Thursday, December 5, 2019
Critic John Simon (1925-2019)
John Simon was one of the most prominent writers of my adulthood. Love him or hate him (and many did both), his writing sparkled with wit and intelligence. Simon took strong positions, used acerbic language and wielded metaphors like swords.
Simon died last week at age 94. I didn't learn about his death until today 'cause I was down in Florida last week tending to my elderly father.
Simon wrote critical reviews of theater, film and books in New York magazine, The New York Times and The New Criterion. He appeared on TV as himself in episodes of "The Odd Couple" and "Saturday Night Live."
The most controversial thing Simon did was note how actors look. He said Barbra Streisand's nose "cleaves the giant screen from east to west, bisects it from north to south. It zigzags across our horizon like a bolt of fleshy lightning." Simon described Kathleen Turner as a "braying mantis." In response, film-critic Roger Ebert said: "I feel repugnance for the critic John Simon, who made it a specialty to attack the way actors look. They can't help how they look, any more than John Simon can help looking like a rat."
Actress Silvia Miles was once so upset at Simon's review of her play that when she saw him in a famous New York restaurant, she dumped a plate of food on his head. During a later interview, Simon said Miles "has retold [that story] ten thousand times. And th[e] steak tartare [she hit me with] has since metamorphosed into every known dish from lasagna to chop suey. It's been so many things that you could feed the starving orphans of India or China with it."
I'll miss John. :-)