Groundbreaking film critic Judith Crist died at her home on August 7 at the age of 90 after a long illness. Crist was truly a trailblazer, as she was the first full-time female critic at any major newspaper when she began as The New York Herald Tribune’s film critic in 1963. She had been at the Herald Tribune since 1945 as a women’s page reporter before she was elevated to film critic.
Beyond The New York Herald Tribune, Crist was the founding film critic for New York Magazine and the critic for TV Guide, where her writing appeared for 22 years. She also served as the Today show’s first regular film critic from 1963-1973 and wrote for other publications including the Saturday Review and Ladies Home Journal. Crist also taught at Columbia’s journalism school for over 50 years until this February.
She was as well-known for her willingness to take on the film industry and didn’t mince words when she didn’t like a film calling The Sound of Music “icky, sticky,” Cleopatra “an extravagant exercise in tedium,” and most famously brought down Spencer’s Mountain in a review that she wrote six weeks after becoming The New York Herald Tribune’s critic. Crist described the film as:
A film that for sheer prurience and perverted morality disguised as piety makes the nudie shows at the Rialto look like Walt Disney productions.
Radio City Music Hall pulled their advertising from the Tribune and they stood by Crist. At the time there were threats to ban Crist from film screenings.
In a 1999 interview with The Chicago Tribune Roger Ebert said that Crist was the reason why major newspapers all over the country realized they needed a real film critic at their publications.
I still believe in the written word, I’m very old-fashioned in that respect, and I stick to it… to me, the written word is the one that counts and it’s the one that endures. Which is sort of stick-in-the-mud, but I don’t mind. The mud’s pretty good.
Crist’s criticism paved the way for the film and television criticism we have today and she was a female pioneer in the field. We should honor her wit and honesty by never backing down. She will be missed.
Judith Crist, A Blunt and Influential Film Critic, Dies at 90 (The New York Times)
Obit: New York Film Critic Judith Crist (Thompson on Hollywood)