The Archive is sad to report the death of film and television critic Judith Crist, who passed away at the age 90. Crist was the film critic for Today and was the first female critic to hold a full-time position at a major American newspaper, The New York Herald.
Here are some selections from her 2006 Archive Interview:
On how she experienced movies as a child:
I just lived them. I lived them, and then I began dreaming. My parents were always subscribers to The Nation, and The New Republic, and the New York Times, and I had reached the stage of reading movie reviews. I began to dream of a glorious career. In other words, to hell with the novel, to hell with the play, I was going to become a movie critic.
On getting hired at the New York Herald Tribune:
I was hired by a woman who was called the poor man’s Dorothy Thompson, but it was Dorothy Dunbar Bromley, who had been a very good columnist. She was a liberal to the nth degree. She was on the Civil Liberties Union Board and was a strong feminist and everything else. The woman publisher of the Tribune, Helen Rogers Reed, had hired her to be the Sunday woman’s editor. Unlike the Daily woman’s pages, which were devoted in those days to food, fashion, and furnishings, her page was known as the social significance page in the Sunday review of the week section, it was called “History In The Making.” And we covered — you could write about anything as long as you could attach a woman to it, whatever interested us. It was really a wonderful life. To get a job with a byline right off the bat in what was considered the newspaperman’s newspaper. One of the best papers in the country, was, again you know, what could a heaven be for? So I spent four very happy years there, and then the page had become so generalized that it was just integrated in, and I went on the Daily staff and started a career as a hot shot girl reporter in a paper that was distinctly woman oriented, not just because of Helen Reed, who had married the publisher, and who was his widow. But there were more women reporters re-write people, and in general employed there in relation to the staff than at the Times. It was a very good paper in which to be a woman.
On becoming a film and television critic:
My debut into both film criticism and in television happened almost simultaneously. I did a lot while I was a reporter on the city side. The entertainment department, whether it was being run by Otis Guernsey — I guess it was during most of that time, would occasionally ask a reporter to do a feature story for the section. He began asking me to write features, and I did a lot of feature stories about incoming Broadway shows, and other entertainment. If there was a movie personality coming in to interview … in general doing features. On occasion I would write features about television programs. In it I would interview the people. I didn’t own a television set. I didn’t have time for it. I worked nights – nights I’d go to movies or theater, or on assignments, and who watched television? It was the idiot box and out there were the idiots. But I had fun writing about an upcoming program. I remember going to the NBC Studios when Cliff Robertson was going to do a children’s show where he was in a kind of spaceship. I went to NBC, and I even climbed into Cliff’s spaceship with him, and it was fun. There was nothing to watch on television in order to write the story. Another reporter, a good friend of mine, kind of shared these assignments with me ‘cause we were good feature writers, and friends of the arts editor. Suddenly word leaked out, his name was Don Ross that neither he, nor I owned television sets. I think it was CBS that insisted upon sending us each a television set. Now these were used black and whites, and the managing editor said it would be okay to accept them. So we had those.
On Today producer Al Morgan asking her to become the program’s film critic:
The most important thing that happened to me – I had been watched on ABC, on WABC, o my various guest appearances, by Al Morgan, who was the great producer of The Today Show. He got in touch with me. A good friend of mine was a friend of his apparently, and he had asked her how to get in touch with me on a personal level. He asked me to come to join The Today Show.
On writing for TV Guide:
Two years after I got on The Today Show I got a call from then editor, Merrill Panitt of TV Guide. He said, “I would like to talk to you about doing film criticism for us, may I take you to lunch at some point?” I said, “yes, indeed, that I was interested.” I went out and got a copy of TV Guide, which I had never looked at. I must say I could not have had a happier venue than TV Guide. I was there for 22 years as their column; I was there from ’65 to ’87. Along came the made-for-television movie, as well as the major events of Hollywood movies coming to television. It was, again, beyond The Today Show, at one point TV Guide had a readership — it had a circulation of 17 million in its heyday. It claimed a readership of 51 million — because it was weekly and around the house, they figured that about three people at least read it, and of course read each copy during the week.
On how she would like to be remembered:
I guess one of the finest compliments, or the one that meant the most to mevwas at some point must’ve been either in the 60’s or 70’s, before she died, Dorothy Parker was interviewed in “The Ladies Home Journal,” and they asked her about what critics she liked or didn’t like. She said, “the one critic I enjoy reading is Judith Crist.” One of my idols was Dorothy Parker, and her wit, and her everything. So to have her say that of me was more than all the various prizes and honors. I think maybe that’s how I would like to be remembered: She was a very good journalistic critic in her time and, by the way she was the first woman on network television to review movies. If that is a claim to fame, I don’t think it quite compares with being the first woman in space or whatever. Television was certainly kind to me.
Watch Judith Crist’s full Archive interview
Read her Obituary in The Wrap