flynn was the evening shift guy, but my favorite was the deep bass voice of the weekend nights: Kris Roberts (or as I called him, “Super-Cool” Kris Roberts).

While in high school I made my radio debut on WISL during Tom Kutza’s morning radio show. I read the weekly Shamokin Area High School News with my pal Rich Bitting. The five-minute show was pre-recorded on tape the Saturday night before the Monday morning broadcast. That meant Rich and I could hang out with the one and only Super Cool Kris Roberts. The first thing I will say about this small-town part time DJ is that his “announcer voice” intonations were that same on-air and off. A simple phrase like “Hello there, guys” made you feel like you were being welcomed to a TV game show.
Kris was cool. If we were there near the “top of the hour,” Rich and I would watch him check the time as the Steely Dan tune ended, “pot up the mic” and “front-sell” the next record. Inevitably, he’d run to the AP teletype down that hallway and rip off about three feet of copy. A few pencil marks and Super Cool Kris Roberts was ready to read the hourly newscast. If he came to a word that he didn’t know, it didn’t matter to him. You say “Yucatan Peninsula”, he says “You-CAUNT-a.” Yep, he was so cool he could stress the wrong syllable and add letters when they didn’t exist.
There is nothing like hometown radio. I miss that station. Eventually it became all syndicated programming and had no local jocks. It’s off the air now. Unfortunately that’s what has happened all across the United States. Many local radio stations no longer exist as they once did. “Voice tracking” now allows a disc jockey to simulcast to many stations at the same time. You know when you hear one of these stations because when they tell you the time they never say what “hour” it is. It’s always “half-past the hour” or “sixteen minutes after the hour.” Yes, but WHICH hour?! Yup, I miss local radio.
Ten years after our high school radio days, Rich and I were living those adolescent dreams. I was working at a classic rock
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station as a part time weekend jock at WQWK-FM in State College, PA, and Rich was on the air every fall broadcasting the local high school footballs game on WISL.

And what of Super Cool Kris Roberts? Well, imagine my surprise to learn that his real name was Blaine and he was a police officer when not on the air! Well, Blaine must’ve been one cool cop. I can imagine him reading me my rights with that rich bass announcer voice… “You have the RIIIGHT to remain SIIILENNNT….”
I’m just saying…