Nathan Cohen (critic)

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Nathan Cohen
Born Samuel Nathan Cohen
(1923-04-16)16 April 1923
Whitney Pier, Sydney, Nova Scotia
Died 26 March 1971(1971-03-26) (aged 47)
Toronto, Ontario
Cause of death Complications due to surgery
Residence Toronto
Nationality Canadian
Citizenship Canadian
Education Bachelor of Arts
Alma mater Mount Allison University
Occupation Journalist
Years active 1942–1971
Employer Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Toronto Telegram, The Toronto Daily Star
Known for Arts criticism/TV Broadcaster
Notable work The Glace Bay Gazette
Home town Sydney, Nova Scotia
Height 1.83 m (6 ft 0 in)
Weight 124 kg (273 lb)
Television Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Title Host
Term 1953–1962
Political party Labor-Progressive Party (ca. 1945–1947)*[1]
Spouse(s) Gloria Cohen (née Brontman)[2]
Children 2
Parent(s) David and Fanny Cohen[3]
Awards Honorary Doctors of Law[4]
  • Only for about two years (1945–47). In the 1960s he described himself as a left-leaning Liberal.[1]

Samuel Nathan Cohen known as Nathan Cohen (16 April 1923 – 26 March 1971) was a Canadian theatre critic and broadcaster. Cohen was considered the country's only serious drama critic during the decades following World War II, the period when Canadian theatre became established.[5] He was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, to an Eastern European Jewish immigrant family. He got his start in media when he was the editor of Mount Allison University's student newspaper. After graduating from Mount Allison, he was the editor of the Glace Bay Gazette. He permanently moved to Toronto in 1945 and wrote for various Communist Party supported newspapers. In 1948, he became the Theatre critic for CBC Radio. When CBC began television broadcasts in the 1950s, Cohen became one of their first talk show hosts. He joined The Toronto Daily Star in 1959, and worked as its theatre critic until his death in 1971.

Life and career[edit]

Cohen was born and raised in the Whitney Pier section of Sydney, Nova Scotia.[6] His family were Jewish immigrants from Poland (Pale of Settlement) that settled near the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation's steel mill, Atlantic Canada's major steel mill. His parents changed their name to Cohen from Kaplansky when they arrived in Halifax.[3] Cohen had three siblings: two older sisters born in Poland, and a younger brother.[4] Cohen was the first boy and member of his family to be born in Canada.[4] As a child, he read persistently in the backroom of his parents' grocery store, where he developed a love for science fiction, comics, and novels.[7] He graduated from Sydney Academy High School, where he was heavily influenced by one of his English teachers, William Mould, who encouraged him to read Shakespeare.[1] He entered Mount Allison University at age 16, and edited the University's student newspaper and yearbook.[7]

After he graduated from Mount Allison, he studied law at Osgoode Hall Law School for a semester, but returned to Nova Scotia without graduating.[1] He found employment as a journalist, in effect becoming a one-man show, by editing, reporting, typesetting and publishing the Glace Bay Gazette, a union-owned mass-published daily newspaper from 1942 to 1945.[7] He joined the Labor-Progressive Party (as the Communist Party was known) and moved to Toronto in 1945 and worked for the party paper, Canadian Tribune and Vochenblatt, a Yiddish communist weekly newspaper, as editor of its English-language section writing political articles, book reviews and then theatre reviews.[3] He came to the attention of Mavor Moore who recommended Cohen to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where, as a theatre critic,[5] he hosted Across the Footlights, The Theatre Week and CJBC Views the Shows.[3] In the 1950s, he also published his own magazine, The Critic.[3]

Joe Gershman, the editor of the Vochenblatt, later stated of Cohen's Communist affiliation: "During the years he was a member, he was a rebel against certain postulates held by the party. He was not in favor of democratic centralism, particularly in the matter of art. He felt a writer should be given a chance to explore and write freely what he thinks and sees, rather than follow the party line. Nathan was, in nature, a rebel, even. when he was in the Communist Party." Cohen likely quit the party around 1947.[3]

Cohen was known for his integrity as a critic and did not hesitate to give negative reviews, breaking with the common critical practices of the time which consisted mostly of uncritical praise.[3] He wrote a magisterial column "Rules for budding critics"[8] on February 19, 1964 in a column in the Toronto Star. Cohen received national prominence as host of Fighting Words, an intellectual, but popular panel show on CBC Television from 1953 to 1962.[9] Cohen also worked for CBC Television in the 1950s as a script editor for the anthology series General Motors Presents and continued with CBC Radio conducting interviews on the show Audio.[3]

Cohen began writing a theatre column for the Toronto Telegram in 1957 and was hired away by the Toronto Daily Star two years later, becoming the paper's entertainment editor and remaining there until his death.[4] In his later years, he suffered from heart disease caused by diabetic complications, and died at St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto, a few hours after having open heart surgery in the early hours of 26 March 1971.[2]



  1. ^ a b c d e Toronto Star 1971c, p. 59.
  2. ^ a b Globe and Mail 1971, p. 5.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Gould 1981, originally published in Toronto Life magazine in 1981.
  4. ^ a b c d Toronto Star 1971a, pp. 1, 3.
  5. ^ a b Gould 2012.
  6. ^ Cape Breton Jewish Community 2012.
  7. ^ a b c Toronto Star 1971b, p. 24.
  8. ^ "Rules for budding critics" in
  9. ^ CBC Digital Archives 2012.


News media
  • "Nathan Cohen: Toronto drama critic aided theatre growth". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. 1971-03-26. p. 5.
  • "Star drama critic Nathan Cohen dies at 47 after heart surgery". The Toronto Daily Star. Toronto. 1971-03-26. pp. 1, 3.
  • "Nathan Cohen: 'Canada's only real drama critic'". The Toronto Daily Star. Toronto. 1971-03-26. p. 24.
  • "'Society treated me very well,' said Nathan Cohen". The Toronto Daily Star. Toronto. 1971-03-27. p. 59.
Other online media