Theatre Critic and Obies Creator Jerry Tallmer Passes Away at 95

By: Nov. 10, 2014
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According to the New York Times, Village Voice theatre writer and creator of the Obie Awards, Jerry Tallmer passed away yesterday, November 9, 2014. He was 95 years old.

Born in NYC on December 9, 1920, Jerry Tallmer graduated Lincoln School of Teachers College in 1938. He enlisted in the U.S. Army a few days after Pearl Harbor and was a Radio/Radar Man in the US Army Air Force from 1941 to 1945, serving in the Caribbean and Western Pacific. He saw the Nagasaki mushroom cloud from an aircraft 130 miles away and, as he now says, "didnâ€TMt like it then or now." He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1946 (as Class of 1942).

He was on the founding staff of the Village Voice and was that publication's Associate Editor and drama critic from 1955 to 1962. He was involved in every aspect of the first seven years of that great adventure, from recruiting and encouraging a vast array of gifted, often then unknown talent (Jules Feiffer, Nat Hentoff, Bill Manville, Jonas Mekas, Andrew Sarris, Jill Johnson, Charles Marowitz, etc.), to the ongoing weekly struggle for survival, finding printers, assigning stories, editing copy, handling layout, reading and rereading and proofreading down to the last comma in the smallest classified ad. With it all, he provided the best writing of his own that he could do.

This writing had much to do in those years with appreciations, pro and con (very early in the game, here in America) ofSamuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, Jack Gelber, Edward Albee, John Osborne, Jack Richardson, Leonard Melfi, Michel De Ghelderode, Lorraine Hansberry, William Gibson, Alan Kaprow and his Happenings, Julie Bovasso, Irene Fornes, Jean-Claude van Itallie, A.R. Gurney, The Living Theater, La MaMa E.T.C., and a very great many other artists and breakthrough institutions. Tallmer created the Off-Broadway Obie Awards, celebrating excellence in Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway theater and ran them from 1956 to 1962.

In 1962, he was awarded the George Jean Nathan Award in Drama Criticism.

Between 1962 and 1993, he worked at the New York Post under under the ownerships of Dorothy Schiff, Rupert Murdoch, Peter Kalikow, Abe Hirschfeld, et al, and again Rupert Murdoch. He was a reporter, editor, drama critic, film critic, art columnist, occasional TV critic, feature writer, interim editorial writer, rewrite man, makeup man, copy editor, etc. He wrote hundreds--maybe thousands--of articles, human-interest stories and think pieces about movies, theater, actors, directors, producers, books, authors, painters, sculptors, museums, politics, personalities, news events, world events, sports figures, women in the news, men in the news, oddments, national traumas and obits for the great dead ("more than I can or like to count").

Tallmer once reflected, "Many people on and off The Post were kind enough to think me the best writer but one, on the paper in those years -- that one being Murray Kempton, who in fact had brought me there."

He also fulfilled a heavy editing function at The Post, writing headlines, captions, trimming, putting sections to bed in the composing room, cutting 500-or 700-page books down to six- or 12-part article length; and most especially, working side by side with young writers (at the computer, the typewriter, with pen and pencil), nursing them through the labor pains of producing clear, concise, accurate journalistic copy.

For Rupert Murdoch's first stab at a New York Post Sunday edition (early in his first regime), Tallmer was editor of and writer for the edition's eight-page "Week in Review," which was generally regarded as the "class" of the paper. Tallmer was terminated at the New York Post in 1993 when Rupert Murdoch broke the union (NY Newspaper Guild) and fired 287 people.

During those years, he also free-lanced for Evergreen Review, Dissent, New York Magazine, Woman magazine, Hollywood magazine, the London Independent, the Toronto Star, Playboy, Cavalier, Show Business, The Nation, Saturday Review, P.S. magazine, Architectural Forum and B'nai B'rith Bulletin. He wrote the introduction to "Pull My Daisy" (Grove Press), was the "A" of a lengthy Q&A in Peter Manso's book on Norman Mailer and helped Sammy Cahn write his biography, "I Should Care."

During the 13-week NY newspaper strike of 1977-1978, he was Arts Editor of the prizewinning National Public Radio two-hour "Sunday Papers" program. He did regular reviews and commentary while also assembling staff (from the struck newspapers), laying out programs, slotting times, handling intros, etc.

Between 1994 and 2005, he was Senior Copy Editor at General Media (Penthouse) while maintaining an unusual velocity of free-lance arts writing He contributed articles, interviews and reviews to Playbill (Broadway and Off-Broadway), Penthouse, Lifestyles, The Villager (theater, films, profiles, news), the Downtown Express, Gay City News, Newsday, Book magazine, Daily News, The Village Voice, The Bergen Record (film and book critic), New York Times Syndicate, New York Times, Backstage and numerous other publications. He also wrote an introduction to Four New Plays by Horton Foote (Smith & Kraus) and helped shape and organize Jerry Stillerâ€TMs memoir, "Married to Laughter." He wrote several hundred pages on the trial of Zion vs. New York Hospital and four or five doctors as center of a proposed book on the Libby Zion case. He also worked with Art D'Lugoff on his memoirs of jazz, folk music, the Village, the Village Gate and the period of the 1950s to 1990s.

Tallmer was a pioneer in online journalism for the arts, contributing to The New York Theatre Wire from 1996 onward. In June, 1997, he began that publication's cinema coverage with a critique of Martin Scorcese's release of Jean-Luc Godard's "Contempt."

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