Howard Smith (director)

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Howard Smith
Howard72.jpg
Smith with his Academy Award for Marjoe in 1972
Born (1936-12-10)December 10, 1936
Brooklyn, New York
Died May 1, 2014(2014-05-01) (aged 77)
Manhattan, New York
Occupation journalist, film director
Known for producer and director of the 1972 Oscar-winning documentary film Marjoe; long-time columnist for The Village Voice newspaper; WPLJ-FM radio show host
Spouse(s) Susan Calder Smith (divorced) [1]
Children Cass Calder Smith
Zachary Charles Smith
Parents Charles Smith
Sadie Heitner Smith [1]

Howard Smith (December 10, 1936 – May 1, 2014) was an American Oscar winning film director, producer, journalist, screenwriter, actor and radio broadcaster.

Biography[edit]

Howard Smith was born in Brooklyn in 1936 and raised in Newark, New Jersey where his parents, Charles Smith and Sadie (Heitner),[1] owned a cigar store. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.[1] He was interested in inventions when he was a youngster.[2]

He later attended Pace College in New York City but left to write poetry.[2]

Smith started his career as a photographer. His work appeared in Life, Newsweek and many other national publications.

Journalist[edit]

Several years later, Smith pursued journalism from another perspective and became a writer for more than thirty years. His articles appeared in newspapers and magazines ranging from Playboy to The New York Times;[1] from the Ladies Home Journal to The Village Voice.

He wrote regularly for the New York City based weekly newspaper, The Village Voice, in the 1960s and 1970s.[1] One of his regular columns was "Scenes".[3][4] Smith was hired by Village Voice co-founder Dan Wolf and continued to write for them until 1989.[5]

During the Village Voice's early and formative years, his column, "Scenes", with its reporting on the emerging counterculture, became a part of the paper's groundbreaking new journalism. The column ran weekly for twenty years and became known for its cutting edge coverage and innovative short-form critiques. His work for the Village Voice is frequently cited as one of the highly influential examples of the new participatory journalism that made less rigid the distinction between the observer and the observed.[6]

At the peak of the historic Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969, he managed to get inside the now famous bar with his Village Voice reporter's police credentials.[7] He was the only journalist who reported about the siege from that dangerous vantage point. He would later be interviewed on this first-hand reporting in the 2010 documentary film, Stonewall Uprising.[7][8]

Film producer and director[edit]

Smith produced and directed, with Sarah Kernochan, the Oscar winning feature-length documentary film, Marjoe, in 1972, about the evangelist Marjoe Gortner.[1]

When it was first shown at the Cannes Film Festival, where it caught the attention of Roger Ebert.[9] It subsequently played in theatres worldwide, the movie caused a sensation by exposing, for the first time ever, the underbelly of a corrupt movement, including its self-righteous religious leaders, that was about to burst into public awareness.

He followed up with a documentary film in 1977, called Gizmo!, about improbable inventions of modern times, caught on film.[1] The film received wide distribution and acclaim.

He was also a film actor and a screenwriter.

Radio[edit]

In the 1960s and 1970s, Smith had a weekend overnight show on WPLJ FM radio in New York City, which was also syndicated nationally, where he conducted extensive in-depth interviews with well-known musicians and notable figures, as well as playing an eclectic mix of albums and songs in the "progressive" freeform rock music and Album-oriented rock formats.[10]

He covered many of the tumultuous era's most legendary events including Woodstock, from which America heard his live radio reports, broadcast around the clock for five full days.

Over the years he interviewed an array of pop-culture icons: From Mick Jagger to Buckminster Fuller; from Janis Joplin to Margaret Mead. The list continues with Jim Morrison, Hugh Hefner, Jane Fonda, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, George Harrison, Andy Warhol, Ravi Shankar, Dustin Hoffman, Carole King, Jack Nicholson and many others.

Lecturer and pundit[edit]

Smith became particularly well known for his insights into the growing influence and economic power of America's rapidly expanding youth culture. As a result, he frequently lectured and was a guest on many network television shows.

1990s and beyond[edit]

In the early 1990s, Smith shifted his creative focus to concentrate his activities in the world of non-profit organizations. Amongst these, he was a board member, and Director of Operations for the Mood Disorders Support Group of New York (MDSG), a New York City organization helping people with depression, manic depression, and their families and friends.[1][11][12]

His sister, Barbara Tripp, attributed the end of his writing career to his manic depression.[5]

He was writing a book about his involvement, as both participant and commentator, in the late 1950s beatnik scene, the explosive hippie 1960s, right through to the brouhaha that was to characterize the Nixonian mid-1970s.

On November 15, 2005, in New York City, the IFC Center showed Marjoe as the closing film in a series of documentaries called "Stranger Than Fiction".[13] In their program they called it "a lost gem."

In 2012 a series of digital copies of his interviews from 1969 to 1972 were released as digital downloads[14] and, later, as a CD box set. The collection featured full length audio interviews with many influential artists of the day, including Lou Reed, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton and Jim Morrison.[14][15] Smith had kept the original audio tapes in his basement for many years, until his son Cass Calder Smith discovered them.[14] He took them to New York film maker Ezra Bookstein, who decided to ready the tapes for a full release after 40 years.[14] Several interviews were released on a monthly basis, culminating in the release of the CD box including twelve CDs and a USB drive with five hours of additional audio.

The box set, entitled The Smith Tapes 1969-1972, was nominated for a 2014 Grammy Award for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package for its designer, Masaki Koike.

Personal life[edit]

Smith was the divorced father of two sons.[2] His son Cass Calder Smith, is a restaurant architect in New York City and San Francisco, California. His younger son Zachary Charles Smith, is a Master Scuba Diving Instructor, sailor, naturalist and world traveler.

Smith died of cancer on May 1, 2014 in Manhattan, New York at the age of 77.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Vitello, Paul (May 1, 2014). "Howard Smith, trend-spotting columnist, dies at 77". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b c Bernstein,, Fred (March 24, 1980). "No, it's not a new air sickness bag—It's one of Howard Smith's intriguing gizmos". People 13 (12). 
  3. ^ Makower, Joel (2009). Woodstock: The Oral History (40th Anniversary ed.). SUNY Press. p. 303. ISBN 9781438429755. 
  4. ^ Smith, Howard (June 2, 1966). "Scenes". The Village Voice 11 (33).  (Re-published in: Ortega, Tony (December 8, 2009). "Howard Smith, digging the 60's scenes and happenings". Clip Job. The Village Voice. ).
  5. ^ a b Stuart, Tessa (May 2, 2014). "Howard Smith, legendary Voice writer, dead at 77". The Village Voice. 
  6. ^ Zinn, Howard; Arnove, Anthony (2009). Voices of a People's History of the United States. Seven Stories Press. p. 459. ISBN 9781583229163. 
  7. ^ a b Heilbroner, David (2011), Stonewall Uprising, American Experience, Produced by WGBH, Boston: PBS  (Transcript).
  8. ^ Smith, Howard (July 3, 1969). "View from inside: Full moon over Stonewall". The Village Voice. p. 1 – via Columbia University Libraries.  (Reproduced in: "Stonewall at 40: The Voice articles that sparked a final night of rioting". The Village Voice. June 24, 2009. ).
  9. ^ Kernochan, Sarah. "Marjoe". sarahkernochan.com. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Gotham DJ revives '55 Xmas smash". Billboard. December 11, 1971. p. 8 – via Google Books. 
  11. ^ "About MDSG". mdsg.org. Mood Disorders Support Group of New York. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  12. ^ MDSG Newsletter Summer 2014, tribute to Howard Smith former Director of Operations for MDSG.
  13. ^ Powers, Thom. "Marjoe". Stranger Than Fiction. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c d Sisario, Ben (November 18, 2012). "Legends of the ’60s, just being themselves". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-19. 
  15. ^ Berk, Brett (November 19, 2012). "The Smith Tapes: Listen to John Lennon and Yoko Ono discuss the breakup of the Beatles". Vanity Fair. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]