Obituary: Henry Denker / Prolific playwright, novelist known for radio drama
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Henry Denker, a prolific novelist and playwright who may be best known for writing a long-running radio dramatization of the life of Jesus, "The Greatest Story Ever Told," died May 15 at his home in New York City. He was 99. The New York Times reported that he had lung cancer.
Mr. Denker practiced law before giving it up to write radio scripts in the 1930s. Throughout his long career, which included more than 30 novels, Mr. Denker addressed such powerful themes as justice, religion and treason -- though his critics said he sometimes demonstrated more earnestness than finesse.
In a review of the 1963 play, "A Case of Libel," about a war correspondent who sues a gossip columnist, a Time magazine critic wrote: "Playwright Denker ringingly declares for a responsible free press and due process of law, which is about as audacious as sponsoring the Ten Commandments."
Religious ideas figured heavily in many of Mr. Denker's works, including a series of 1950s television dramas set in biblical times. From 1947 to '56, he was the writer, director and producer of "The Greatest Story Ever Told," for which he won a Peabody Award and many other honors during its 10-year run as a radio drama.
He noted in a 1948 New York Times essay that he called on an ecumenical panel of members of the clergy to review each episode.
Writer Fulton Oursler borrowed the title of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" for a 1949 book about the life of Jesus, which became the basis for director George Stevens's 1965 film of the same name.
Mr. Denker's 1956 court-martial drama (written with Ralph Berkey) about a U.S. prisoner of war in Korea suspected of treason, "Time Limit!," was made into a film one year later, directed by Karl Malden with Richard Widmark in the starring role.
Henry Denker was born Nov. 25, 1912, in New York City. His father was a fur trader.
The younger Mr. Denker briefly studied to become a rabbi before graduating from New York Law School in 1934. He gave up his law practice after three years and turned to writing for radio.
First Published May 28, 2012 12:00 am