Henry Denker (November 25, 1912 – May 15, 2012) was an American novelist and playwright.
Denker was admitted to the New York Bar in 1935, at the height of the Depression, and he soon left law practice to earn his living by writing. His legal training was reflected in many of his works. During Denker’s brief legal career, he won a Workmen’s Compensation case which, according to Denker, for the first time established that a physical trauma can induce a mental disease. In another case, Denker served a summons on heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.
Denker was married for 61 years to Edith Heckman, whom he met when he was a patient and she was a nurse in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Denker was the originator and writer of what he describes as the “first television series ever produced,” False Witsness, on NBC-TV in 1939. Despite its success, the series was discontinued when the nascent medium of television was converted into an instruction tool for the mass training of Air Raid Wardens in anticipation of the U.S. entry into World War II.
Denker started writing for radio with three productions on CBS Radio’s Columbia Workshop: “Me? I Drive a Hack,” starring Richard Widmark, “Emile, the Seal,” a fantasy, and “Laughter for the Leader,” a political drama in which CBS, without explanation, forbade the character of Hitler to be played with a German accent. During the War World II, Denker worked as a writer on the English Desk of the Office of War Information.
In 1945, Denker began his full-time writing career as the writer of the Radio Readers Digest on CBS. One of his scripts, he says, was the first radio drama about a physical transplant, a corneal transplant of a human eye to restore sight.
In 1947, Denker wrote the first script for the religious radio series The Greatest Story Ever Told, which, in its first year, won the Peabody Award, the Christopher Award, the CCNY Outstanding Program of the Year Award, the Variety Award of the Year 1947, and others. Denker was to write every script in the series, which ran from 1947 to 1957.
Later, on television, Denker wrote, and David Susskind produced, the first dramatic treatment of a heart transplant, “The Choice,” which anticipated the challenge of so many patients in need and so few hearts to give. With a cast including Melvyn Douglas, George Grizzard and Frank Langella, the TV drama included film of an actual surgery provided by Dr. Michael E. DeBakey. Denker recalls that CBS allowed only 30 seconds of the surgical film for fear that the audience would shrink from seeing a beating heart in an open chest cavity.
While writing for radio and television, Denker branched out into the theater, which he describes as “my first love.” Later he began writing novels. Of his 34 published novels, 17—more than any other author’s—have been selected and published by Reader's Digest Condensed Books.
Six plays by Denker have been produced on Broadway, two in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and two in other venues.
Denker died of lung cancer on May 15, 2012.