John Simon (1925-2019) put down his poison pen for good on Sunday, gone forever at 94 years old.
Simon was the most hateful, nastiest, meanest, racist, sexist, homophobic critic in the history of the American Theatre. A self-described “elitist”, he was best known for his 37 years as the theatre critic at New York magazine, where he was dismissed in 2005, three days before his 80th birthday.
He belittled, dismissed and panned most of the great, and not-so-great stage performers of the past 40 years. It became a rite of passage for any actor, singer, dancer writer, director, or designer to get “Simonized” on the way to success.
He was so damn old that in review of a highly publicized 2005 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire, he waxed poetic about the original 1947 production that he saw and remembered in detail.
In 1985, Simon got into trouble when he was overheard by about 30 people telling the actor Carrie Nye in a theatre lobby: “Homosexuals in the theater! My God, I can’t wait until AIDS gets all of them!” He referred to a play as “faggot nonsense“.
I compiled quotes until I just couldn’t take it anymore. He was a brilliant writer, but a bitter, horrible human being.
“Worse yet is Paul Rudnick‘s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, which must have begun as a smartass idea a smarter person would have promptly dropped. The problem is not that the play is aimed almost exclusively at homosexuals, but that it is aimed at audiences, gay and straight, of the lowest common denominator.”
“...as the supposedly piss-elegant Huxley Hossefrosse, Don Mayo gives the phrase hold ‘the mayo’ a whole new meaning.”
“Liza Minnelli is a performer whose chief diet is audience adulation, and what is partly a tribute to Dad’s movies is also partly Daughter’s comeback from alcoholism, overweight, and an overlong absence from regular performing.
Undeniably, someone or something fills up the Palace stage. It is not so much the now chubby Betty Boop face, the tubby torso that Bob Mackie‘s costumes toil to disguise. Nor is it the voice, although it can still, despite some frayed edges, belt out a song punchily, even if dentures put an extra h after the s’s and an extra y after the t’s. It is certainly not the dancing, done mostly by a clutch of agile chorus boys who sometimes, in one of showbiz’s oldest tricks, wheel Liza about on a chair with casters, which here takes on symbolic dimensions.”
“It is rumored that the true inspiration for Aida was Disney’s search for an excuse to market a black doll. If it does not make Hadleyan sounds to frighten little children, it should be a huge success.”
“Yet as Katherina, the wonderful Allison Janney is wrenchingly miscast. Looking most of the time like Janet Reno on a bad-hair day, and acting as sexy, she makes Petruchio’s motives seem purely venal.”
“Miss Bernadette Peters, however, is petite, cute, and cuddly, just an iota short (or long) of JonBenet Ramsey.”
“Paula Vogel‘s not-quite-new The Mineola Twins is neither top- nor bottom-drawer Vogel, though it is written in good part from her drawers. The mind and the crotch have harmoniously collaborated in this her most openly lesbian play, and what emerges is more than a campy piece in which three women play six parts, three of them male… Joe Mantello, a passable actor, is rapidly developing into an unsurpassable director of a type of (usually homosexual) comedy, to which he brings steady sophistication, resourcefulness, and effervescence.”
“The crowning fiasco, however, is the Charlie of Anthony Rapp. In the vastly overrated Rent, he was, in my view, the greatest irritant, but he was doubtless cast here as bait for the Rent fans. His straining to portray a lovable loser only emphasizes his basic smarminess. Hard as it is to define charm, I can define its opposite in two words: Anthony Rapp.”
“The homosexualization of great heterosexual love stories proceeds apace. Romeo and Juliet has been converted into R&J with a four-schoolboy cast; there have been several all-male As You Like Its (and please, don’t tell us again about Shakespeare using boy actors — under duress); etc. Most of this, characteristically, of British origin. I have no objection to homosexual ballets, whether campy or not, as long as they are new and so conceived; they should not, like cuckoos’ eggs, be smuggled into the nests of other birds, notably swans.”
“Paul Rudd‘s insufferable Orsino just manages to be, in his better moments, merely obnoxious. Lolling around like an affected lounge lizard, mouthing words as if they were pastilles, preening and posturing as if auditioning for a Calvin Klein ad, he confuses Illyria with Chippendale’s.”
“The convulsive cavortings and strained vocalization of Manu Narayan are no better than his misleading-man looks. If you owe a present to your most hated relatives, you might want to buy them tickets to Bombay Dreams. Bomb it assuredly is. I’ll go further: It almost manages to make The Boy From Oz look good.”
“As Glinda, Kristin Chenoweth is cute as a button, but rather makes you wish for a zipper. She sings the worthless songs admirably and speaks her would-be-funny lines with spice, even as the accomplished Idina Menzel brings genuine pathos and edge to Elphaba, but all in vain.”
“But that music! It is like a long, uniform sausage made of sawdust, cut into uneven slices (rhythm) with singing sometimes yelled, sometimes whispered (variety). It is not so much composed as ground out, enough to give monotony a bad name and make one yearn for the melody of an interrupting cell phone.”
“Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses.”
Simon also wrote for Bloomberg News, Esquire, the New York Times and National Review.
In 1981, 300 artists signed an ad in Variety calling Simon “racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, vicious and derisive” after his review of Richard III, in where he wrote that one female performer “should never be cast as anything but an itinerant gefilte-fish vendor with a serious nervous disorder“.
I read him weekly for decades and missed him when he was on leave. I loved hating Simon.
My favorite anecdote about Simon is the tale of Sylvia Miles, who in 1973, was reviewed for her performance in the play Nellie Toole & Co. She was described as ”…one of New York’s leading party girls and gate-crashers”. At a New York Film Festival after-party, Miles filled a plate with steak tartare and dumped it on Simon’s head. Miles then said:
”You called me a gate-crasher, now you can call me a plate-crasher!”
Simon replied that he would send her the cleaning bill. He later quipped:
“It’s wonderful to be hated by idiots.”