John Simon was a critic I read voraciously for many years, mainly in my 20s when I reviewed movies and theater as a reporter for a small-town newspaper. Simon’s breadth of material was astonishing; his movie and theater criticism were expert, though as my friend Scott observed, he seemed to have no feel for American artforms like the cartoon or slapstick.
I found Simon’s opera and poetry criticism more interesting because those topics were more unfamiliar to me; I could feel his love for those artforms shine through. I think he loved them more than theater.
Simon was a relic of a different, lost world of print and publishing, the way George Jean Nathan represented the sort of Broadway reviewer represented by George Sanders in All About Eve. I subscribed to New York magazine solely for his theater reviews and Peter Davis’s music reviews. And yes, I subscribed because Simon’s takedowns and insults were so entertaining. But when Simon loved a work – and his collected reviews tended to finish with an unalloyed positive appraisal of a book, movie, or play – his writing would soar and it made me want to see or read the work that elicited such praise.