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Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958

By Laurence G. Avery; Maxwell Anderson | Go to book overview

160. TO THE NEWSPAPER DRAMA CRITICS OF NEW YORK 1

[ New City]
[ September, 1948]

Dear Mr. _____

This is practically an open letter, since I'm sending it to all the first-night critics on the newspapers of New York City. For some years I've been trying, like many theatre workers, to find a way around the critics' first night--the opening night at which the critics appear in a body and can act as a firing squad to shoot down the play on view.

It's been my contention, and I think a majority of playwrights, actors, producers and theatre-goers agree with me, that the newspaper critics have a power which they should not have. At present they decide whether or not a play shall live. Because they're invited to first nights in a body, because of the enormous prestige and influence of the papers which publish their opinions, a play must die if they turn against it. And this is no democratic procedure. If delegates chosen by theatrical producers decided which newspapers could live we'd have the same situation in reverse. In a democracy the public should choose the plays it may see, as well as the newspapers it may read. And at present the newspaper critics choose the plays.

We have got ourselves into this fix--critics, audiences, producers and theatre workers alike--because a large group of the critics in our city are also reporters. As reporters it's their duty to rush to every opening and spread the news of what happened last night in the theatre. As reviewers or critics it's their duty to give well-considered and expert opinions of the play and the production. The first-string critics who are also newspaper men have done their best to fit themselves into this dual role, but the confusion of functions has had two unhappy results: it robs the public of its right to judge for itself-- for any play the critics don't like is shot down before the public has a chance to form an opinion, and it robs the public of the matured consideration of the newspaper reviewers. Once these men have said their hasty journalistic say they're committed, and must stick by their guns. A thoughtful and careful literary judgment is in the circumstances impossible. What we get usually is something cock-sure, amusing, and off-hand. Now the critics are almost all men of good

-225-

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