Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Deceased--Judith Crist

 Judith Crist
May 22nd, 1922 to August 7th, 2012

"Film Critic Judith Crist Dies at 90"

The blunt and popular film critic's reviews were at times so harsh that director Otto Preminger labeled her "Judas Crist"

August 7th, 2012

Associated Press

Judith Crist, a blunt and popular film critic for the “Today” show, TV Guide and the New York Herald Tribune whose reviews were at times so harsh that director Otto Preminger labeled her “Judas Crist,” has died. She was 90.

Her son, Steven Crist, said his mother died Tuesday at her Manhattan home after a long illness.

Starting in 1963, at the Tribune, Crist wrote about and discussed thousands of movies, and also covered theater and books. She was among the first reviewers of her time to gain a national following, and Roger Ebert credited her with helping to make all film critics better known, including such contemporaries as The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice.

With the growing recognition of such foreign directors as Francois Truffaut and Federico Fellini, and the rise of such American filmmakers as Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, the 1960s and 1970s were an inspiring time for movie reviewers. But Crist’s trademark quickly became the putdown.

An early review was for “Spencer’s Mountain,” a sentimental family melodrama starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara. Unmoved by a story that became the basis for the TV series “The Waltons,” Crist denounced the film’s “sheer prurience and perverted morality” and cracked that “it makes the nudie shows at the Rialto look like Walt Disney productions.”

The critic really poured it on for “Cleopatra,” the budget-busting historical epic that starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and was overwhelmed by the actors’ off-screen love affair. “At best a major disappointment, at worst an extravagant exercise in tedium,” Crist called the film, dismissing Taylor as “an entirely physical creature, no depth of emotion apparent in her kohl-laden eyes, no modulation in her voice, which too often rises to fishwife levels.”

Her conclusion: “The mountain of notoriety has produced a mouse.”

Crist was occasionally banned from advance screenings, while studios and theaters would threaten to pull advertising. When her “Cleopatra” review brought her a prize from the New York Newspaper Women’s Club, officials at 20th Century Fox, which released the movie, withdrew from the ceremony.

Preminger, whose “Hurry Sundown” she called the “worst film” she had seen in memory, referred to her as “Judas Crist.” After she condemned Billy Wilder’s cross-dressing classic “Some Like It Hot” for its “perverse” gags and “homosexual ‘in’ joke(s),” Wilder allegedly remarked that asking her to review your movie was like “asking the Boston strangler to massage your neck.”

But Crist had many friends in the business, from Bette Davis to “Cleopatra” director Joseph Mankiewicz. She ran a film festival for decades out of suburban Tarrytown, N.Y., with guests including Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Steven Spielberg. Woody Allen liked her well enough to give her a cameo in his 1980 drama “Stardust Memories,” widely believed to have been based in part on Crist’s Tarrytown gatherings.

She was born in New York in 1922 and would say that Charlie Chaplin’s silent masterpiece “The Gold Rush” was her first and most vivid film memory. By age 10, she had decided she wanted to be a reviewer; movies became her passion and her vice. She would cut classes for a chance to visit a theater or two, including a cherished day in which she took in showings of “Gone With the Wind,” ”The Grapes of Wrath” and “Grand Illusion.”

Her edge was likely formed by her Dickensian childhood. The daughter of a successful fur trader, she lived in Canada until age 9, attending private school, enjoying the luxuries of multiple homes, live-in servants and the family’s bulletproof Cadillac. But in the 1930s, her father’s business was ruined by the Great Depression.

“And then suddenly, our most gracious home was gone. The servants left,” she wrote years later in Time magazine. “After we lost the last of our homes, we moved to New York to get some kind of assistance from my mother’s family. Well, from both of my parents’ families. We lived in a small, one-bedroom apartment while my father went out on the road, recouping things.”

She still managed to attend Hunter College and receive a master’s degree from Columbia University’s journalism school. In 1945, soon after graduation, she was hired as a feature writer by the Herald Tribune, where she remained until the paper closed, in 1966, and where colleagues included Jimmy Breslin and Tom Wolfe. In 1950, her education reporting brought her a George Polk Award, and she was honored five times by the New York Newspaper Woman’s Club.

Crist reviewed film and theater for the “Today” show from 1964-73, and as a print critic worked for New York magazine, TV Guide and the New York Post. She was a longtime adjunct professor at Columbia and her essays, interviews and reviews have been compiled into three books: “The Private Eye, The Cowboy and the Very Naked Girl,” ”Judith Crist’s TV Guide to the Movies” and “Take 22: Moviemakers on Moviemaking.”

Crist’s husband, public relations consultant William B. Crist, died in 1993. Their son, Steven Crist, covered horse racing for The New York Times and later became publisher of the Daily Racing Form.

"Judith Crist dies at 90; film critic 'most hated by Hollywood'"

Often caustic, Judith Crist was the longtime critic for the 'Today' show and 'TV Guide.' She was also the first woman to become a full-time film critic at a major American newspaper.


Dennis McLellan

August 8th, 2012

Los Angeles Times

As one of America's most widely read and influential film critics from the 1960s through the '80s, Judith Crist was known for her often-caustic reviews that earned her a reputation as "the critic most hated by Hollywood."

Director Billy Wilder once joked that inviting Crist to review a film was "like asking the Boston Strangler for a neck massage."

Director Otto Preminger referred to her simply as "Judas Crist."

Crist, who gained national exposure as the longtime critic for the "Today"show and "TV Guide," died Tuesday at her home in Manhattan after a long illness, said her son, Steven Crist. She was 90.

A self-described "movie nut" since she marveled at a silent Charlie Chaplin in "The Gold Rush" as a child in the 1920s, Crist put in 18 years as a reporter, feature writer, second-string drama critic and arts editor at the New York Herald Tribune before she finally realized her childhood dream of becoming a movie critic in the early 1960s.

Thanks to a long New York newspaper strike, she began reviewing theater and movies on a local TV station in 1963. Her appearances caught the eye of the producer of NBC's "Today" show, and she began a 10-year freelance run as network TV's first theater and film critic.

And when the newspaper strike ended in 1963, Crist was named film critic at the Herald Tribune. She was the first woman to become a full-time film critic at a major American newspaper.

From the beginning, she gained notoriety as a gutsy critic who pulled no punches.

In a scathing review of "Spencer's Mountain," a family drama starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara, she blasted Radio City Music Hall for its Easter-time showing of a film "that for sheer prurience and perverted morality disguised as piety makes the nudie shows at the Rialto look like Walt Disney productions."

The review touched a nerve:Warner Bros.sent her a telegram barring her from its screenings, and Radio City withdrew its advertising from the paper.

"Was I fired — or moved elsewhere in the paper?" Crist said in a 1997 speech. No, she said, the Herald Tribune "simply ran an editorial decrying my nemeses as childish and declaring that the Tribune's critic, right or wrong, had the right of free speech."

Crist continued to exert that right in her reviews, including offering this assessment of the over-budget 1963 epic "Cleopatra," starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: "At best a major disappointment, at worst an extravagant exercise in tedium."

But Crist, who later became founding film critic for New York magazine and spent 22 years as a critic for "TV Guide," didn't just find fault with films.

"One of the joys of criticism is in wanting to share discovered pleasure," she once wrote. "You can't kill the trash, but at least you can give the good a push and pass it on."

A critic, she said in a 1989 interview with the Jerusalem Post, "is an individual voicing his or her own opinion. He's not the voice of God. In my reviews, I say what I think of a film and why, and my readers know my tastes by now. Some hate my taste, and so I'm reliable for them, too, since they know they'll like what I hate."

Crist championed filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen, in whose 1980 movie "Stardust Memories" she made a cameo appearance.

In 1971, Crist began hosting film weekends in Tarrytown, N.Y. She continued doing the popular weekend events, which included film screenings and appearances by actors and filmmakers, until 2006.

The daughter of a fur trader, she was born Judith Klein on May 22, 1922, in New York City and spent much of her childhood in Canada before the family returned to New York.

Movies were a constant.

"The greatest day of my life I cut school and went to see 'Gone With the Wind' at the Capitol for 25 cents, then across the street to the Rialto to see 'The Grapes of Wrath' and down to 42nd Street for 'Grand Illusion' on Broadway," she said in an interview with Eve's Magazine. "And there was still 75 cents left over to sustain us with an enormous chunk of many-layered whipped cream pie at Hector's."

A 1941 graduate of Hunter College, she received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1945.

From 1958 until last February, when she became ill, Crist was an adjunct professor of writing at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Her husband, William B. Crist, an educational public relations consultant, died in 1993.

She is survived by her son, editor and publisher emeritus of the Daily Racing Form, who said his mother continued her lifelong love of the movies to the end.

"Absolutely," he said, "She watched many hours a day of Turner Classic Movies and was frequently discovering something she hadn't seen in 60 years."

"Judith Crist, a Blunt and Influential Film Critic, Dies at 90"


Douglas Martin

August 7th, 2012

The New York Times

Judith Crist, one of America’s most widely read film critics for more than three decades and a provocative presence in millions of homes as a regular reviewer on the “Today” show, died Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 90.

Her death was confirmed by her son, Steven.

Ms. Crist came to prominence when film was breaking with the conventions of the Hollywood studio era while experiencing a resurgence in popularity. She championed a new generation of American directors like Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen and new actors like Robert De Niro and Faye Dunaway.

Her commentary had many homes: The New York Herald Tribune, where she was the first woman to be made a full-time critic for a major American newspaper; New York magazine, where she was the founding film critic; and TV Guide, which most defined her to readers. Her reviews appeared there for 22 years at a time when the magazine reached a peak readership of more than 20 million.

She was the “Today” show’s first regular movie critic, a morning fixture on NBC from 1963 to 1973. And she wrote for Saturday Review, Gourmet and Ladies’ Home Journal.

A Harris Poll of moviegoers in the 1960s cited her as their favorite critic. When TV Guide decided to dismiss her in 1983 to replace her column with a computerized movie summary, executives told her that they might beg her to return in six months. The magazine was deluged with letters and asked her back three weeks later. She was given a raise and stayed until 1988.

Her zingers could be withering. In March 1965, she panned three major releases in a single “Today” appearance: “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (“A kind of dime-store holy picture”), “Lord Jim” (“A lot of heavy five-cent philosophy”) and “The Sound of Music” (“Icky-sticky”).

Reviewing Anne Bancroft’s performance as a troubled wife in the 1964 film “The Pumpkin Eater,” Ms. Crist wrote in The Herald Tribune, “She seems a cowlike creature with no aspirations or intellect above her pelvis.” Of “The Sound of Music,” a box-office smash in 1965 and one of the most popular films of all time, she said, “The movie is for the 5-to-7 set and their mommies who think the kids aren’t up to the stinging sophistication and biting wit of ‘Mary Poppins.’ ”

She kicked up storms almost immediately after the paper made her its movie critic in 1963. Six weeks after her appointment, her scathing review of “Spencer’s Mountain,” starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara, led Warner Brothers and Radio City Music Hall, where the film was shown, to briefly withdraw their advertising. The Herald Tribune’s publisher stood behind her. The ads soon returned.

Her put-down of “Cleopatra” the next month “as a monumental mouse” added to her notoriety. There were threats, soon forgotten, to ban her from screenings. The critic Roger Ebert told The Chicago Tribune in 1999 that the movie industry’s retaliation for her commentary “led to every newspaper in the country saying, ‘Hey, we ought to get a real movie critic.’ ”

Ms. Crist eschewed pretension, but never explanation. Though she had disagreements with Pauline Kael of The New Yorker, she generally avoided the kind of intellectual dueling that Ms. Kael engaged in with Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice. Her job, she said, was to expand on the “Wow!” or the “Yuck!” a moviegoer might utter. The author and editor Richard R. Lingeman, writing in The New York Times Book Review in 1968, said her “level of discourse” was more that of Consumer Reports than of Partisan Review.

Her enthusiasm for film cut across all genres. In a 1985 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, she insisted that a true movie fan takes James Bond as seriously as “the grand auteurism of Bergman.”

Yet many of her largest bouquets went to auteurs like Truffaut, Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray and David Lean. Her American favorites included Stanley Kubrick, John Cassavetes and Robert Altman.

Her knife could cut both ways. In reviewing “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” Kubrick’s satirical 1964 masterpiece, she called Kubrick a “boy genius.” But four years later she said his film “2001: A Space Odyssey” would be “pithy and potent” — if it were cut in half.

Ms. Crist’s acidity provoked the director Billy Wilder to say, “Inviting her to review one of your pictures is like inviting the Boston Strangler to massage your neck.”

Judith Klein was born in Manhattan on May 22, 1922. Her family moved to Montreal when she was an infant, and she spent her first 12 years there before moving back to New York.

Her father, Solomon Klein, had business interests in furs and jewelry but lost everything in the Depression. He became a traveling salesman and invented things, according to an essay she wrote in Time magazine in 2008. Her mother, the former Helen Schoenberg, was a librarian and translator.

Ms. Crist was 5 when she saw her first movie, “7th Heaven,” a silent film with an Oscar-winning performance by Janet Gaynor. But she became a “movie nut,” she said, when she saw Charlie Chaplin’s “Gold Rush” (1925). She began sneaking out to the movies, telling her mother that she was swimming at the Y or studying at the library.

Ms. Crist said she might have made Phi Beta Kappa at Hunter College in Manhattan had she not cut class so many times to go to the movies. She went on to do graduate work in 18th-century English literature at Columbia, teach at Washington State University, become a civilian English instructor for the Air Force and attend the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, finishing her degree in 1945.

Her first job at The Herald Tribune was assistant to the women’s editor. After becoming a general-assignment reporter, she won a George Polk Award in 1951 for her education coverage.

She saw her first “blue” movie as the only woman covering Senate hearings on pornography in New York in 1945. Her male colleagues insisted that she leave the room during their private screening of the film in question, “Breaking In Blondie.” The unbuttoning scene was just beginning when she had to leave.

Her pocketbook gave her an advantage, however, while covering a news conference for a new Marilyn Monroe film. When Monroe broke a shoulder strap, Ms. Crist supplied her with a safety pin and was granted an exclusive interview.

She began writing theater reviews in 1957 while continuing to cover news. Three years later she became arts editor. During a newspaper strike in 1963 she reviewed theater and movies for WABC. Her aptitude for the medium was noticed by the “Today” show producers who later hired her. After the strike’s end, and after meeting with The Tribune’s editor, James Bellows, and publisher, John Hay Whitney (known as Jock), she became The Tribune’s movie critic on April 1, 1963. She wrote that she was immediately “famous” six weeks later for her “Spencer’s Mountain” review, which described the film as “sheer prurience and perverted morality disguised as piety.”

When the film’s producer and theater threatened advertisement cuts, The Herald Tribune stood firmly behind her on First Amendment grounds.

As movies veered toward more explicit sexuality, she could be critical.

“I’m tired of bare breasts, buttocks and bellies,” she said in an interview with Newsweek in 1967. “I’m not a bluenose, but this penchant for flesh is moronic and unhealthy. It’s a big shill.”

Ms. Crist, who taught at the Columbia journalism school for more than 50 years, continuing until this February, also held a small film festival in Tarrytown, N.Y. It began in 1971 and included appearances by famous directors and actors, as well as showings of still-unreleased movies. Woody Allen used it as a model for his fictional film festival in “Stardust Memories.” She ended it in 2006.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ms. Crist reviewed films for Coming Attractions magazine. She continued to write on other topics, including an article on TV dinners for Gourmet magazine in 2000.

Ms. Crist published a collection of reviews, “The Private Eye, the Cowboy, and the Very Naked Girl: Movies From Cleo to Clyde” (1968) and edited, designed or contributed to several more books.

She is survived by her son, editor and publisher emeritus of The Daily Racing Form and a former reporter for The New York Times. Her husband, William B. Crist, a public relations counselor, died in 1993.

Ms. Crist said a critic must be an egomaniac. But she went on to say a larger job requirement was passion, perhaps even love, for what movies are, do and can be.

“Amid all the easily loved darlings of Charlie Brown’s circle, obstreperous Lucy holds a special place in my heart,” she said. “She fusses and fumes and she carps and complains. That’s because Lucy cares. And it’s the caring that counts.”

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