Walter Kerr Biography (1913-1996)

Full name, Walter Francis Kerr; born July 8, 1913, in Evanston, IL; son of Walter Sylvester (a carpenter and foreman) and Esther M. (Daugherty) Kerr; married Jean Collins (an author and playwright), August 9, 1943; children: Christopher, Colin and John (twins), Gilbert, Gregory, Katharine. Addresses:HOME--One Beach Avenue, Larchmont, NY 10538.; OFFICE--c/o The New York Times, 229 W. 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036.; AGENT--Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc., 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 19936.

Full name, Walter Francis Kerr; born July 18, 1913, in Evanston, IL; died from congestive heart failure, October 9, 1996, in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Drama criticand author. The New York theater world had much respect for Kerr, long hailed as the "supercritic" (a term coined by Newsweek magazine as quoted in the New York Times) of that medium. While Kerr had a reputation as having a distaste for experimental works, nobody could attack his expertise on theater, as he wrote several plays and was highly educated. But despite his Catholic lifestyle, he never attacked a play on moral grounds, always defended freedom of expression and fought against censorship. Kerr's career as a critic began whenhe was only thirteen and wrote film reviews for his hometown paper, the Evanston Review. Kerr earned a bachelors and master's degree from Northwestern University and in 1938 joined the drama department at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He taught, wrote and directed plays there until1949. Kerr wrote several moderately successful plays in the 1940s, includingStardust and Sing Out, Sweet Land: A Musical Biography of American Song, which made it to Broadway. The 1942 musical comedy, Count Me In, which he co-wrote with Leo Brady and Nancy Hamilton, was performed at the Barrymore Theater in New York. But the 1958 play Goldilocks, co- written with his wife, Jean, and directed by Kerr, lost most of its investment money despite a five-month run. Kerr started reviewing plays in New York in 1950 for the Jesuit publication Commonweal and in 1951 joined the New York Herald Tribune. He became so respected that theater lovers considered his reviews and the New York Times critics to be industry standards. Even those who didn't agree with his opinions often confessed that they loved to read his writings. When the Herald Tribunefolded in 1966, Kerr joined the New York Times. Despite being criticized by playwright Terrence McNally and drama professor Robert Brustein for being biased against experimental works, Kerr maintained a high level of integrity, resisting attempts by the theater crowd to influence him. Kerr served on the Pulitzer committee and himself won the Pulitzer Prize for drama criticism in 1978. Kerr also wrote several books on theater and criticism, most notably How Not to Write a Play, The Decline of Pleasure and The Silent Clowns, a critically acclaimed and popular tome about silent film comedians. Kerr retired fromthe New York Times in 1983, but occasionally contributed articles. In 1990, the refurbished Ritz Theater was renamed the Walter Kerr Theater. When Kerr died, all Broadway theaters dimmed their lights that night as a tribute.

critic, writer
Birth Details
July 8, 1913
Evanston, Illinois, United States
Death Details
October 9, 1996
Dobbs Ferry, New York, United States

Famous Works

  • Sing Out, Sweet Land, International Theatre, New York City, 1944.
  • Touch and Go, Broadhurst Theatre, New York City, 1949.
  • King of Hearts, Lyceum Theatre, 1954.
  • Goldilocks, Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York City, 1958.
  • Host, Esso Repertory Theatre, 1965.
  • Murder in Reverse, published by Dramatic Publishing, 1935.
  • Denison's Variety Revue, published by Denison, 1935.
  • Harmony Minstrel First-Part, published by Denison, 1936.
  • Mystery Minstrel First-Part, published by Denison, 1937.
  • adapter, Rip Van Winkle, published by Samuel French, 1937.
  • adapter, The Vicar of Wakefield, published by Samuel French, 1938.
  • Movie Minstrel First-Part, published by Denison, 1938.
  • Hyacinth on Wheels, published by Row, Peterson, 1939.
  • Christmas, Incorporated, published by Samuel French, 1939.
  • (with Leo Brady and Nancy Hamilton) Count-Me-In (revue), Ethel BarrymoreTheatre, New York City, 1942.
  • adapter, The Miser, published by Samuel French, 1942.
  • Stardust, published by Dramatic Publishing, 1946.
  • Sing Out, Sweet Land: A Musical Biography of American Song, InternationalTheatre, New York City, 1944, published by Baker, 1949.
  • (with Jean Kerr) Thank You, Just Looking (revue), Catholic University ofAmerica, Washington, DC, 1949, produced as Touch and Go, Broadhurst Theatre,New York City, 1949, then Prince of Wales Theatre, London, 1950.
  • adapter, The Birds, published by Catholic University of America Press, 1952.
  • (with Jean Kerr) Goldilocks, Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York City, 1958,published by Doubleday, 1959.
  • Also author of From Julia to Joe, 1937.
  • Writings;BOOKS
  • How Not to Write a Play, Simon & Schuster, 1955, reprinted by Writer,Inc., 1972.
  • Criticism and Censorship, Bruce, 1956.
  • Pieces at Eight, Simon & Schuster, 1957.
  • The Decline of Pleasure, Simon & Schuster, 1962.
  • The Theater in Spite of Itself, Simon & Schuster, 1963.
  • (with V. Louise Higgins) editor, Five World Plays, Harcourt, 1964.
  • Harold Pinter, Columbia University Press, 1967.
  • Tragedy and Comedy, Simon & Schuster, 1967.
  • Thirty Plays Hath November: Pain and Pleasure in the Contemporary Theatre, Simon & Schuster, 1969.
  • God on the Gymnasium Floor and Other Theatrical Adventures, Simon & Schuster, 1971.
  • The Silent Clowns, Knopf, 1975.
  • Journey to the Center of the Theater, Knopf, 1979.
  • The Shabunin Affair: An Episode in the Life of Leo Tolstoy, Cornell University Press, 1982.
  • Writings;PERIODICALS
  • Contributor: Horizon, Harper's, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Theatre Arts, American Scholar.

Recent Updates

September 15, 2005: The Walter Kerr Collection, which includes 2500 volumes from his personal library, was donated by the family to the DeSales University Center in Valley, Pennsylvania, where Kerr's son, Gregory, is a professor. Source: New York Times,, September 15, 2005.

Further Reference


  • Who's Who, 148th edition, St. Martin's Press, 1996.
  • Chicago Tribune, October 10, 1996, section 3, p. 11.
  • Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1996, p. A22.
  • New York Times, October 10, 1996, p. D22.
  • Times (London), October 18, 1996, p. 25.

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