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John Simon: Parlor Tricks and Reruns

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So John Simon was fired.

He was usually basically respectful towards me. I wrote a letter to New York about him some years ago, about how all that cruelty was a reflection of something larger in the city, a neo-nastiness that had become institutionalized and said something about how he had squandered his considerable credibility. They published it. He reviewed subsequent plays with the same interest -- sometimes pro, sometimes con. He loved my first play in NY, "The Film Society", and never liked anything as much. And would write that. Again and again. I wondered if he was right for a little while, and then let it go. He did (by choice) become a joke and it was an old one. I don't like to kick him when he's down; he gave benumbed New Yorkers what they wanted. A crack, a swipe, an occasional swoon, but mostly theatre goers of a certain age and tax bracket read him to see who got run over that week. Hey, I thought, who cares what it feels like - you do your show, you take your licks.

At a certain point one would cringe at the odd need he had for beauty, conventional 19th century beauty. He was sort of like the 19th Century French painter, Ingres, a little stiff, too many vertebrae. Who didn't know that he became a circus act, really? But the real question is this: Sometimes I wondered what it might have been like if he'd actually become a force for good; coercive as Ken Tynan or inspirational like Clurman or rigorous like Rich. There was something of the token European about him, and more than a whiff of talc. I guess I thought that it's gotta be a grueling job, and there's so much falsity and meretricious bullshit you have to see, that it would finally take a saint not to turn into a bit of a brittle vulgarian, as he did. The theatre needs geniuses to criticize it; it needs passionate advocates and firebrands, not to mention writers of gorgeous prose. He, instead, opted for parlor tricks and reruns.