The New York Observer has laid off longtime film critic Rex Reed, in addition to several other members of its entertainment staff, in the latest cutbacks to the newspaper since owner Jared Kushner divested from the paper after the 2016 presidential election.
Reed was notified of the decision last week, he said, concluding a career at the paper that lasted more than 25 years. His last reviews, for “Alien: Covenant” and “Wakefield,” ran May 19. Reed’s editor at the Observer did not return a request for comment.
“The shocking truth is that the Observer has been going down the drain financially for quite some time,” Reed said via email, adding that he felt the future of the paper was thrown into doubt after investment banker Arthur Carter sold it to 25-year-old Kushner in 2006. The young mogul left the paper after his father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, was elected President of the United States last fall. Kushner’s brother-in-law, Joseph Meyer, took control of the paper as Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump moved to Washington.
“The end of what was the remains of a once-vital and responsible New York paper came when he threw what was left of a great weekly paper under the bus and lost all interest in bringing it back to life again,” Reed said, “by focusing his interests on running the White House and digging a tunnel to Russia.”
Reed, the Observer’s chief film critic for over 25 years, has remained a colorful fixture of the New York film scene for decades. Over the course of a career in print and broadcast as a film and theater critic, Reed wrote for publications including The New York Times, Esquire, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan, in addition to writing several books. He launched his career in the ‘60s, when he became known for a string of celebrity profiles. Many of these were collected in the best-seller “Do You Sleep in the Nude?”, which was later the title of a 2007 documentary about Reed’s career directed by film critic Marshall Fine. Reed’s profile of Ava Gardner was included in Tom Wolfe’s anthology “The New Journalism,” and he made frequent television appearances during the first two decades of his career.
In 1968, Newsweek called Reed “the hottest byline around,” and a Chicago Tribute profile reported that he made as much as $150,000 in 1976 from interviews and reviews for a variety of publications. He also moonlighted as an actor, with credits that include the much-maligned 1970 adaptation of Gore Vidal’s “Myra Breckinridge.”
In later years, as the author of the column “On the Town With Rex Reed,” the critic’s combustible personality led to more than a few public controversies. These included his 2005 review of “Oldboy,” which he referred to as the product of “a nation weaned on kimchi,” and a 2013 review of “Identity Thief” in which he called Melissa McCarthy “tractor-sized” and “a hippo.” (McCarthy’s “Bridesmaids” director, Paul Feig, tweeted at the time: “I cordially invite Mr. Rex Reed to go fuck himself.”) Reed also made tabloid headlines in 2000, when he was accused of shoplifting CDs from a New York record store.
But even as Reed made enemies with his work, he remained an outspoken voice in the critical landscape. A longtime member of the New York Film Critics Circle, he has rarely fallen in step with consensus on new releases, and in recent years the objects of his scorn have included such well-regarded filmmakers as Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan.
Reed said that his output at the Observer was downgraded to two reviews per week several months ago, when the publication also eliminated its theater coverage. He added that the paper was three months behind on his paycheck.
“I stayed on out of respect for a publication I once loved,” he said.
Other recent layoffs at the publication this month include culture writers Dana Schwartz, who famously penned an open letter to Kushner about his support for Trump last year, and Vinnie Mancuso. The current editorial staff totals around 12 people.
Hey, uh…anyone hiring? I write a MEAN tv recap
— Vinnie Mancuso (@VinnieMancuso1) May 30, 2017
While rumors have circulated that American Media Inc. is interested in acquiring the struggling publication, a rep told WWD that “there are no talks regarding the Observer.” In the meantime, the publication has not clarified whether it plans to fill Reed’s position, though it maintains a bevy of freelance contributors, including veteran film writer Thelma Adams.
Reed, for his part, has yet to determine future plans. “It’s a sad state of affairs, but I am open to any suggestions,” he said. “Although I have been informed it is nothing personal, simply a matter of financial desperation, I can’t help but feel like I have been treated with the same kind of incompetent confusion with which Jared Kushner and Donald Trump run everything else in the country these days.”
Watch a clip of Reed on Dick Cavett’s show in 1969 below: