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Critic Takes Aim at Those Taking Pot Shots at Him!
Airdate: Sunday - January 29, 1961

Last Update: 03-16-2018

Show Description
NEW YORK [Special] In Ira Levin's light and cheerful comedy, "Critic's Choice," Henry Fonda plays a high principled drama reviewer. Tho a nice fellow with a pure heart, he is fair game and people enjoy taking pot shots at him and his profession. Recently my friend Jean Shepherd, the Hamlet of radio and TV, soliloquized over the sound waves, "The critics think the actors are the most important part of the play. To read the notices you'd think that Anne Bancroft wrote 'The Miracle Worker.'" Quite often, people who criticize critics are not as careful and conscientious as the men at whom they are swinging their broadswords. They are given to generalities, like the director in the comedy and the monologist on the radio. There is so little intelligent criticism of critics, when we need it so badly; mostly we get bursts of wild emotion. * * * I became irritated when I heard Shepherd make the crack about Anne Bancroft writing "The Miracle Worker," for I was pretty sure that this was not so in my case. I checked by looking up the notice I'd written the night of Oct. 19, 1959. It began, "My first impulse in beginning to write this report on William Gibson's 'The Miracle Worker ' was to say that it is a beautiful play.'' Then, for the next five paragraphs, I discussed the play and its subject, Helen Keller, and Gibson's fine work. Not until the next to last paragraph did I mention the exciting performances by the .two principal players, Miss Bancroft and Patty Duke. "I guess that will fix Jean Shepherd's clock," I said to myself. "But maybe he was right about the others.'' So I looked up all the other newspaper reviews, and here is the score: John McClain, Journal-American, devoted seven paragraphs to the playwright and his drama before getting down to Bancroft and Duke. Richard Watts Jr., Post, wailed until his last paragraph to cut loose his enthusiasm over the actresses. Brooks Atkinson, Times, led off with Gibson, the author; switched to eight lines about Duke and Bancroft, then came back to a discussion of the drama, of which he did not entirely approve. * * * Robert Coleman, Mirror, led off with Gibson, tossed his fedora into the air for the actresses, and used more than half of the rest of his notice on Gibson's work and the way it was staged. Walter Kerr, Herald Tribune, used his first seven paragraphs on the playwright and the subject of his drama before throwing one of his graceful fits over the cast. Gibson was the star of that notice, too. Frank Aston , World-Telegram, seemed to be on Shepherd's side because he began, "Anne Bancroft and little Patty Duke will shatter every crowd that gathers in the Playhouse for months to come." But then he put in four solid paragraphs about the dramatist and his drama. * * * The attitude of other people in the theater to their fellow worker, the critic, often is difficult to understand. Is it sheer dislike? Is it fear of unfair reprisals? Or is it a lunatic kind of respect? For example, my wife and I at the opening of " Do Re Mi" didn't want to buck the mob heading for the sidewalk at intermission. So we sought a secluded corner in the back of the smoking alley. There, within 10 feet of us, were the writers of the songs, Jule Styne, Belty.Comden, and Adolph Green. They are old friends, so I waved a fond hello. They froze, turned pale, didn't even blink their codfish eyes and just pretended my wife and I weren't there. Why? * * * Best I could discover later was that they didn't want to appear to be influencing my opinion of a half finished performance by acting friendly. I was, for the instant, not an old friend but Jove himself, carrying thunderbolts. They were not going to upset my integrity by smiling. That's a nonsensical attitude, of course, I have enough trouble influencing my own opinion to let anybody else in on the job. And if somebody is convinced my opinion is wrong I wish he'd say so, and I'll print his objection without rancor, because it might do me good. But I think that mistaken generalizations about "The Critics" like Shepherd's are not constructive criticism. They are uninformed and thoughtlessly biased - and this is what critics' opinions are supposed to be.
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January 29,1961
Chicago Tribune

Courtesy: Steve Glazer

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