New Yorker's John Lahr to End Run as Critic; Begin Profiles
The New Yorker has just announced that after twenty years as the publication's chief theatre critic, John Lahr will give up regular reviewing to focus on the profiles he also contributes to the magazine, as well as book projects.
In the long line of distinguished theatre critics at The New Yorker, Lahr’s twenty-year tenure is the second longest in the magazine’s history. (Wolcott Gibbs served twenty-five years). Lahr was hired by Tina Brown in 1992 to revive the theatre pages of the magazine. He has written hundreds of reviews, essays, and profiles and has championed writers and artists such as August Wilson, Tony Kushner, Wallace Shawn, Sarah Ruhl, Neil LaBute, Nina Arianda,George Wolfe, and the revival in the interest in the work of Tennessee Williams. His first profile in the magazine (1990) was “Playing Possum,” a twenty-thousand-word profile that introduced Barry Humphries, and his comic alter-ego Dame Edna Everage, to Americans. He also broke out the late, great Bill Hicks to American audiences with his profile “The Goat Boy Rises.” His expose of Tennessee Williams’s literary executor, Lady Maria St. Just, was instrumental in lifting the Williams Estate’s five-year embargo on the first volume of his intended two-part biography, “Tom,” by Lyle Leverich. Lahr took over the project when Leverich died and it will be published by Norton as the stand-alone biography “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh” in Spring, 2014.
Lahr's work for the magazine has been extensively honored: he has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, and twice had his work selected for the compilation “Best American Essays.” He won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for “Sinatra’s Song,” his 1997 profile of Frank Sinatra.
"John Lahr is a critic of passion and intelligence and The New Yorker has been lucky to publish his criticism for a generation," said David Remnick, Editor of The New Yorker. "I'm just glad he's not going anywhere, because he is also a master of the Profile, and he's promised us to keep writing those, even as he works on his books."
"Noel Coward once said, ‘I'm not vain but I'm proud.’ Me too. I'm proud of the New Yorker, proud to be part of its story, and proud of the range and depth of the theatre coverage on my watch. My years as critic for the magazine have been the happiest in my writing life,” said John Lahr.
Lahr is the author of the distinguished biographies “Notes on a Cowardly Lion,” the biography of Bert Lahr (1969), and “Prick Up Your Ears,” the biography of Joe Orton (1980), which was made into the 1987 film of the same name, written by Alan Bennett and directed by Stephen Frears. His work for The New Yorker is included in the books “Light Fantastic” (1996), “Show and Tell” (2000), and “Honky Tonk Parade” (2005). He has also edited “The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan” (2001) and “The Orton Diaries” (1996).
He has also written for theater and film: He was the co-author of “Elaine Stritch at Liberty,” (2002) for which he received a Tony Award — the first for a critic — and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical. His other plays have been performed in Great Britain’s Royal National Theatre and the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and at the Mark Taper Theatre in Los Angeles. Lahr’s short film “Sticky My Fingers, Fleet My Feet,” directed by John Hancock, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1971.
Lahr was born into a show-business family. His father, Bert Lahr, was the lion in “The Wizard of Oz”; his mother was a Ziegfeld Girl. In the late sixties, during the hey-day of Off-Broadway, he was the theatre critic of The Village Voice and Evergreen Review, as well as drama editor of Grove Press. In the 1970s, Lahr served as literary manager of both the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre.
John Lahr lives in London. Hilton Als will continue as theatre critic at The New Yorker, based in New York City.