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Theatre Critic and Obies Founder Jerry Tallmer Dies at 93

A founding staffer at the Village Voice, Tallmer reported on a changing city, and championed its most adventurous theatre, for five decades.

NEW YORK CITY: With the death of Jerry Tallmer at 93, New York loses a key cultural chronicler, particularly of the Off-Broadway theatre scene he championed at the Village Voice in the late 1950s. It was there that he founded the still-running theatre awards known as the Obies, after the initials for Off-Broadway. His influential regime at that alternative weekly newspaper—of which he was on the founding staff—culminated in 1962 with his receiving the George Jean Nathan Award for theatre criticism.

In his next job at the New York Post, Tallmer served as theatre critic as well as all-around newsman, writing and editing thousands of stories about the changing city. But he is best known for those early years at the Voice, where in addition to covering the theatre he recruited such talents as Jules Feiffer, Nat Hentoff, Jonas Mekas, Andrew Sarris and Charles Marowitz.

As Pete Hamill later wrote in Downtown: My Manhattan, Tallmer was “a gifted writer and an intelligent man of passionate tastes who was able to express enthusiasm without sounding like a publicist. Like any good journalist, he saw what was new in the event he was watching, and for many of us, he became the essential guide” to New York’s downtown theatre movement.

After leaving the Post in 1993, he worked as a copy editor and freelanced widely, including for Playbill, The Villager, Gay City News, Newsday, Daily News, Backstage and his old haunt the Voice.  He was also a pioneer in online arts journalism, contributing to the New York Theatre Wire from 1996 onward. He also wrote an introduction to Four New Plays by Horton Foote (Smith & Kraus).

A native Manhattanite and WWII veteran, Tallmer was married to Frances Monica, a ballet and Spanish dancer, for 20-plus years. He is survived by two grown children, twins Matthew and Abby, by a previous marriage.

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