Walter Kerr was born in Evanston, Illinois on July, 8 1913 and graduated from Northwestern University with degrees in English and Drama. He went on to teach Speech and Drama at The Catholic University of America but left the world of academia in 1951 when he signed up for the New York Herald Tribune as their theatre critic, having impressed with his work for Commonweal.
Kerr married the writer Jean Kerr in 1943 and they would have six children (five sons and one daughter) together. In 1958 they won two Tony Awards for the musical Goldilocks, a parody of the silent film era. Kerr himself directed the Broadway production which opened at the Lunt-Fontanne theatre. The husband and wife duo also collaborated on Touch and Go (1949) and King of Hearts (1954) and Kerr wrote a number of books with his first, How Not to Write a Play, probably the most well-known.
But it was for his criticism that Kerr was best-known with actors and writers fearing his reviews in the New York Herald Tribune, and later the New York Times. His success a critic lay not only in his background as a teacher of drama but in his work as a writer and director on the productions mentioned above. He allied this knowledge with an ability to write in an easily-comprehendible style, described by Noel Coward – a playwright he liked – as thus:
"after a tortuous sentence fairly shimmering with emotion he suddenly introduces a vulgarism, a slang phrase, to prove that in spite of his impressive learning he is in fact just a regular guy like you or me"
One of his most famous reviews was his three word summary of John Van Druten's I Am A Camera in 1951, for which he concluded: 'Me no Leica.' Kerr's importance was such that he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism" title="Pulitzer Prize" target="_blank">Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, one of the few drama critics to do so, and the naming of a theatre after him serves as a memory of his place in the history of New York theatre.
How Not to Write a Play (1955)
Criticism and Censorship (1957)
Pieces at Eight (1958)
The Decline of Pleasure (1962)
The Theatre in Spite of Itself (1963)
Tragedy and Comedy (1967)
Thirty Plays Hath November (1969)
God on the Gymnasium Floor (1971)
The Silent Clowns (1975)
Journey to the Center of the Theater (1979)
New York City
In 1990, the old Ritz Theater on West 48th Street was renamed the Walter Kerr Theater in his honor.
The brand new musical version of Amelie enjoys its Broadway premiere at the Walter Kerr Theater, opening for previews on March 9th and holding its press night on April 7th.
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