On a Note of Excellence

Mar 01

Zicree with Norman Corwin on Norman's 100th birthday

I just learned that I’m nominated for a second Saturn Award (I won last year) for producing and doing the audio commentaries for the Twilight Zone Blu-ray, and I wanted to use this occasion as an opportunity to talk about excellence.

I think it’s pretty clear that Rod Serling’s work on Twilight Zone represents a high point in what television can achieve (and I’m including all those other miracle-workers who worked on the show — Richard Matheson, Buck Houghton, George Clayton Johnson, Beaumont, Doug Heyes, George Clemens, etc.).

There’s a reason for striving for excellence in one’s work, for reaching deeper, higher, better.  Not to be remembered or famous or successful (those are all nice), but for one reason above all others:

To communicate a profound emotional truth.

I know in my own work I’ve occasionally achieved this, in such works as Star Trek New Voyage’s “World Enough and Time.”

But one of my friends beat me six ways to Sunday in terms of writing a piece to last the ages.  He also happens to be the guy both Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury wanted to grow up to be.  You may have seen his name and picture on last Sunday’s Oscar nominations, in the section dealing with those who died in this past year.

His name was Norman Corwin.  He was my friend for over thirty years, and he recently died too soon at 101.  Which isn’t that remarkable when you realize his brother’s 107, and his Dad made it to 110.

Norman was nominated for an Oscar for writing Lust For Life, in which Kirk Douglas played Vincent Van Gogh, quite a wonderful movie.

But his real claim to fame was in radio.  He wrote profound comedies and dramas, prose poems — or you might call them poem plays — examining the great issues of his time, from life and death to war and peace.  He covered World War II in London with his pal Edward R. Murrow, hobnobbed with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and Carl Sandburg and had entire series of his work airing under his name in such shows as 13 By Corwin.  In Hollywood, if you were an actor you hadn’t arrived until you worked with Corwin, and I myself saw a telegram from Orson Welles pleading with Norman to cast him in any role, anytime.  Norman worked with the best because quite simply, he was the best.

His work inspired Serling, inspired Bradbury, and their careers would not have been what they were without Norman.  Norman’s advice led directly to Ray’s writing and selling The Martian Chronicles.

It was a thrill to get to know this amazing man, to hear his stories of his grand adventures with the likes of Murrow and Carl Sandburg and Charles Laughton.  And as great a thrill to hear his work.

My favorite, I think, is a piece he wrote called On a Note of Truiumph.  It was written at the end of World War II in Europe and was intended to tell the listening public what we had just won, and why, its cost and where it might lead us.  It aired on all three networks with no commericals, think of that.

You can listen to it right here, by clicking on or copying in your browser http://www.chrisneylon.com/oldtimeradio/audio/RSI04-On%20a%20Note%20of%20Triumph-Norman%20Corwin-051345-57m32kbps.mp3

I have both the book and record album of On a Note of Triumph that came out at the time, in 1945.  Norman inscribed both to me, and they’re two of my greatest treasures.

I think On a Note of Triumph is the greatest work ever written for radio, and one of the greatest pieces of writing written by anyone anytime in any medium.  Listen to it, luxuriate in it, be moved to tears.

Then go out and do something excellent.

All good thoughts your way,

Marc

 

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