Judith Crist was an American Jewish filim critic, journalism professor and television host on the “Today” show and TV Guide.
Crist (born May 22, 1922; died August 7, 2012) was born as Judith Klein to businessman Solomon Klein and librarian Helen Schoenberg Klein in Manhattan. When Judith was an infant, the family moved to Montreal, Canada and spent twelve years there before moving back to New York. Solomon was in the fur and jewelry business but after losing his personal fortuene in the Great Depression, he became a traveling salesman and began working on inventions.
Crist was five years-old when she saw her first movie, 7th Heaven, a silent film starring Oscar winner Janet Gaynor and she recalled being first truly enamored by movies when she saw Charlie Chaplin’s Gold Rush in 1925. Crist used to tell her mother that she was going swimming at the YMCA or to study at the library and would instead sneak out to see movies.
In the early 1940's, Crist earned her BA at Hunter College in Manhattan and began studying for a graduate degree in 18th-century English literature at Columbia University in New York City, which she would finish in 1945. She subsequently taught at Washington State University and worked a civilian English instructor for the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Judith married public relations consultant William Crist in 1947.
A pioneering film critic and accomplished writer in a restrictive time for women in the workplace, Crist was the first woman to become a full-time film critic at any major American newspaper with her job at the New York Herald Tribune. She started working for the paper in 1945. After working at the Tribune for over twenty years, Crist became the first female film critic at New York Magazine before moving on to do reviews for the “Today” television show in the 1960s.
Crist’s idols were James Agee, Otis Ferguson, and Frank Nugent, eloquent writers in their own right. She once said that “if you’re going to be a movie fan, you take [James] Bond as seriously as you do the grand auteurism of [Ingrid] Bergman.”
Known, and even feared, for her sharp tongue, Crist’s reviews prompted director Billy Wilder to say that “inviting her to review one of your pictures is like inviting the Boston Strangler to massage your neck.” As fellow film critic Roger Ebert told The Chicago Tribune in 1999, the film industry’s retaliation for her commentary “led to every newspaper in the country saying, ‘Hey, we ought to get a real movie critic.’”
In 1987, Crist joined a campaign led by the Jewish feminist magazine Lilith to demand the freedom of Soviet Jewish refusnik Ida Nudel. Late in the year Nudel was released by the Soviet authorities.
Crist taught at Columbia’s School of Journalism for over a half-century and she will be remembered by her students, colleagues, mentees, friends, and family as the incisive film critic she was and strong personality she embodied.
On August 7, 2012, Crist passed away in her Manhattan home at the age of 90. She is survived by her son Steven.
Sources: The Guardian; JTA; New York Times; Wikipedia