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Obit: New York Film Critic Judith Crist

Thompson on Hollywood By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood August 7, 2012 at 9:06PM

Judith Crist, the tough, witty, and often caustic film critic who combined a passionate love for movies with an equally passionate distaste for movie rubbish, died Tuesday, August 7 at the age of 90.  According to her son, Steven Crist, she died at her Manhattan home after a long illness. Director Billy Wilder once remarked that inviting Crist to review one of your films was “like asking the Boston Strangler for a neck massage.” And Wilder was one of her favorites. She was arguably the most powerful film critic of her era because of her two-prong status as main reviewer at both the New York Herald Tribune and NBC’s “Today” show.

Judith Klein was born in New York on May 22, 1922, then moved with her family to Montreal. Her father, Solomon Klein, a jeweler and furrier, lost his business in the Depression and became a traveling salesman to support the family which returned to New York when Crist was 12. After Hunter College, she did graduate work in 18th century English literature at Columbia and eventually graduated from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.  Later, she was an adjunct professor there from 1958 until last February.  Her marriage of 47 years to William B. Crist, a public-relations executive, ended with his death in 1993.

She fell in love with the movies when she saw Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” (1925) she told interviewer Eve Berliner five years ago.  “Eating his shoelaces as if they were spaghetti, tipping the cabin at the edge of the precipice.”

In that same interview, at the age of 85, Crist told Berliner, “The greatest day of my life I cut school and went to see ‘Gone With the Wind’ at the Capitol for 25 cents, then across the street to the Rialto to see ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and down to 42nd Street for ‘Grand Illusion on Broadway.  And there was still 75 cents left over to sustain us with an enormous chunk of many-layered whipped cream pie at Hector’s!”

Crist is survived by her son Steven, formerly the horse racing reporter for the New York Times and, since 1998, the publisher of Daily Racing Form.  On the Racing Form’s website, Crist said that the family was planning a private funeral and will announce a date for a memorial service to be held next month.

This article is related to: Critics, Obit

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.