John Crosby (media critic)
John Crosby (May 18, 1912 – September 7, 1991) was a newspaper columnist, radio-television critic, novelist and TV host. During the 1950s, he was generally regarded as the leading critic of television.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Crosby was the son of Fred G. Crosby and the former Edna Campbell. His father was in the insurance business. After graduating from New Hampshire's Phillips Exeter Academy, Crosby attended Yale but left minus a degree. In 1933, he was a reporter with The Milwaukee Sentinel, moving on to The New York Herald Tribune (1935–41).
During World War II, he spent five years with the Army News Service, rising to the rank of Captain. In the post-WWII years, he returned to the Herald Tribune and began writing about radio, widening his horizon to television in 1952. That same year, his book-length collection of columns, Out of the Blue, was published, prompting Lewis Gannett to comment: "Crosby is at his best when he engages in the art of amiable murder. He can, by his special personalized art of denunciation, make the most brainless radio program interesting, at least in its death pangs. He slays with zest."
Crosby once observed, "A radio critic is forced to be literate about the illiterate, witty about the witless and coherent about the incoherent." He aimed for a higher standard, as is evident when he wrote about Jean Shepherd for The New York Times (August 8, 1956):
- It looks as if the day people have won again against the night people. Jean Shepherd, patron saint of the night people, who talks and only occasionally plays records over WOR, New York, from 1 to 5:30am. seven days a week, is going off the air August 13 because night people apparently don't buy things...
- Shepherd more or less invented the term night people and day people, and frequently on his four-and-a-half-hour nightly talkathon defines them. "There's a great body of people who flower at night, who feel night is their time. Night is the time people truly become individuals, because al the familiar things are dark and done, all the restrictions on freedom are removed. Many artists work at night—it is particularly conducive to creative work. Many of us attuned to night are not artists but are embattled against the official, organized, righteous day people who are completely bound by their switchboards and their red tape." Day people, he says, invented red tape because then they can blame not themselves but the system. "Night people like the quiet darkness; day people are terrified at suddenly becoming individuals, afraid to let the mind probe into unknown areas."
- If you listen to Shepherd any length of time, you will find the night people definitely feel persecuted by the day people and get their biggest thrill when, if only for a moment, they can win a victory over them. Shepherd may tell a story of his Army days when a recruit, bored by physical training exercises, just walked off into a swamp, followed shortly by 45 others, a revolt against authority deeply satisfying the night people.
Crosby was known for his literate, caustic remarks about the television industry. One of his most notable quotes came upon the cancellation of Edward R. Murrow's television series See It Now: "See it Now... is by every criterion television's most brilliant, most decorated, most imaginative, most courageous and most important program. The fact that CBS cannot afford it but can afford Beat the Clock is shocking."
Crosby was so highly respected that he became one of the first media critics to host a television show: the Emmy-winning anthology series The Seven Lively Arts, on CBS. Telecast on Sunday afternoons, it lasted a single season, from late 1957 to early 1958, with individual episodes on such subjects as jazz, ballet and films. The program was notable for showcasing the first (albeit heavily abridged) telecast of Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker.
From 1965 to 1975 he was a columnist for the British weekly, The Observer. He married Mary B. Wolferth in 1946, and they divorced in 1959. His second wife, the former Katharine J. B. Wood, was a former fashion editor of Edinburgh's The Scotsman. In 1977, he moved to a farm outside Esmont, Virginia, and turned to writing suspense novels, including Men in Arms (1983). He died of cancer in 1991 in Esmont.
- John Crosby introduces Billie Holiday on The Seven Lively Arts: The Sound of Jazz (December 8, 1957).