I was sitting at my computer typing words Norman Corwin had written in 1997. I was in the process of editing a book of unpublished radio plays by the great writer. The play was “Our Lady of the Freedoms And Some of Her Friends,” a beautiful piece on the origin and creation of the very American icon: The Statue of Liberty. My hands were cramping and my neck and shoulders needed a break as well. I closed the file, went to Facebook and saw a post that froze the moment in time for me. “Norman Corwin passed away this afternoon at 5pm. He was 101.” The date was Tuesday, October 18, 2011.
My first reaction was denial. I had just seen him three weeks before. As was my custom, I updated him on news about radio recreations involving his works, autograph requests, interview requests, the status of the book and plans for a new radio series repackaging his best material for today’s audience. The idea that I could not have our next meeting left me feeling hollow. I knew he was 101. I saw he was gradually growing weaker, his once strong voice reduced to a gravelly whisper, and yet I was shocked that he had died.
There was something immortal about him. Those of us who knew him felt that he would live forever, that there would always be a Norman Corwin in the world. So it was a shock, even though it shouldn’t have been. The next day I remember thinking: today (Wednesday, October 19, 2011) is the first dawn on this planet without him since May 2, 1910, the day before his birth.
Funny what we think of after someone close to us dies.
Only now, some weeks later, am I able to begin to put things into perspective. I met him in 2004 to interview him for my documentary film on about the historical and social impact of radio in America during the 20th Century. He was 94 years old, still teaching at the University of Southern California, and kindly willing to share his story about his time as the premier writer-director-producer the Golden Age of Radio ever produced. Little did I realize then, but a friendship was born.
I would come by his apartment every couple of weeks and soon we stopped talking of the past and focused on new projects and I became committed to seeing that his words and works would not vanish into the ether. He once told me that he sometimes feared that he had “written on water,” that no one would remember what he said with his radio programs and books. I promised him that that would not happen. I would see to it that his legacy lives on.
I manage the website NormanCorwin.com; I’ve actively advocated that he be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal through on-line petitions on PoetLaureateOfRadio.com; I’m hosting and producing (with his express permission) a new radio series that will be syndicated in 2012 called “Corwin on the Air”; and I’m putting the final touches to what will be his last book, “Memos to a New Millennium: The Final Radio Plays of Norman Corwin,” for which he wrote new supporting material before he died.
Time is no longer frozen on October 18, 2011. In the thaw of grief I now find renewed energy to continue my pledge I gave him to maintain his legacy and grow his fan base at every opportunity. Perhaps this blog entry will help, too.
I’m just saying…